In The Chosen One Ms. Erishkigal sets a compelling plot within a fascinating universe. Her characters are well defined, and the premise she presents i...moreIn The Chosen One Ms. Erishkigal sets a compelling plot within a fascinating universe. Her characters are well defined, and the premise she presents is thought provoking. In the tradition of all good science fiction, this is a “what if...” story. What if the Angels and Demons of Christian mythology were actually space aliens? Or, even better, genetically engineered space aliens. Or, better still, genetically engineered space aliens whose DNA is a mix of human and animal. And, the humans of Earth are the last ones in the galaxy. It is also a gripping political thriller and a touching romance. Unfortunately, this otherwise excellent effort is marred by a distinct lack of polish.
From the first paragraph of the Prologue the reader is caught up in the conflict between the Eternal Emperor and his ancient Adversary. We quickly shift perspectives to the cockpit of a spaceship which has crash landed in the Mesopotamian region of Earth during the year 3390 BC. The story then proceeds to jump back and forth between the political intrigues of galaxy-spanning empires and the more personal struggles of the wounded pilot of that spaceship and the Neolithic humans who heal him and welcome him into their lives. The interweaving of these two stories carry the reader on a path filled with interesting characters, subtle mysteries and sometimes heart wrenching pathos. This book would definitely deserve five stars if the author gave it another pass or two with an editor.
Ms. Erishkigal's cosmology is, for this reviewer, the most fascinating aspect of this saga. She begins with the Ascended Beings, especially the Eternal Emperor, Hashem, and his adversary, Shay'tan, who each rule over vast empires that span most of the Milky Way Galaxy. In their millenia-long contest for dominance of this galaxy each relies on armies comprised of specially dedicated races. The Sata'anic Empire's warriors are a sentient reptilian species that emerged 74,000 years prior to the events of the book. To defend his Galactic Alliance from the Sata'anic Empire, the Eternal Emperor has created four genetically enhanced species, the Angelics, the Leonids, the Centauri and the Merfolk. Hashem created these races by combining the DNA of Humans with that of eagles, lions, horses and dolphins respectively. Unfortunately, due to inbreeding to maintain desired though recessive traits and the attrition of near continuous war these races are dying out. The last known home world of the human root species was destroyed thousands of years ago and with it the solution to the hybrids' dilemma was lost. Or was it?
In the Mesopotamian region of Earth during the year 3390 BC an Angelic Air Force Colonel named Mikhail Mannuki'ili has crashed his scout ship while on a covert mission. As a result of his injuries he has no recollection of the mission or his life prior to the crash. He is nursed to health by Ninsianna, a woman of uncommon beauty and with a unique personal connection to the goddess known simply as She-Who-Is. Mikhail eventually becomes part of the nearby Ubaid tribe who view him as a prophesied winged savior.
One can probably guess where this is all going. Hashem and Shay'tan are stand-ins for the Christian Deity and His Eternal Adversary. Mikhail is this story's stand in for Michael the Arch-Angel. Other similar parallels are seen throughout the book. There are elements of pre-historic Near East shamanic mysticism woven within the framework as well. In this way, Ms. Erishkigal explores primitive faith as well as the nature of myth and legend. The clash of galactic empires serves as a backdrop within which questions of how necessity rather than morality often determines what is good and what is evil.
Despite all of this, however, one might wish the author had taken more care in her craft. As is often the case with self-published or independently published works, Sword of the Gods is in need of some editorial polishing. I noted at least 50 grammatical or spelling missteps, but beyond that there was a certain lack of verisimilitude that detracted from an otherwise delightful read. For instance, early in the story the central human woman, Ninsianna, uses the word “rubinesque” to describe another member of the tribe. It just threw me out of the story. Besides being misspelled, Rubens would not paint his famous nudes from which this term derives for several thousand years after the setting. She could have used the term “curvy” just as easily. At several points the native Ubaid people speak, and think, more like 21st Century Americans. It simply grated a bit to hear the word “technology” coming from the Ubaid Chief's mouth. Or the phrase “fade into the woodwork” used to describe one character's ability to seemingly disappear into thin air. Would a culture that builds its homes from mud bricks really use that phrase? The most egregious example of this sort of anachronism came at what was meant to be the culmination of the romantic sub-plot and really broke me out of the scene. I understand wanting to make the dialog and self-talk seem relateable and understandable to the reader, but there are ways to do this which would have deepened and enriched the sense of a distinct, distant culture (in both time and place) rather than making it feel more like a cheap TV drama that could have taken place anywhere.
