**spoiler alert** Since I first read Perdido Street Station, I've been a big China Miéville fan. So when I saw Kraken on the library's shelves, I figu...more**spoiler alert** Since I first read Perdido Street Station, I've been a big China Miéville fan. So when I saw Kraken on the library's shelves, I figured I'd give it a shot. Unlike the other books I've read by Miéville, this one is set on Earth, in modern times (sometime between 2003 and 2007; the precise date is never given). In fact, Kraken is highly reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere: a normal London white-collar worker (in this case, Billy Harrow, curator of a natural history museum) is unexpectedly thrust into a world of strange factions and strange magic, revealing an alternate subculture of London full of its own rules, threats, and alliances.
What kicks everything off for Billy Harrow is the theft of a preserved giant squid from his museum -- a theft that should have been impossible to accomplish and for which no one claims credit. Harrow suddenly becomes the target of interest for a squad of London police officers who specialize in the occult, a squid-worshiping cult, and other less savory groups. Through it all, he must both adapt to this new London and figure out who stole the squid and why before the city of London is wiped out forever.
Kraken is similar to Neverwhere, if Neil Gaiman hadn't faded to black for the violent bits. Miéville is graphic and dark, and often the scenes of violence were difficult for me to read. Moreover, his hyper-realistic dialogue and slightly off-kilter descriptions sometimes left me wondering just who was talking in any given conversation or whose point of view we were supposed to be using at any given moment.
It's clear that Miéville loves the alter-London he created; I'd love to see this as an RPG setting. However, sometimes the descriptions slow down the narrative. Moreover, there seems to be a lot of description for relatively minor characters. Speaking of characters, don't get too attached. They tend to die off at a greater-than-average rate.
I don't really like the ending. First come a series of "final showdown" sequences, with Goss and Subby (uber-grizzly assassins-cum-bogeymen), with the Tattoo (a crime lord who now exists only as an animate tattoo and whose original name has been lost), with the minions of Grisamentum (an ex-crime lord who now exists only as animate ink), with Grisamentum himself (in a house that is the "embassy" of the sea), and finally -- in one of those "betcha didn't see it coming" heel turns -- with Vardy (a professor who consults for the London police).
Vardy had been on the side of law and justice through most of the book, but decides in the end to attempt to unmake most of the last two hundred years of scientific progress by burning some samples from Charles Darwin's collection, stored at the natural history museum where Harrow worked. To unmake them, he uses "memory fire," which burns away not only a physical object but also all memory that it had ever existed. Instead of destroying Darwin's samples, Harrow intervenes at the last minute and manages to destroy both Vardy and the giant squid which was the catalyst for the entire plot of the book.
This leads to a very odd, not-quite-satisfying denouement, full of paradoxes that are never quite explained. By burning the giant squid, it never existed, and thus the entire plot should never have happened. Harrow would never have left his job, war would never have erupted amongst London's various cults, and certain characters never would have died. Instead, all these things *did* happen, except no one remembers why. It is, to me, an unsatisfying, half-way-there ending. I feel like it could have been done better.
All told, it was an enjoyable -- if a bit disorienting -- read. That said, I'd probably prefer Perdido Street Station if I were to ever reread a Miéville book, and I'm glad I just got this one from the library instead of spending money on it.(less)
This book is actually a two-in-one, consisting of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, two parts of the same story. I've never really read muc...moreThis book is actually a two-in-one, consisting of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, two parts of the same story. I've never really read much of the Discworld series. That said, this book was highly entertaining. The plot consists of Rincewind (a wizard of sorts), Twoflower (the Disc's first tourist), and a host of other transient companions as they pass from one improbable event to another. The running jokes are wonderful, especially Death's appearance every so often to collect Rincewind's soul, only to be thwarted when the wizard fails to die.
Perhaps my favorite line in the entire book is, "It is embarrassing to know that one is a god of a world that only exists because every probability curve must have its far end." Really, that about sums it up.
For the graphic novel adaptation, the illustrations are wonderful, the pacing is great, and if sometimes you feel confused about the transition from one scene to another, that's okay because the characters are too.
