I'm going to let this review stand for the whole series, and especially for this book and Catching Fire. Ove...more**spoiler alert** Warning: Spoilers below.
I'm going to let this review stand for the whole series, and especially for this book and Catching Fire. Overall, I think the series did not really improve as it went on. I liked Hunger Games best and Mockingjay least. Was it just because of the dystopian nature of it all? Perhaps. Maybe I just found Katniss got more annoying and self-absorbed as the story went on and with her as the narrator that affected the whole experience.
If I were to sum up, I would say that this series is "1984" for the Millennials. As in Orwell's book, we have an anti-hero who faces an overwhelming oppressor that he/she can never really escape. I would also say that the Harry Potter parallels are quite striking. In both we have a reluctant teen hero plucked from obscurity to fame even as he/she doubts their own worthiness. They face an evil and implacable foe that seems insurmountable and while there are adults who help and hinder they are never as effective as the teen-hero and their same-age compatriots. In the course of fighting the foe, nearly everything they love and hold dear is destroyed, including homes and even some friends. Even the ending is the same: Years later the hero contemplating their own children and their future while suffering the effects of their own past.
I'm sure that wan't an intentional design on Collins' part, but it does make me wonder what the popularity of Harry Potter and Hunger Games among teens and young adults says about this generation. Is there a hopelessness? A loneliness of one against the world? Like 1984 there is an inevitability of misery, a sense that oblivion is the ultimate end, because the tender love and mercy of God is unimagined and completely absent.
I have seen elsewhere criticism of the lack of God in the books. I don't think Collins is suggesting that this is for the better. Actually, the trilogy doesn't lack references to religion.
In Catching Fire, there is a moment where Katniss describes a very old painting that includes depictions of "babies with wings", i.e. cherubim. I think in the books Collins is making a deliberate allusion to what can happen in a world stripped of faith and religion, of an absolute moral order. In such a world, one can imagine a government and a people going along with gladiatorial combat among children as entertainment. Even in the Soviet Union, you still had vestiges of religious understanding and context, and look at what they were able to do.
Later, in the Mockingjay, when Betee and Gale discuss the tactic of dual terrorist bombings designed to cause collateral damage to emergency first responders (which ends up being a key turning point), Katniss is repulsed and says something to effect that some things should just be out of bounds for the good guys and gets confused stares in response. In the end, it's just this ambiguity, where she can't even figure out which side was so depraved as to end up using this tactic after all, that drives her over the edge.
Again, I think Collins is making the point that what separates the good guys from the bad isn't just which oppressor is in power at the moment, but that there should be an objective moral order by which we should measure ourselves and our actions. Absent such a moral order, we are capable of anything.
I guess what I find most lacking is that Collins never explicitly connects the dots. Instead there's some superficial satisfaction in an act of revenge, some catatonic "closure", and then life goes on with a refusal to seek ultimate good. I think it was an opportunity lost for both the characters and the trilogy as a whole.(less)
I started the book Friday night and finished it Sunday afternoon and I wasn't reading it on a constant basis. This is not a complex book. It is not un...moreI started the book Friday night and finished it Sunday afternoon and I wasn't reading it on a constant basis. This is not a complex book. It is not unenjoyable either, which I admit is not the highest of praise. If I could sum it up, I'd say it was "1984 meets Sweet Valley High". Like 1984, it's the story of people living under an oppressive government that they're not out to overthrow, but they're just trying to survive and find a little happiness for themselves. Like Sweet Valley High, well, I don't know since I never read any of them, but if I were to guess they'd be pull of lots of teen angst over relationships and who likes whom and so on.
From the start, the book reads like a TV or movie script, probably because of Collins' background in TV writing and because it's written in 3 acts. At first, I was aggravated at Katniss for being so clueless that she couldn't see what I saw the first time her co-protagonist was introduced, then I wondered if Collins' did it intentionally in order to give the reader an (inflated) sense of omniscience. Or was it because the heroine needed a tragic flaw in order to humanize her? I did find myself liking this anti-hero in any case and the character of Katniss herself is 2 of the 3 stars I give the book. She comes across as fully formed and fleshed out, as opposed to most of the supporting cast who seemed rather flat.
I was often annoyed at Collins' use of the first person present for the narrative. Is Katniss narrating the story in her head as she experiences it? It felt even stranger when the narrator was actually using the past tense to present an event in the past. I was also annoyed at Collins' cop-out with the "rule change" in the Game, which removed the real difficult moral choice facing the characters. It would make an amazing character study in how they choose. But even with the way Collins' resolved it, one the rule change was introduced it watered down that eventual moment completely. I had no doubt of how it would end.
