One of the big draws for Cullen Bunn's writing is that it takes some very conventional genre conventions and plays around with them. Helheim is probabOne of the big draws for Cullen Bunn's writing is that it takes some very conventional genre conventions and plays around with them. Helheim is probably the most extreme there, but Harrow County and Sixth Gun also do things with their respective settings that I don't see almost anywhere else.
That's why Night Trap comes as such a disappointment. I though Bunn could really bring something interesting to a space thoroughly dominated by formula. It's not like there's no precedent, the comic Nailbiter gets a lot of mileage out of playing with the notions of slashers, and movies like The Final Girls and Cabin in the Woods did interesting things in the movie space.
But barring a few novelties, this graphic novel is just a slasher horror story. A bunch of poorly characterized teenagers get murdered in an isolated house. Though there are a few interesting moments that suggest that one of the characters had been through this before, it never leads to anything particularly meaningful.
But I can at least comfort myself with the fact that there's a perfectly good alternative to get horror written by Bunn: Harrow County continues to be one of the best ongoing horror comics out there....more
I have not had the best of luck with French comics. Perhaps it's the casual sexism that seems present whether the book was written last year or 40 yeaI have not had the best of luck with French comics. Perhaps it's the casual sexism that seems present whether the book was written last year or 40 years ago. Maybe it's the essay's worth of text on each page no matter how idiotically straightforward the plot is. Or it could just be a petty hatred of the awful fashion and hairstyles.
I'll acknowledge I only picked up this one in particular because it's getting a big budget movie adaptation. My generally thinking is that if someone thinks it's inspirational enough to risk hundreds of millions of dollars on, there might be something worth checking out. But based on this first book I kind of want to hunt down some interviews with Luc Besson to figure out what he found so compelling. My guess: he read it when he was young and impressionable, and it was widely available.
There's no much here in terms of story that really impressed me. It's pulpy science fiction with thinly sketched out characters. The hero has a big chin, and attractive sidekick, and a mad scientist villain who looks like about what I'd imagine if you said the words "French mad scientist".
And I absolutely must harp on the text. Comics are a visual medium, but whether it's the 1930 or 2017, there are always writers who jam too many written words on the page. I remember reading old X-Men comics and realizing that I could skip most of the narration boxes and lose virtually no meaning.
Valerian is in some ways worse. There are entire paragraphs that either didn't need saying, or could have been expressed better with a few panels of action. And even without the walls of text, Valerian is constantly talking to himself about things that I already understood, or that could have been communicated through subtler means, like facial expressions or reactions.
If there's anything keeping this from 1 star, it's the environments. Every space in this book is well defined, giving a strong sense of space and atmosphere. In some ways, the scenery does more heavy lifting in storytelling than many of the characters.
There's just not enough here for it to really transcend its origins. It's a pulpy sci fi pastiche from the 70's, and it should probably have been left at that....more
HP Lovecraft has influenced so many things that I enjoy, from Stephen King to games like Bloodborne, so I figured I might as well try to make a concerHP Lovecraft has influenced so many things that I enjoy, from Stephen King to games like Bloodborne, so I figured I might as well try to make a concerted effort to read his fiction. What's nice is that Amazon has a complete edition on Kindle that costs $0, so the price was right. Reviewing a collection of stories all at once is hard on the ol' memory, so I'll just review them as I go.
Nameless City: Read: 2017-01-25
I bought a short story collection of Lovecraft not long after finishing high school. I bounced off the whole thing after about one short story, and it was because of sentences like this: "I have said that the fury of the rushing blast was infernal—cacodaemoniacal—and that its voices were hideous with the pent-up viciousness of desolate eternities."
Ladies and gentleman, I present the word "cacodaemoniacal" to you. As in something baring the nature of a cacodaemon, which is a perfectly reasonable idea.
That's kind of the problem with Lovecraft, at last in this first story. He's doing back flips with adverbs and adjectives trying to set a mood. While it's a cool picture, once it's painted, by the time the character moves forward I'm already kind of exhausted.
And I feel like I haven't seen the last of this character-light, plot-light formula, where a man goes to a spooky place and see a spooky, barely describable thing. I will give him credit, though, because it's a very freaky place he describes.
The Festival: Read 2017-01-26
After reading these two, I'm wondering how many Lovecraft stories involve a man from another place going down a spooky hole, finding some crazy stuff, then losing it before the mystery can be fully explicated.