**spoiler alert** Well, I'll give it this, book 5 of the Belgariad is at least faster-paced than book 4. Things rush inexorably towards the climax all...more**spoiler alert** Well, I'll give it this, book 5 of the Belgariad is at least faster-paced than book 4. Things rush inexorably towards the climax all book. The first hundred pages or so sees Garion, Belgarath, and Silk moving through Gar og Nadrak (yes! another kingdom!) towards their eventual destination of Mallorea. Witty banter ensues as Our Heroes (tm) get ever closer to the inevitable confrontation with the evil god Torak.
The entire middle of the book shifts perspective to Ce'Nedra's army and their preparations to invade Mishrak ac Thull (more kingdoms!) as a diversion to buy Garion et al some time to move into position. The point of view is mostly Ce'Nedra's, though there are some quite clever bits from the perspective of the various queens who have been left at home to run their kingdoms while the kings go to war. The army does, eventually, engage in a vary large battle, with one or two semi-unexpected plot twists along the way. Some secondary characters die, but no one of particular importance. In the end, Ce'Nedra, Polgara, Durnik, and the boy Errand are captured and sent to Mallorea, arriving the very same morning as Garion and his gang.
There's the mighty climactic battle between Garion and Torak. We've seen it coming for five books, and the good guys win, as we all knew they would. I was kind of annoyed with Eddings' writings at this point, with such overblown phrases as: "This was the EVENT for which the Universe had waited since the beginning of time." Yes, "EVENT" in all caps. Really, Eddings? Really? Was that strictly necessary? I don't know why, but more than anything else in the book, the all-caps EVENT annoyed the heck out of me.
The book ends with the marriage of Garion and Ce'Nedra, and also the marriage of Polgara and Durnik the smith. All is well... or is it? (Cue the dramatic music and the advertisements for Eddings' next series, the Malloreon.) It was fun while it lasted, but I think I need to give my brain a few weeks away from the fluffy fantasy. There's only so much of this I can take at a time.(less)
**spoiler alert** Book 4 of the Belgariad, I must admit, is a slog. We start off with a bit of action as Garion & friends escape from Cthul Murgos...more**spoiler alert** Book 4 of the Belgariad, I must admit, is a slog. We start off with a bit of action as Garion & friends escape from Cthul Murgos and back to the west. About halfway through the book comes the moment we've all been waiting for since the prologue of book 1: Garion is crowned the Rivan King. After that, unfortunately, the book slows way down as Garion has to deal with Politics (tm) and come to terms with life as a king.
About two-thirds of the way through, Garion secretly escapes from Riva with his "grandfather" Belgarath and everybody's favourite spy Silk (probably the most entertaining character in the series). They're off to Mallorea so that Garion can face the god Torak in one-on-one battle and decide the fate of the world. They travel for a bit, but nowhere more interesting than the swamps of Drasnia. (I can just hear Eddings now: "Look, it's another country I invented! Isn't it neat? Don't you like the little animals I created? Aren't they clever?")
With our main point-of-view character gone, the last 75 pages of the book are told from the perspective of Princess Ce'Nedra, Garion's betrothed. At first, those slog too, as Ce'Nedra must also deal with Politics (tm). There's a bit of a bright point at the end as Ce'Nedra -- helped by the usual cast of characters, who don't have anything better to do now that Garion's gone -- musters an army. She's off to fight a hopeless battle against the evil Asharaks to give Garion time to kill Torak.
If Book 1 felt like an extended prologue, book 4 feels like a capstone to the first three books and a setup to book 5. It doesn't really have much of a story in-and-of itself. Here's hoping that book 5 will give us a decent climax, because otherwise book 4 will have been mostly wasted.(less)
**spoiler alert** The travelogue/fluffy fantasy adventure continues. In book three, Our Heroes chase the Orb of Aldur through Maragor (swampy wastelan...more**spoiler alert** The travelogue/fluffy fantasy adventure continues. In book three, Our Heroes chase the Orb of Aldur through Maragor (swampy wasteland), the Vale of Aldur (home to the god of the same name), Ulgo (underground caverns whose residents haven't seen the sun for 5,000 years), and Cthul Murgos (home to the main evil race of the series). The first two chapters were particularly frustrating, because they're written from the perspective of Ce'Nedra, spoiled teenage princess of Tolnedra. Garion was *just* starting to get the hang of what was going on, so obviously Eddings needed to toss the point of view to a character even more clueless than him. Thankfully, the point of view shifts back to Garion after a while, so we only have one angsty teenage protagonist.