As for the plot itself, it was of course derivative of the 1980s movie "The Running Man" (and my film geek friends mention another one as well called "Battle Royal"). Not to mention the very obvious connections to the Roman Empire, with the names ("Claudius", "Cato") and gladiatorial combat. I guess what I never got past is that it's essentially about adults using children killing children as a form of entertainment. It's so viscerally wrong, I'm not sure if it's ever sufficiently portrayed as being that wrong. I mean if it were adults being thrown into the situation, it would be wrong, but that it's children is just so much more horrifically worse. I have a hard time believing the Districts wouldn't rather be destroyed than allow such barbarity against the children continue.
What is good about the book is the action sequences. Collins gives us very good set pieces and action elements that draw the reader in from one moment to the next, wondering
I will read the second book in the series and probably the third, but I don't know if my estimation of the series will rise above this. It's interesting and enjoyable as an action novel. I don't think it qualifies as teen fiction.(less)
It's very difficult to write a good prequel (cf. the Phantom Menace) and especially a good espionage thriller prequel (cf. Tom Clancy's Red Rabbit), s...moreIt's very difficult to write a good prequel (cf. the Phantom Menace) and especially a good espionage thriller prequel (cf. Tom Clancy's Red Rabbit), so it's impressive that Vince Flynn has written two in a row. The author has to create suspense and jeopardy when you already know that certain key characters have to survive the book to show up in the stories covered in the earlier books.
In the previous book in the series, Flynn gave us the origins of the world's greatest terrorist hunter, Mitch Rapp. In the older books, Rapp has reached the midpoint of his career and perhaps even its twilight, which I'm sure presented problems for Flynn because who wants to hear the exploits of a ready-for-retirement spy? So we go back to the beginning. We have the same Rapp, with his preternatural skills and talents, his overriding sense of justice, and his unwavering commitment to do what he thinks is necessary to accomplish his ends. But this younger Rapp is more raw, with fewer scars--both physical and psychological. He's more emotional, sometimes less sure of himself, prone to rookie errors the older Rapp would never make, including the relationship with a particular young woman. (Although it has some excellent foreshadowing for a situation we already have seen.)
We also have a complex plot full of intrigue and twists and turns that ultimately end with, well, we know how such books end, don't we? It's how we get there--and who makes it there with us--that's important. Kill Shot does not disappoint.(less)
It's the next generation of Clancy characters. After a brief deviation from his regular set of characters in his last book, Clancy returns to Jack Rya...moreIt's the next generation of Clancy characters. After a brief deviation from his regular set of characters in his last book, Clancy returns to Jack Ryan, John Clark, and their protégés (and progeny). While it's mostly "by the numbers" military/espionage techno-thriller that Clancy invented, he still manages to turn out a yarn that keeps you glued to each cliffhanging chapter.
I was especially amused to see Clancy play out the politics, which were very clearly Clancy's own political being trumpeted and extolled. Not very subtle there, and perhaps because I'm sympathetic to his viewpoint, I enjoyed it. I imagine most readers of these books would be of similar mindset.
I guess I've forgiven Clancy for the dud that was Red Rabbit as I'm now eagerly awaiting the next book--and it's clear that the groundwork for the next one was laid in this one.(less)
This is not your father's Tom Clancy novel. But it is.
It's not, in that we have brand-new characters here for the most part and they're dealing with...moreThis is not your father's Tom Clancy novel. But it is.
It's not, in that we have brand-new characters here for the most part and they're dealing with a whole new set of circumstances. It's the same in that we have the same long expositions about details other authors would just skim. It's the same can't-put-it-down action that drives you to keep turning pages. And it has the same conservative political worldview that wraps up Clancy's commentary on contemporary US and world affairs in a military/espionage thriller.
The main character is complex and cool with motivations that are hinted at throughout the book until the big reveal at the end. Clancy also manages to elicit from the reader sympathy or affinity for some of the bad guys, who are among the most interesting characters in the book. I just wish more of the supporting cast of good guys got similar time on the stage before they shuffled off.