The setting in this story is an upgrade to me, because a moldering, half-collapsed east coast village is a better setting than a mystery temple in the desert. Also, the protagonist has a slightly more interesting reason for being there, as he's fulfilling a family obligation that only receives slight information.
What's weird about these stories is that he manages to be effective at leaving out details, which makes what's presented ominous. A clear set of events happen, but the reasons and origins remain cryptic or absent. It's a pretty impressive feat for someone who typed sentences like:
"Out of the unimaginable blackness beyond the gangrenous glare of that cold flame, out of the Tartarean leagues through which that oily river rolled uncanny, unheard, and unsuspected, there flopped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things that no sound eye could ever wholly grasp, or sound brain ever wholly remember."
"Tartarean leagues," you guys. The idea that such a writer would show restraint in any area is fascinating. While the plot, characterization, and word choices are often not stellar, the atmosphere really does keep me reading....more
I am a sucker for Humberto Ramos' art. I've picked up a few mediocre super hero books over the years simply because certain issues had him as the primI am a sucker for Humberto Ramos' art. I've picked up a few mediocre super hero books over the years simply because certain issues had him as the primary artist. Ramos seems to jump around a lot when it comes to which titles he's working on, so that had a certain appeal.
When I saw a series with art almost entirely by Ramos, it felt worth the risk regardless of quality. I now have some regrets.
This book is such a mountain of cliches that parts of it almost have to have some sort of intention to it. I wonder if Brian Augustyn thought that making the principle characters a jock, a popular girl, a nerd, and a rebel was archetypal, and he could do something fresh with the concept.
He does nothing fresh with the concept.
These characters mostly speak in that sort of insufferable patois that exists only in stories about teenagers written by adults trying to emulate what they think all teenagers sound like. Seriously writers, teenager is not a dialect, and you will not capture how all teens sound, so maybe you should focus on writing dialogue that is either: a. Natural sounding or b. Entertaining. The dialogue for Out There switches between affected and expository most of the time, and neither works. You could cut out half the words in this book without losing anything valuable.
I'm not sure a single thing within the first volume of Out There qualifies as fresh. Not the main characters being "chosen ones", not a small town with a dark secret, not the high school tropes that would have felt painfully outdated 20 years ago, and certainly not the main threat.
The villain doesn't even particularly strike an interesting silhouette. He's big and evil looking. His servants are generic goblins 2 steps removed from an roleplaying game's monster manual.
You know what's more interesting than world-conquering ultimate evil? Anything. Seriously. Almost anything. There's plenty of real-world villainy any thinking person could use as a template, why go back to Skeletor for your influence?
But beyond anything else, the worst crime of all is not giving Ramos anything all that varied to draw. It turns boring people in a boring town facing boring evil drags down even the most dynamic artist. And that's something I simply can't forgive....more
"There was something appealing about breaking bones and asking questions, about mixing it up with lowlifes and intellectual dames."
Indeed, Mack Megato"There was something appealing about breaking bones and asking questions, about mixing it up with lowlifes and intellectual dames."
Indeed, Mack Megaton, indeed. Even a robot can understand why people are into crime fiction. There's a reason detective stories made up such a healthy portion of old pulp novels. While the fairly undemanding structure attracted plenty of hacks, it also brought authors who preferred to spend more of them time on snappy dialogue, good pacing, and colorful characters.
While Martinez throws in a great deal of wacky elements, most of them resembling the sort of pulp elements usually seen in science fiction novels. What surprised me most is that almost everything had an organic explanation.
If there's one thing that bothers me about bizarro fiction, it's that it usually involves one non-sequiter element stacked on another stacked on another. The Automatic Detective takes the opposite path. Every absurd element has an explanation and a reason for existing within the universe. For something that at first glance seems like pure high-concept whimsy ultimately ends up feeling thoroughly thought through.
And it helps that the characters are likable. I could read an entire book about a gorilla taxi driver or Lucia, the brilliant inventor, in this city. Barring one particular villain, almost everyone in this story has a motive and a demeanor that generates interest.
If there's a flaw here, and it's a brief on, it's the ultimate villain. He's a bit one-note, and the way they raise the stakes with him at the end too closely resembles the sort of escalation that blockbuster movies have been abusing for about a decade now.