In book 3, Garion progresses in his sorcery, finally accepting instruction from people who know what they're talking about. Though they continually have to tell him not to be impulsive in his magic-using.
Magician's Gambit ends on quite the cliffhanger. (SPOILER ALERT!) Our Heroes make their way to the throne room of the evil magician Ctuchik (who's name I still haven't figured out how to pronounce). There's a large magic battle between Belgarath and Ctuchik, in which Ctuchik accidentally "unmakes" himself in the heat of the moment (a moment of great disappointment to me -- he broke the very first rule that sorcerers learn, and he really should have known better). In the aftermath, the throne room separates from the rest of the city, plunging to its doom, while Our Heroes jump into a cave with the Orb of Aldur and a young, innocent boy that Ctuchik was using to his own nefarious purposes. What happens next? Who knows? I'd better get started on book 4.(less)
**spoiler alert** Ah, the fluffy fantasy continues. This book sees Our Heroes leave Sendaria and travel across Arendia, Tolnedra, and Nyissa as they c...more**spoiler alert** Ah, the fluffy fantasy continues. This book sees Our Heroes leave Sendaria and travel across Arendia, Tolnedra, and Nyissa as they chase down Zedar, who has stolen the Orb of Aldur. (Got all that? Good.) Eddings seems to be quite fond of racial essentialism: all Arends are chivalrous but hotheaded; all Tolnedrans are practical but corrupt; all Nyissans are snake-like, and on and on.
In fact, the sense I've gotten as I've read through these first two books is that the Belgardiad is nothing more than a chance for David Eddings to show off the world he created. "Here, look at this place! And now look at this place! Isn't it cool what I've done?" Yes, he toys about with prophecy and the characters have encounters with the natives, but it all seems mostly to be a showcase for the fantasy world of Eddings' creation.
At this point, it still seems pretty clear where everything is going. I wonder if there are going to be any particularly notable plot twists, but so far it doesn't seem like it.
My one disappointment comes from misled expectation. The blurb on the back of the book implies that Garion, the protagonist, does great acts of sorcery in this book. And while he has one or two accidental brushes with his own power early in the book, he doesn't do his first real act of magic until three-quarters of the way through, and after that he spends the rest of the book brooding over it. The angsty teenager bit is starting to grate a little on my nerves, but I'll plow into book three regardless. Who knows? Maybe Garion will actually man up after a while.(less)
When I first started reading this book, I almost put it down after the prologue, and that would have been a mistake. The prologue is an unfortunate be...moreWhen I first started reading this book, I almost put it down after the prologue, and that would have been a mistake. The prologue is an unfortunate beginning: the writing is stilted and archaic, full of quick-moving historical references that are sometimes hard to keep track of, and just difficult to read in general. It gives the impression of a medieval Cole's Notes for the world of the Belgariad. You need to read it to understand the story, but it's not fun.
However, once we get into the book proper, things pick up. The writing becomes much more pleasant to read, and the story has a page-turner quality that persists despite not very much actually happening. In fact, the entire book reads like nothing so much as a 250-page prologue, which is what I suppose it ultimately is. Sometimes you want to shake the main character, Garion, for doing foolish things, but that's mostly because you know from the prologue that he's the last of the Rivan Kings, a fact which has been deliberately kept from him.
The story follows Garion, who until his 14th year had been living a simple life on a farm under the care of his Aunt Pol -- actually the sorceress Polgara, who for thousands of years has been protecting his family. When Garion's enemies track him down and make their move, Garion is forced to flee with Pol, a storyteller named Old Wolf (actually the 7000-year-old sorceror Belgarath), and a few other characters who are not quite what they appear. The books follow Garion and his companions as they attempt to chase down the thief who has stolen the Orb of Aldur, the most powerful artefact in the world.
