Beautifully drawn and designed, gorgeously interwoven with Quran stories and Arabic calligraphy. The story is brutal in places, but ultimately, I thouBeautifully drawn and designed, gorgeously interwoven with Quran stories and Arabic calligraphy. The story is brutal in places, but ultimately, I thought, redemptive and beautiful. Unlike many stories I read or hear, it interrogates the brutality to women it depicts and tries to balance female self-sacrifice and understand it. The themes are beautifully woven into the narrative and the art both -- and there is really no difference between art and story, here....more
This sequel to Rogue Squadron is less dogfight-heavy and even more adventurous than the first. Our heroes hang up their flight suits in order to infiThis sequel to Rogue Squadron is less dogfight-heavy and even more adventurous than the first. Our heroes hang up their flight suits in order to infiltrate Coruscant, the central planet of the Empire and bring down its defenses. This was almost a sticking point for me -- really, fighter pilots? Don't you guys have Bothans for this sort of thing? -- but since it was such fun, I decided not to quibble. There's another plot point, involving Kessel, that I thought was wrongheaded, but everything after that was jolly good fun.
The depiction of Coruscant -- its highs and lows -- was great, and the eventual fights and adventures there were 3000% more interesting than anything that happened on Coruscant during the prequels. Maybe more than 3000%. Seriously, people. Dodging skyscrapers and pedestrian bridges while atmosphere-fighting TIEs! Taking tea in a heavily secured Imperial building large enough for a Star Destroyer to park in the atrium! Escaping one group of criminals to fall directly into Imperial crossfire!
The Imperial plot against the Rebellion here is fiendish and Machiavellian, and promises to pay off amply over the next few books. The Rogues' devices to bring down Coruscant's shields are inventive and awesome. Despite a lot of coincidences (it's the Foooooorce!) and a not entirely Leia-ish conversation with Leia, this is a really involving, exciting little adventure story, packed with stuff that feels entirely at home in the Star Wars we know and love. This was the way to expand the universe. Good stuff....more
This is a book that does what it says on the tin, which is more impressive than you might think. My first flirtation with Star Wars tie-in no3.5 stars
This is a book that does what it says on the tin, which is more impressive than you might think. My first flirtation with Star Wars tie-in novels was disappointing, despite the fact that I was ten years old and ready to like anything with Princess Leia on the cover. Unlike the novels that were such a mixed bag for my younger self, this series focuses in on new and secondary characters, rather than trying to ventriloquize the main characters. It also focuses on non-mystical adventures, rather than brainstorming new and kooky Force-related plots and villains to throw at Luke. In short, it's the Star Wars novel I should have been reading when I was ten, and it's still like stuffing my brain with caramel corn now.
Beloved secondary character Commander Wedge Antilles ("Get clear, Wedge! You can't do any more good back there!") is one protagonist here, rebuilding the famous yet often ill-starred Rogue Squadron. The other main character is Corran Horn, a Corellian ex-cop and hotshot fighter pilot. Adventure! Dogfights! Strategy that actually makes sense! The new characters ring true to the universe and are easy to like, and the uneasy tensions within the Rebellion -- between races, between former members of Security Forces and the Imperial Military and shadier characters like smugglers -- are an interesting backdrop. The space battles are actually interesting, and the tactics are much more detailed and awesome than you could depict on film.
Why only three and a half stars? There's a little clunk to the prose now and then, but it's not bad. Actually I docked it for two things: if you aren't very visual indeed, the dogfights will be a struggle to assimilate -- and there are a lot of them; and Corran's character arc in this book -- "Oh, I have to be a teamworker even though I'm a hotshot?" -- is a little infantile and yawnworthy, I found. Not an issue in the next book! (I told you, I'm inhaling these things like popcorn.)...more
Decent little mystery. Christmas incidental to the proceedings.
I didn't feel that this Runcorn was familiar from the Monk books -- as if his characterDecent little mystery. Christmas incidental to the proceedings.
I didn't feel that this Runcorn was familiar from the Monk books -- as if his character had to shift a bit in order to make him an acceptable Perry protagonist. One of the character actions seemed predictable and preposterous (both!) Other than that, a good little plot, with fewer twists and turns than usual because of the length....more
This was a decent, solidly written mystery with an interesting historical context (this time, a trip from France into Germany while Louis VII is rampiThis was a decent, solidly written mystery with an interesting historical context (this time, a trip from France into Germany while Louis VII is ramping up for a Crusade) but I felt it wasn't one of the best Catherine LeVendeur books. I've never been entirely sold on the large number of viewpoints in these books, and in this one particularly, I felt that Catherine's voice had been lost in the multitude. One or two of the new characters seemed hurriedly developed, as well.
The central mystery plot itself was fine, although the reader's knowing so much more than the sleuths makes for less exciting revelations. (Some of the later character-in-peril parts were much more gripping.) The violence that has been brewing in the Europe these books depict was vividly and disturbingly portrayed -- although it would be hard-put to be quite so grim and bloody as Cursed in the Blood, the previous book in the series. I was satisfied with some of the ongoing character arcs and conflicts that resolved here, although there were some unanswered questions, especially about Catherine's reaction to events.
Notes on audiobook narration: This book had a different reader than the others I've listened to, and I really didn't enjoy the change. The French names are no longer given a French pronunciation (in French, you know, "Agnes" sounds quite beautiful), and the narration is rather monotonic. Some dialogue was whispered so softly (in comparison to the other lines and narration) as to be inaudible, and many characters, including our heroine, sounded inappropriately petulant....more
This series has been disappointing for me in general. We Shall Not Sleep shares some of the small, consistent flaws of the whole -- overuse of the samThis series has been disappointing for me in general. We Shall Not Sleep shares some of the small, consistent flaws of the whole -- overuse of the same details to establish place and atmosphere, overwrought characters -- but has some others as well.