But the way the characters deal with that cliche situation actually redeemed it, leaving me rather impressed with the whole thing.
It's odd, but I realized that Goodreads has been recommending A. Lee Martinez books to me for years, and I was just put off by the covers. It's easy to assume stuff like this will be the kind of lazy pastiche that comic books are often saturated with. But no, Martinez brings a genuine love for his characters and setting, and that joy is evident throughout. ...more
This book should have been easy to like. A lot of the art is amazing, and there's a good chunk of the creators whose work I already read.
But damn if tThis book should have been easy to like. A lot of the art is amazing, and there's a good chunk of the creators whose work I already read.
But damn if the misses don't outweigh the hits.
From what I can see, there's only really two ways you can go if someone asks you to write something related to Attack on Titan. You can either lean into the intense, tragic nature of the source material, or you can poke fun at the premise. The stories that worked best tended to go with the former. There's a few stories, many of them with amazing art, that really capture the sadness that makes the original manga so powerful.
But it annoyed me that most of the stories by creators I'm already a fan of were mostly irrelevant spoofs. Faith Erin Hicks story about making Titans laugh with dumb jokes just made me sigh, the comic by the team from Batgirl of Burnside did a dumb comic that doubled as a message about cosplay and consent (I liked the message more than the story), and beyond that there was an ongoing mini comic full of the sort of dumb jokes you'd expect on a deep otaku fan webcomic.
When this collection works, it works well, but that's not nearly often enough to satisfy....more
Fiction often has a weird notion of how tragedy works. If a character has dead family in his past, it's usually a shorthand for how badly he wants toFiction often has a weird notion of how tragedy works. If a character has dead family in his past, it's usually a shorthand for how badly he wants to achieve his goals. It's the reason that if you Magneto with a family, that family is already doomed. The misfortune serves as a catalyst for their purpose, purifying their drive.
It's an idea that reads as sensible, and is generally crap. For most of us, tragedy is a setback, and for some an outright crippling incident. Death can create downward spirals of depression, sometimes even leading to PTSD.
Also, you can just look at the most motivated people you know and odds are, they aren't going to say that they found their drive after a spouse or a child died. It's about as common as people who calmly walk away from explosions without looking back.
So I found the set up of Planetfall really compelling once the full extent of it became clear. The protagonist, Ren, is deeply troubled in ways that become clearer and more upsetting as time goes on.
I have a lot of social anxiety, so reading about a character who's trying to avoid other people as much as possible was a nice change of pace. In science fiction it's very rare to encounter a character who genuinely gets upset as the idea of dealing with people without preparation and adequate energy.
The main issue I had with this book is less the author's fault than the collective fault of so many writers. It comes down to withholding information and calling it suspense. You may have seen this in the show lost, the most recent Star Wars, or literally almost anywhere.
There's something cheap about flatly stating, "this bad thing happened.... but I'm not going to get into it right now, for no clear reason." We all know the reason, so it can be revealed over time as a trail of breadcrumbs intended to maintain reader interest. The trouble is, this has become such a trope that its used in stories that don't really require it.
It goes back to the old Vonnegut rule: "Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages."
Planetfall would have had just as much power if important things were explained as they came up. I didn't find the answers to the mysteries to be particularly revelatory, because the first introduction of the idea usually told me the "what", and just left me waiting for the "how". If you tell me someone died, and then change the subject, I'll probably figure out most of how they died by the time you decide to dramatically reveal it. Context gives events power, so I'd really like authors to stop burying information and pretending that constitutes a twist.
But otherwise, Planetfall had a lot of power. The reading of the Audible book by the author was also solid, though the author's attempt at an American accent is awkward and probably wasn't necessary....more
It has a lot of the things I enjoy. Urban fantasy, an interesting magic system, upsetting, creepy villains, good atmoThis should be a four star book.
It has a lot of the things I enjoy. Urban fantasy, an interesting magic system, upsetting, creepy villains, good atmosphere. But there's a hole at the center of this, and it's name is Kell.
Fantasy in particular seems to suffer from a tendency to just use cliches like building blocks for whichever part doesn't particularly interest them. Schwab put a lot of love into the multi-dimensional Londons, and into every supporting character, even the secondary protagonist, but Kell has the curse of the fantasy protagonist.