Even with this need for further refinement, I still found Sword of the Gods worth the read. I even picked up the sequel, Prince of Tyre, to see where the story goes from here. (less)
I can't say enough good about this book. It caps off a landmark series in a most satisfactory way. Mr. Sanderson does an incredible job of building th...moreI can't say enough good about this book. It caps off a landmark series in a most satisfactory way. Mr. Sanderson does an incredible job of building the tension and raising the stakes right up to the final confrontation, which considering that this is a story about an end-of-everything scenario is pretty high stakes already. Compared to the other 13 books in the Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light moves along at a breakneck pace. Right from the word go, we see several of the story threads getting tied up and everyone begins moving in the same direction. That direction, of course, being toward the Last Battle. It is perhaps fitting, then, that after things get settled in the first dozen or so chapters the vast majority of scenes in this book are battle scenes. If you are a fan of medieval-ish battle tactics, this is the book for you. Mr. Sanderson gives us the gritty feel off such up close and personal warfare while also providing some wonderfully poignant dramatic moments, a philosophical exploration of the nature and role of evil, some well placed reveals and surprises and even a number of humorous bits of tete-a-tete between the principles. All in all this was a fitting conclusion to an epic tale.(less)
This book was recommended to me by someone who knows I enjoy the occasional romance novel and that I also appreciate when an author incorporates histo...moreThis book was recommended to me by someone who knows I enjoy the occasional romance novel and that I also appreciate when an author incorporates historical and/or literary elements in their stories. Unfortunately, the romance in this instance left me flat and the references to Dante Alghieri's works were mere window dressing and not particularly captivating. Julia Mitchell, the protagonist, is a shy, withdrawn grad student who has placed herself in a seminar taught by her secret crush, Prof. Gabriel Emerson.
As the blurb promises, these two connect and begin to form a forbidden romance. However, the danger of their violation of the University's fraternization policy never materializes. In fact, no real danger ever materializes except for an attempted assault by Julia's abusive ex-boyfriend. That's pretty much my biggest beef with this story. There's no tension, no threat of exposure or any other major obstacle for our new lovers to overcome, except for Julia's low self esteem, and Gabriel's self-loathing. Ms. Reynard presents plenty of opportunities for conflict, but none ever materializes. Another reason I could never really get behind these two was that almost all the men we see in Julia's life treat her like some fragile china doll the whole time, and she does nothing to assert herself. I guess I've just read way too many stories with strong female leads.
There are several literary allusions woven throughout, mostly as declarations of affection. But, if the author was trying to present any parallels between Dante and Beatrice and Gabriel and Julia, I missed them. If you want some lovely, flowery, yearning of the heart sort of inner dialogue, it's in there. But, if you're looking for a fiery romance or a story of love overcoming obstacles, look elsewhere.(less)
Like many people, I suppose, I was introduced to the Dresden Files novels via the short lived television series that ran on the Sci-Fi Channel back in...moreLike many people, I suppose, I was introduced to the Dresden Files novels via the short lived television series that ran on the Sci-Fi Channel back in 2007. Yes, it was still properly named “Sci-Fi” back then. Soon thereafter I bought a copy of Storm Front, the first book in the series. I was hooked. Urban fantasy meets Sam Spade! What's not to like? I didn't read any further in the series, always meaning to, but always having other books ahead of it on the “To Read” list.
That changed when I saw the paperback of the 13th book Ghost Story in the airport bookstore while on vacation. It was time to get caught up on the adventures of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. A quick search through the B&N nook offerings turned up this gem, The Dresden Files Collection 1-6, and another collection for the next six novels. For my money this is by far the best way to get into this series. This is the sort of thing for which e-books are particularly well suited. I read the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft in similar fashion. Reading all 6 of these novels back-to-back definitely gives one a feel for the breadth of the story as it builds through each installment.
Jim Butcher's writing style is airy and brisk. Each book is under 400 pages and a fully contained story in its own right which could easily stand on its own. However, one really comes to appreciate the scope of Mr. Butcher's world building efforts as the series progresses. I am not sure if he had the whole framework thought out when he started or just added on to what came before. Regardless, the world he presents is internally consistent and wonderfully imaginative while at the same time adhering to many well known and established tropes of magic and the supernatural.
Each of these first six books highlights a different supernatural aspect of Harry Dresden's world. In Storm Front we learn that magic does exist and some of the rules thereof. The second book, Fool Moon, centers around the lore of the four types of werewolves. Naturally, in the next book, Grave Peril, we are introduced to this world's vampires, as well as a brief look at the land of Faerie and the NeverNever. We get a deeper exposure to the Faerie Courts in, Summer Knight. Next up is Death Masks in which a bit of Christian Mythology is added to the mix, especially demons and a special trio of Holy Warriors known as the Knights of the Cross. The final book in this collection is Blood Rites which delves a bit more into the politics of the White Council, the ruling body of magicians, sorcerers and such like.
Another fun part about reading these books one after the other is seeing how Mr. Butcher's style develops as he goes. Storm Front is a worthy introductory novel. The tone is wonderfully reminiscent of Chandler-esque hardboiled detective novels. This tone lightens somewhat as the series progresses, but is never entirely done away with. Mr. Butcher refines his style as he goes and one can sense his growing maturity as a writer. It is also great fun to watch Harry grow as a person.
Some may find the Dresden Files novels to be a bit formulaic, and they'd be right. There is a particular cadence, an ebb and flow to Mr. Butcher's narrative style that remains consistent throughout. Far from a detriment, I find this to be a comforting aspect. I know somewhat what to expect from the following novels, not in detail, but in feel. I know that every gripping action scene will be followed by recovery, examination, and a jump in a new direction. Knowing the pattern is like knowing that dinner will be followed by dessert.
If you get the urge to enjoy a solid piece of story-telling with witty, intelligent, well defined characters, fast paced action, and captivating mystery, I suggest you check out the Dresden Files. Only one thing really bugs me about this series. The cover art for each novel features a man who is supposedly Harry Dresden wearing a duster and stetson. While the duster is part of Harry's signature look, no where in any of the books I've read does he ever wear a hat. I hope he gets one somewhere in books 7-12 or I will be sorely disappointed. (less)