I don't know where Clancy intends to go with this book, whether it's a one-off or the beginning of a new series, although he hints at it in the end. But I hope he does more like this. It feels like the old Tom Clancy is back.(less)
The whole book had the whole "second book of a trilogy" feeling to it, where everything is being set up for resolution in another book. The previous t...moreThe whole book had the whole "second book of a trilogy" feeling to it, where everything is being set up for resolution in another book. The previous two books in the series really advanced the story at a rapid pace, so Tears of the Sun was a bit jarring in how little it actually moved forward. In fact, it felt more like Stirling was going back to fill in various plot holes and tie up loose threads.
That's not to say that there aren't big things that happen. In fact, there are some very big events that occur. Very significant to the major characters. I would say that this is a book that explores the characters more than advances a particular plot.
One thing to keep in mind is that Stirling engages in his trademark non-linear storytelling, where the chapters jump around to focus on different people in different places, sometimes a year or more before or after the events of the previous chapter. It can be disconcerting if you're not paying attention. By the eighth book in the Emberverse series, you better be paying attention to have got this far.
So "Tears of the Sun" may not be my favorite book of the series, but it's still worthwhile, especially to see where Stirling is going and as the set up for what promises to be an epic conclusion to the tale, worthy of the massive buildup we've seen. I just hope we get some real answers to the overarching mysteries in the end.(less)
If you've read any Star Wars novels, then you recognize the name of Michael Stackpole, one of the best of the stable of those authors. But that's not...moreIf you've read any Star Wars novels, then you recognize the name of Michael Stackpole, one of the best of the stable of those authors. But that's not the whole of what he's written. He has many novels in both fantasy and scifi genres.
But Talion:Revenant is unique in that not only was it the first book he ever wrote, it has never been published. At least not in the traditional sense. Last year, Stackpole brought the book out of his archives, polished it up, and started selling it on his website (and through the regular ebook stores). Partly, he wanted to prove that good authors producing self-published ebooks can make a good living, but also so that this story could live. And if the book sells 5,000 copies, he's promised a sequel. More than 1,200 have sold so far, and I have to imagine there are 3,800 people out there who don't want another sparkly vampire book.
The world of the Talion is quite imaginative, in fact. I enjoy the interplay of justice with the concepts of mercy and honor as characters struggle between the need for the law to earn both deterrence and respect. Characters struggle within and without and while the book is not perfect--some of the plotting is a bit thin and races along a little too fast and some of the characters are a little flat--it's quite enjoyable. In fact, there's a bit of a Harry Potter feel at times (remember, this was a long time before Hogwarts was even conceived), a little bit of Ender's Game, but on the whole, quite original.
At the least it's worth $5 to see Stackpole revisit the world of the Shattered Empire after 25 years of honing his craft and see what he produces today. If you like Tolkien or Guy Gavriel Kay or Terry Brooks, you'll enjoy Talion: Revenant.(less)
Like Aubrey-Maturin in space. I like it. I also like that author is building in a wider mythology so that the series doesn't end if/when the lost flee...moreLike Aubrey-Maturin in space. I like it. I also like that author is building in a wider mythology so that the series doesn't end if/when the lost fleet isn't lost any more. It's good rollicking naval battles with good conflict and not too much suspension of disbelief. (less)
It's not what happened, but it's what *could* have happened. The book accomplishes all that a piece of Christian fiction could hope for, which is to d...moreIt's not what happened, but it's what *could* have happened. The book accomplishes all that a piece of Christian fiction could hope for, which is to draw me closer to the Lord and to a desire for the sacraments. Great reading for Holy Week. (less)
A good guide to going paperless. I've already been scanning as much as possible using a document scanner and various software tools for more than a ye...moreA good guide to going paperless. I've already been scanning as much as possible using a document scanner and various software tools for more than a year, but this guide helped me refine my workflow and settle in my mind how I should be doing this. Would be an excellent resource for anyone looking for go paperless in their office, whether at home or at work.(less)
A cracking good read. The good is that there will be another Changeverse novel. The bad? I want to know how it ends! And yet I want more. Isn't that t...moreA cracking good read. The good is that there will be another Changeverse novel. The bad? I want to know how it ends! And yet I want more. Isn't that the sign of a great book?
I especially love Stirling's sense of humor, the references to pre-Change world in the midst of a world reduced to a pre-Industrial state. Start at the beginning with Dies the Fire and just keep reading. (less)
A classic Coonts military/spy thriller that's a little too close to being ripped from the headlines. The threat if a nuclear Iran scares me even more...moreA classic Coonts military/spy thriller that's a little too close to being ripped from the headlines. The threat if a nuclear Iran scares me even more than before. (less)