I'm going to tell you the story of the modern fantasy protagonist. He's Gangles McFloppyHair, who's perpetually gangly (it's how you say skinny without sounding shallow) and has beautiful unkempt hair in his eyes (which is a pain in the ass in real life, which is why only teenage boys do that normally). Gangles has special powers that make him unique, but he's not having any fun with it because he's usually an orphan or in an orphan-like state. Gangles is usually the cipher for the reader, and as such, he is kind of a blank, with heroic leanings that are necessary to move a conventional narrative forward.
There's a Youtube review of the Phantom Menace that had the clearest method for seeing how defined a character is: Can you describe them without saying anything about their physical appearance?
I can do this for every character in this story except Kell. He's all window dressing, with his fancy coat, his weird black eye, and his lovingly described outfits.
This stands out for me because I appreciated the rest of the book so much. There's a genuine sense of menace to the alternate Londons. They truly feel like dangerous places, and the villains within have an affecting, creepy power to them. The environments and characters have a lived-in, thoughtful quality to them. And the pacing kept me engaged even with the blank of a protagonist.
Perhaps the omni-present blank that is Gangles in so many stories comes out of brutal utility. It's trickier to guide a protagonist through the narrative hoops if he's got a distinctive personality, because he might do something like run away, or make a rude joke that keeps him from getting what he wants, or not weakly refuse the call of action like a good little Hero's Journey cog.
Letting character define narrative rather than vice-versa might give you a more chaotic plot, and that might upset the pre-planned three novel arc every fantasy author creates almost as a reflex now....more
If you're entering into this book looking for predictive science fiction, something that takes existing technology and extrapolates it into a dizzyingIf you're entering into this book looking for predictive science fiction, something that takes existing technology and extrapolates it into a dizzying view of the future, you might actually find the whole set up humorous and perhaps almost retro at times. Oryx and Crake is a world where libraries are backing up everything to CD Rom, most people communicate through email, and subscription based video websites are the most popular form of entertainment.
Though I sincerely doubt Atwood cares. She's even said she doesn't write stories to predict the future, and often doesn't like her stories being called sci fi at all. But her notions about how humans might one day recreates organisms both micro and macro still resonates a great deal. Giant organ-filled pigs and designer pets still seem like something on the horizon for mankind.
There's really only one thing that keeps me with a Margaret Atwood book, and that's the confidence of her prose. She writes so directly, and with such assurance, that I end up going along for the ride no matter how absurd some of the technology is.
And it's got very little to do with the characters. Crake is more or less a stereotype of a genius on the spectrum with super villain tendencies. Oryx mostly seems like an object around which to form conflict and project things on, as many women in loves triangles are, despite giving her some background information. Jimmy/Snowman, as the protagonist, is a little more fleshed out, but there's a limit, since he's actually a fairly shallow petty character.
And yet, I can say all this and still feel satisfied with the time I spent reading the book. There's a fluidity to the writing that overrides so many other weaknesses. There's so much confidence that I forget I can see the strings.
Even though you know a magic trick is fake, it's hard to resent it if it's done well. ...more
I don't often say it this bluntly, but this book is heartbreakingly stupid. What's that you say? Heartbreakingly isn't a real adverb? Well, that didn'I don't often say it this bluntly, but this book is heartbreakingly stupid. What's that you say? Heartbreakingly isn't a real adverb? Well, that didn't stop James Lovegrove from employing them on such a routine basis that it actually made me laugh after a while.
The prose is hilarious, but that's actually the least of my problems here. The big, glaring problem here comes from the absolute waste of the premise.
Age of Ra is a world where the Egyptian pantheon killed off all the other gods 100 years ago. It really doesn't go much farther into that than I just did with my previous sentence. This suggests that around the time of World War 1 a burly brawl went down between two different religions. Which just goes back to that old chestnut of writing advice: "Is this the most interesting part of your story? If not, why are you starting here?"
The setup could be really fun in competent hands.
This is not in competent hands.
The thinly sketched out rules create some of the problem. They suggest that there's only two ways to really kill a god:
1. Convert all the god's followers. 2. Kill all the god's followers.
What little history we get suggests the second option. And if you're a fan of history (Lovegrove really doesn't seem like one) you might not that killing off a religion is kind of hard. Most religions die out to competing religions that prove more popular. Violent force often tends to entrench people in their beliefs. And several of the gods they supposedly kill are in some of the most widely published books on the planet. Ra would kill off Jesus, then the guy would pop back up a week later the moment someone found a copy of the New Testament. Both Jesus and Muhammad would keep appearing like Droopy the Dog in those old cartoons.