This book takes place at the end of World War I, and I found various characters' extreme prescience hard to credit -- their easy predictions about the European economy and the probability of Germany becoming belligerent again struck me as anachronistically accurate. There's also a sort of plot discontinuity at one point where one character is cleared of suspicion and another is elevated to prime suspect all at once, in summary rather than in scene. It's never made clear why this one character, out of a group of men with similar characteristics and a shared alibi, is considered the obvious culprit (besides that it drives the plot).
The end struck me as discordant with the values of the whole, and I was left with the impression that the peace talks were going to be hunky-dory -- no sense of the punitive sanctions that would in fact burden and embitter Germany and set the stage for Hitler's rise to power.
The book contains a decent mystery and was interesting enough to finish -- especially after having invested time in the whole series -- but I really don't recommend it or this series. If you want a good historical mystery, pick up the author's Pitt or Monk books....more
Use of Weapons is a challenging book to read, and a book that challenges by nature: it's about war, the necessity of it, the uses of it, and4.5 stars
Use of Weapons is a challenging book to read, and a book that challenges by nature: it's about war, the necessity of it, the uses of it, and the sorts of people it creates and requires. It's memorable, exciting, and packs an emotional punch.
A gripping book when you get into it, but a difficult read at first. The chapters vary between non-chronological and often chaotic episodes from the life of warrior-protagonist Zakalwe and the more accessible, easy-to-follow narrative of his Culture contact and handler, Diziet Sma. Diziet's chapters are perhaps less interesting, but give more context clues and reference points for constructing the narrative. That's why I call this book a difficult read: it requires more of your help in constructing itself than the average book. I believe it rewards the effort, and by the middle, I was far more interested in the bizarre and often brutal life of Zakalwe than in the Diziet storyline.
Zakalwe reminds me of a Roger Zelazny hero: competent but self-deprecating, jumping from frying pan to fire and getting burned, bruised and broken in the process. Wise-cracking in the face of death, and escaping, albeit scathed. I found most of the book hard to put down while I read it, and haunting afterwards.
I've only read a few Culture Novels thus far, but this one is part of a pattern I see emerging: protagonists who are outsiders, completely or partly, to the Culture. It's a good way of telling stories around a rather utopian setting. Due to the challenging beginning of this book, my current recommendation is that new Culture Novel readers read Player of Games, my favorite of the books so far (and one of my two favorite books read this year.)...more
I am a big fan of Simon Winchester's books in general, but this one I found less enjoyable than his others. There were occasional inaccuracies ("birdI am a big fan of Simon Winchester's books in general, but this one I found less enjoyable than his others. There were occasional inaccuracies ("bird progenitor pterodactyl"? What?) or oversimplifications (sedimentation can't occur without an ocean?) which bothered me, as well as a certain habit of repetition. I am not sure these flaws were more pronounced here so much as his usual sterling qualities had less range for expression.
This is, after all, a fairly straightforward story. Though William Smith's accomplishments shaped the history of geology, his life and career are fashioned on the scale of the personal, the regional. Where Winchester has excelled, in A Crack in the Edge of the World and Krakatoa, in tracking down scores of accounts and sources and using them to fashion a multi-faceted portrait of vast cataclysm, here he has a smaller canvas to paint. He has fewer sources -- Smith's papers and abortive autobiography, his nephew's biography of him -- as well. There is less here for Winchester to thoroughly investigate and vividly imagine for us, and less surprise. Smith's ill fortune and lack of recognition is hardly startling, since it fits into a pattern in the history of the sciences in Britain, as Winchester notes.
I'm glad Winchester wrote this book. It's unfair that Smith's posterity should be confined to those who took Sedimentology and Stratigraphy courses in college, and I was glad to learn more about him than the single day's lecture I remember from that class. It was edifying, well-written and interesting. However, I feel it could have been pruned quite a bit.
Notes on the audiobook: The author narrated his own book, and did it admirably. His accents for quotes -- notably Smith's own Oxfordshire -- were lovely....more
This is one of the two best books I've read so far this year, and I doubt it will be dethroned.
The Culture, from which the main character springs, isThis is one of the two best books I've read so far this year, and I doubt it will be dethroned.
The Culture, from which the main character springs, is easy for a science fiction reader to identify with: technologically advanced, socially progressive, inventive and aesthetically pleasing. But it's hard not to see some reflection of our own Earth in the 'barbaric' Empire that the Culture's Player of Games visits. Some of his pecularities, Culturally speaking, make the protagonist seem a bit more like a man of our world and time than of his own. Those ambiguities and similarities are richly plumbed. I found my liking or disliking for the nuanced characters was seldom allowed to set firm, which added to the tension and played off the themes of the book.
The book's slowly building plot is engrossing, the concepts fascinating and epic. It has some cogent yet wildly imaginative settings and intriguing bits of worldbuilding that hint at insights into power, society and politics. It leaves much of this unsaid and unpacked, the plot central and the themes gathered tightly around it. In short, it's beautifully crafted. One of the things I admire about it most is the way it uses language, from the first, to demonstrate attitudes and ways of thinking. An artificial intelligence's tiny physical body is not small enough to fit in your hands, it's small enough to hide in your hands. It is after all not an object, but an entity, sentient and independent-willed. Tiny notes like this are hit throughout the narrative, illustrating the power of language to shape thought before the plot ever touches on that power. It's elegant, challenging, and entertaining. ...more