All the while, Garion remains completely in the dark about their ultimate mission, and is only able to piece part of the story together from bits of eavesdropped conversations. Like I said, at times you want to shake him for his foolishness or stubbornness, but most of the time you just want to see how the story is going to unfold. If Pawn of Prophecy is a prologue, I look forward to book two, Queen of Sorcery, when we're hopefully going to get into the meat of the plot.(less)
And Another Thing... is billed as the sixth book of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series (a trilogy in four five parts), though it was not writ...moreAnd Another Thing... is billed as the sixth book of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series (a trilogy in four five parts), though it was not written by Douglas Adams but instead by Eoin Colfer. Now, perhaps I had my expectations a little high. After all, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Restaurant at the End of the Universe rank among my top-ten books of all time. Maybe even my top five. They are, in a word, exceptional.
Colfer is clearly a huge fan of the series. His references are spot-on, and no doubt his copies of The Hitchhiker's Guide books are just as well-thumbed and earmarked as my own. That said, they're extremely hard to duplicate. Even Douglas Adams himself seemed to fade a bit starting in book three of the series, where I suspect he was trying to replicate the writing style in the first two books and falling somewhat short of the mark. So if even Adams couldn't keep the trend going through five books, how much more difficult for a different writer to adopt it?
The true magic of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is that it walked a very fine line between plot and digression, between sense and nonsense. And Another Thing... fell just a little too far on the "digression/nonsense" side of that line. Colfer's asides are just a touch too prevalent and a smidge too flighty. His "Guide's Notes" seem included merely to throw in the names of made-up planets and peoples, rather than to further the tenuous strands of the plot. His references to the original books sometimes seem a bit strained.
There are nonetheless a few moments of brilliance. I particularly liked Colfer's characterization of Thor, and there were a few passages in there that might have been pulled straight from H2G2. It was an enjoyable read, if not something that I'll come back to again and again. (And not, alas, the bounty for my quote book like Hitchhiker's Guide.)
It's hard to compete with a classic, especially one whose writing style is as unique as Adams'. Colfer gave it his best shot, and I don't think anyone could do better. Good on him for the attempt, even if it didn't quite measure up to "top ten" status.(less)
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not particularly well-read in the Ender series; I've read Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, and that's about it. Ha...moreI'll be the first to admit that I'm not particularly well-read in the Ender series; I've read Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, and that's about it. Having read the Wikipedia entries for the rest of the series, I realize there's a lot of context I'm missing from this book. There are characters developed in other books in the series that I know nothing about. So maybe that's why I don't have the same reaction to Ender in Exile as I had to the first two: I don't have the context for this one, whereas I didn't need context for the other two.
Which isn't to say Ender in Exile is a bad book. It's a fast read, certainly, but not a bad one. It was enjoyable, in that typical Orson Scott Card kind of way. But whereas I remember Ender's Game being extremely gripping, a true page-turner where I was emotionally involved with all the characters, Ender in Exile just didn't hold me the same way. I found that for people who are supposed to be super-intelligent, most of the main characters were written with fairly obvious motivations. Moreover, most of the point-of-view characters came across as petulant and whining. Whereas Ender from Ender's Game is doing his life's work (though he's just a child), Ender from Ender in Exile is a teenager whose greatest life's work is behind him, and that's just not as compelling a story, at least not to me. Valentine, his sister, is just along for the ride, and the rest of the main characters are only important inasmuch as they relate to Ender.
So... not a bad book, but it's probably not going to go on my top-ten list for the year.(less)
This one's a re-read for me, but after reading Ender in Exile a few months ago, I decided to go back to the source of it all and see if I still liked...moreThis one's a re-read for me, but after reading Ender in Exile a few months ago, I decided to go back to the source of it all and see if I still liked it now that I'm older and (ha!) wiser. It turns out that the answer is yes.
Yes, granted, Ender's Game has that slightly young-adult feel that I find characteristic of many of Card's books, but it's no less enjoyable for all that. I very much like the descriptions of the games and the Battle School. Moreover, child-Ender in Ender's Game is (at least for me) a much more sympathetic character than teenager-Ender in Ender in Exile.
I was surprised to find that the introduction of Mazer Rackham and the entire battle with the Bugs takes place in the last 60 pages or so. I remembered it happening much earlier, but my brain misremembers things like that. (As I believe I definitely proved when I reread The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.
Anyway, still enjoyable, and I'm happy I took it out of the library.(less)