And the thing about this world is that the gods directly make themselves known to humans. They grant them gifts and powers. So it's less like how religion works, and more like having a supernatural president residing over your country.
Because the pantheon divided up the Earth. You'd think, since they did it about 100 years ago, that there would be a ton of changes, but no, they mostly left country names and cultures, everyone just has Egyptian themed military gear.
Beyond not understanding religion, he also apparently didn't work that hard on the world building or the gods themselves. These characters are thousands of years old, but the way they talk suggests that they haven't done anything new since Egypt was conquered by the Roman Empire. It leaves the impression that the author grabbed a children's book about Egypt and called it a day. There's no new stories, almost no real history of their interference on Earth or why the religion didn't die out, and apparently they just spend most of their time arguing on Ra's god boat.
But I could forgive most of this if the main story had some fun energy to it.
It does not.
It involves a special forces soldier named David. Davids screws up his mission in the Middle East and nearly dies when his unit gets caught. Through a whole lot of serendipity he ends up in Freegypt (sigh) and joins up with the Lightbringer, a man with a following who wants to kill off all the gods.
And if that plans seems stupid based on the rules outlined above, that's because it is. It's a very stupid plan and no one should have been convinced. If you want a comparison of how stupid this plan is, imagine either converting every American into atheist or killing them. Doesn't really sound manageable, does it? The Lightbringer's plan would require 20 times that effort.
There are two big twists in this story, and they're both on the big list of cliched twists that no one should use anymore.
The first is when a character is secretly related to another character. Shockingly (SHOCKINGLY!) the Lightbringer is actually Steven (all hail Steve the Lightbringer!), brother to David. (I'm not spoiler tagging this, because it's the conflict through the majority of the novel.) So yeah, in a country of mostly brown people, it turns out that the most of the action centers on two rich, white guys from England. It's a white man's burden story line worthy of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
This was the point where it all really started to fall apart for me, because it's the point where dialogue became more of a feature, and the dialogue in this novel is consistently atrocious. Steven in particular is so obnoxious that it became almost unbearable. I only have one requirement for dialogue in a novel: It should sound natural or be enjoyable. I don't require both, but I need one or the other, and this book suffers on both levels. Everyone sounds like a petulant child regardless of age, and even the gods sound like obnoxious teenagers.
Here's a direct quote from a god in this story:
Horus glares back at him. There’s enough venom in his one eye to fill two. “Want me to rip those balls of yours off again? I’ll happily do it, you ginger freak. Come on.” He clenches his hand at crotch height, gripping an imaginary pair of testicles. “Just give me an excuse.”
Beyond that, there's a level of needless machismo to both the main characters that didn't help matters. Here's a smattering of awful quotes:
The two Liberators folded their arms. David reckoned he could take them down pretty easily. Though both were stockily well built, neither radiated the calm, ready-for-anything aura of an experienced fighter. Street muscle. They would go for obvious blows – face, chest, belly. He would jab at nerve clusters and soft spots – throat, eyes, genitals. No contest.
Nobody called David Westwynter a coward. Or even implied it.
We became firm pals, the two of us. And I know what you’re thinking. A Greek sailor, and lithe, well-muscled young me. Well, belay that foul thought, big brother. It wasn’t like that. None of that sort of thing went on, no hanky-panky belowdecks.
“How you’ve come round to the Lightbringer. How close the two of you have become. He’s always conferring with you.” David nearly blurted it all out then: That’s because he’s Steven, he’s my brother, my long-thought-lost little bro.
AND DAVID SLEPT. Profoundly.
That last quote has nothing to do with my point, it was just too funny to leave out.
The other twist that really bothered me, because it's a feature in every AAA video game I play now, was the third act betrayal. In a crappy story, a trusted figure always betrays the protagonist in the third act. In games, it's an excuse for you to fight a different enemy. In books, it's mostly just lazy.
What's upsetting overall is the wasted premise. There's about a dozen different perspectives I'd rather have explored this world through. How about someone who actually has to deal with the worldwide politics of a pantheon controlled world? Or someone more integrated into a countries culture?
It's just so much more infuriating when the potential exists. ...more
It seems like you can only succeed so much at comedy before inevitably someone offers you a book deal. I sometimes wonder what the conversation goes lIt seems like you can only succeed so much at comedy before inevitably someone offers you a book deal. I sometimes wonder what the conversation goes like:
"Hey, we'll pay you to write a book. You do comedy, you should be good at it!"
"Okay. What should I write it about?"
"I dunno. How about you stitch together some personal essays, biography, and advice until it reaches a book-type length?"
I've read an odd number of books written by comedians, and the results definitely vary based on this logic. At their worst, they're like Chris Rock's book, a collection of jokes and anecdotes cobbled together by a ghost writer. At their best, they reveal someone who could have easily gone into prose full time, like Mindy Kaling or Tina Fey.
Unfortunately, Schumer's book falls on the lower half of that scale. At least she doesn't complain about having to write a book like Amy Poehler did, but there are times where this book feels damn perfunctory.
Only the best writers ever succeed in making me give a damn about their childhoods. There are only a few of Schumer's stories that even really held my attention, due to their specificity. Her stories about her dad stand out, as well as her stories about her parents going broke and getting divorced, but a lot of them feel like fairly bland tales of a suburban white girl. There's a chapter where she literally just discusses her stuffed animals, and I had to skip halfway through.
As a low-grade comedy nerd, I appreciated it when the novel turned to her comedy. Hearing almost any artist talk about their craft is enjoyable, and Schumer had interesting insights into the industry and on her own path towards success.
But sadly, there's far too big a chunk given over to uninspired think pieces about gun control, body image, and feminism. I even agree with her for the most part, but she's not saying a single thing in these tossed-off rants that I haven't heard before.
I think this book might have actually benefited from a ghost writer. A lot of what makes the book drag comes down to the prose. There's tons of sentences that don't move the narrative forward, they just serve as flat declarations. It's bad when an audiobook makes me want to yell, "Show, don't tell!" Maybe it comes from most of her experience being in scripts, skits, and stand up routines, but Schumer seems clumsy at actually relaying stories.
And the audiobook format did little to help this. I've seen Trainwreck, I watch her show, and I've seen her stand up, so I know she's capable of performing with more energy than this audio performance suggests. It has the feeling of obligation, as though read between Starbucks sips while leaning back in a chair. There were moments where she got into the spirit of things, and I'd hope that maybe she'd carry that through the rest of the story, and then a few paragraphs later we'd be back into the same tired rhythm.
It's a shame, because there's definitely potential with the material available. It almost seems like it needed better editing, and many chapters succeed despite themselves because the jokes still work.
Unless you're a die-hard Schumer fan, I'd say give this one a pass. There's plenty of options to get her comedic take....more
Despite the title, Squirrel Girl has never been a character built around solving problems with hyper violence. She talked Galactus out of eating EarthDespite the title, Squirrel Girl has never been a character built around solving problems with hyper violence. She talked Galactus out of eating Earth by offering him a healthier alternative. She convinced Kraven to back off by offering him a hunt more challenging. She, in general, will only get violent when an opposing force can not be reasoned with (this series is the reason that, canonically, Squirrel Girl has beaten up the entirety of the Avengers for being dismissive).
And based on this book, I kind of wish that North and Henderson could do their work entirely in graphic novel format. While the series usually has overarching stories, the cohesiveness of the format allows them to really build towards something. There's genuinely touching moments in this story that are allowed to flourish in the more open framework.
I also enjoyed the book because it points out an odd parallel between Squirrel Girl and Superman. Both are basically capable of dominating almost anyone, but both have too many morals and too much heart to want to. The only difference between Doreen and her clone is that only one believes the ends justifies the means.
And it's all done with some killer jokes. Squirrel Girl continues to be one of the funniest books coming out of Marvel at the moment, and it almost seems like its presence has encouraged a lot of other humor books at the publisher.
This book is a pretty solid jump off point for the series as a whole, since it's effectively standalone. If you enjoy this, I'd definitely recommend the other trades in the series. ...more
I'm not sure what can be done with an author that can't even avoid basic cliches. When I attempted to search for this book by title, I found that therI'm not sure what can be done with an author that can't even avoid basic cliches. When I attempted to search for this book by title, I found that there's over a page of books with either this exact title, or minor variations of it.
Authors. Please. Google your titles before you land on anything. I'm not expecting a unique turn of phrase, but if there's a complete page of books with a similar titles, one of which is a book of wisdom by Kermit the Frog, maybe brainstorm a few extra minutes.
As this was a Kindle First book, which Prime members get a free pick of each month, I did not feel obligated to finish this. If I had, for some strange reason, paid for this book, I would have hate-read it to completion. It's not incompetent prose, but there's a limit to how many issues I can stomach from a story I'm not financially invested in.
For starters, there's a preface that's essentially bragging about how challenging it is to write a book. No, Mr. Houghton, no it's not. It's challenging to write a good book. Most people with functional writing skills, a bit of free time, and a word processor can write a book. There's an entire website dedicated to writing mediocre books in a month, and it has many members who are apparently successful. All the mountain climbing metaphors in the world aren't going to make the reader feels impressed by the fact that you finished a book.
Then there's a prologue. I barely tolerate prologues, mostly because I feel a story should start where it actually begins, at the point where it's most interesting to begin. I do not need you to prepare me for the story to begin. And having the prologue be an in media res scene from much later in the story does not help this feeling, as I have also grown sick of artists thinking this is an interesting move. These days it would be more daring to tell a story sequentially, without flashbacks.
The prologue also introduces an issue that persisted through the entire reading. There's a sort of clumsiness in the arrangement of elements and choreography that just kept hurting my suspension of disbelief. The way events are sequenced felt like someone had planned it out with their action figures without considering practical plausibility.
And I could still get past all this, up to the second chapter, but then a bit of prose just completely kicked me in the head:
The day had started out innocently enough, with no hint of the tragic events that would unfold and brand themselves indelibly into my brain. I’d gone about my business on that fateful day as usual, with no knowledge that my universe was on the brink of imploding.
Please do not tell me that something interesting is going to happen, especially if it's not going to happen in the next few paragraphs. The universe implosion is not in the next paragraph, it's not even on the next page. I gave up before the implosion even occurred.
There's a limit to how much machismo I will tolerate in my prose. Thrillers in particular seem to have this issue, where the author seems to think that their metaphors and dialogue will be so edgy that it'll kick my ass and leave me breathless with how bad ass my experience is. It's tiresome posturing, and I gave up not longer after.
I give almost any book about 10% of its run to start pulling me in, and I barely reached that in this case. This book is clumsy....more
I'd like to think I have better reasons for my disappointment, but I have to acknowledge a chunk of it comes froI was told there would be sky pirates.
I'd like to think I have better reasons for my disappointment, but I have to acknowledge a chunk of it comes from how it was pitched to our book club. It filled my head with visions of swashbuckling aboard flying ships amidst cannon fire.
In reality, there's very little action through most of the book, and no significant flying occurs until about 80% of the way through. This ultimately relates to the novel's greatest issues, pacing.
I'm normally not this aware of plot structure, but the back half really made me aware of the issues by sheer contrast. Through the first half it feels like a scoundrel, police captain, shape changer, and a villain are all just circling each other, not really pushing the plot forward or making any moves. It's like when shows like The Walking Dead or Lost have episodes where everyone just seems to be running around. It's movement in place of dramatic escalation.
But things go nuts in the end, and it made me wish the author had spread it out a bit. Through a huge chunk of the book Detan Honding keeps hinting at his mysterious past, but we get so few concrete details that it actually starts to feel antagonistic. When it's revealed, the nature of deviant sel-sensitive characters is really interesting, and probably should have played a larger part in the entire story.
I can't tell if it's a writer's holding back to better facilitate a trilogy, or a bunch of ideas that occurred near the end of the process, but it made the story a struggle to read, yet a joy to complete. A part of me is almost curious about the second book, but I'm not sure this type of narrative is something I want to invest in further.
A much smaller point, and one not exclusive to this novel, is the obnoxious figures of speech. Phrases like "let the sel out of the sack" and "caught with their hand in the agave candy" made me straight-up twitch. If you're world is so different that our old cliched phrases don't apply, don't just take those cliches and put different nouns in them. If there are cats, and there are bags, just let the cat out of the bag. It's not as bad as Brandon Sanderson's fake swearing but it's close.
Ultimately an uneven experience, but not without merit....more