In 2010 I posted a review of Dark Life by Kat Falls. I loved that book and said at the time that I would be very disappointed if it didn't turn out to...moreIn 2010 I posted a review of Dark Life by Kat Falls. I loved that book and said at the time that I would be very disappointed if it didn't turn out to be the first book in a series, and I am glad to say that thanks to Kat Falls and Simon and Schuster I have been spared that feeling of disappointment, and even more so because its sequel, Rip Tide, it is just as good as its predecessor.
After the events of Dark Life Gemma managed to mere three months living with Ty and her new adopted family before panic attacks forced her to move back above the waves. Since then she has been sleeping in little more than a large cupboard at the Trade Station, although is still happy to make the occasional submarine trip with Ty as long as she doesn't have to enter the water physically. Unfortunately events at the beginning of this sequel leave her with no option but to don a dive suit and within minutes she is again seemingly paralysed with fear and vowing never to go in the water again.
Apart from missing Gemma living with him and his constant worrying about her terror of the sea things have moved on quite nicely for Ty, his family and the other settles since the end of Dark Life. The government has given them permission to sell their agricultural produce on the open market, and his parents are looking forward to their first big deal with the inhabitants of Drift, a floating township. However, on the day before the deal is due to go down Ty and Gemma stumble across another one of these townships, deliberately sunk and hidden in 'the biggest trash vortex in the Atlantic' with all of its inhabitants still on board. Things go from bad to worse when the very next day Ty's parents are kidnapped midway through their deal with the people of Drift, and so begins Ty's quest to find and rescue them.
I likened Dark Life to a western beneath the waves, with the story of the settlers and their problems with bandits very reminiscent of some of the western films I watched when I was younger. Whilst there are still some of those elements present in Rip Tide, this time around the story is more of an action/adventure tale with barely a page going by without Ty or Gemma facing one kind of danger or another.
Kat Falls has a wonderful economy with words. If this were a fantasy story written for the adult market we would have to endure endless chunks of text about the world and its politics and the book would probably have ended up twice as long as its 314 pages. This is the perfect example of quality over quantity and Kate Falls delivers a story where the locations are well developed and easily pictured in mind of the reader. Her characters are also all perfectly realised, and there are some new additions in this book, some good, some bad and some downright nasty. As well as finding out a little more about Gemma's brother Shade and the members of his Seablite Gang, we also meet Mayor Fife and his nasty righthand man Ratter, Captain Revas of the Seaguard and Hadal, chief (or sachem) of Drift. Kat Falls weaves a plot where it is nigh impossible to work out the motives of these various people, and it isn't until the very last chapter that we finally discover exactly what is going on and why.
I think that Rip Tide would make a really good class reader for an 11+ english group. Not only is it very well written with a brilliantly imagined futuristic setting, but it would also give rise to many class discussions relevant to the world in which we live, on such topics as discrimination (e.g. the prejudice faced by Ty when surface dwellers see his shine), corruption (the way the government and various other characters in power act), and poverty (the members of the townships have a fairly low quality of life) and sustainability (for the township dwellers nothing is ever thrown away if it can be reused, recycled or repaired).(less)
Before I say any more I would like to ask you a handful of questions:
Do you enjoy games, either of the video or role playing variety? Do you enjoy rich...moreBefore I say any more I would like to ask you a handful of questions:
Do you enjoy games, either of the video or role playing variety? Do you enjoy richly imagined dystopian stories? Were you a teen in the 1980s? Do you love 80s films? Do you love 80s music? Do you love 80s TV? Do you consider yourself to be a geek, either wholly or partly?
If your answer to any or all of these questions is yes then you have to get your hands on a copy of this book. Ready Player One is now the book that I want to give to every guy who like me had their teenage years in the 1980s, every guy, whatever their age, who loves gaming, be it computer or RPG, and every guy who considers themselves even just a little bit of a geek. It was written for the adult market, but is perfectly suitable for boys of 15+, especially those who are into gaming, comics, and general geekiness.
I read this book during the recent Christmas break when we visited friends in Canada. On the flight across the Atlantic I was very privileged to be able to read The Rising, Will Hill’s sequel to last year’s Department 19. I read it cover to cover during the flight from London to Chicago (it was brilliant btw), and I was then left with the dilemma of what to read next. Surely anything else would seem dull and boring in comparison? For some reason I turned to Ready Player One, a book I had downloaded to my kindle on impulse – I can’t remember how I heard about it, but the blurb (and the 100s of five star reviews) made it sound a little different from my usual fare.
I was hooked from the first chapter – it felt as if this was the book I had been waiting for all my adult life! OK, that is a little melodramatic, but Cline’s story gelled with me in a way that few books have. In fact, I am struggling to find the words to explain just how great I think this book is, and for this reason I apologise in advance if this review comes across as a little less coherent that normal. It didn’t pip Department 19 to the Book of the Year title as I have read D19 several times and it is just as good each time. I can’t say this about Ready Player One, although I have a strong feeling that its appeal is more likely to increase on further readings. Only time and multiple readings will tell. It could well squeeze its way into my list of all time favourite books.
I am proud to be a geek, even though I probably sit much further down the scale than many other guys. It shames me to admit that I have never played an RPG like D&D, I didn’t spend my teenage years playing on arcade machines (although I do still have my ZX Spectrum on which I must have logged thousands of hours throughout the 80s), and my knowledge of the early home computers is fairly limited. But I do love the music and films of that decade, I love gaming on my PS3, and I still have many of the action figures I collected back then. Ready Player One tapped into every single nostalgic cell in my brain and had me grinning from ear to ear as I read it.
The story is set in the not-too-distant future in a society where the environment has pretty much collapsed and there is wide-spread poverty, disease and famine. Yes dystopia fans, this book is for you as well! To escape the day-to-day bleakness that surrounds them people jack into the OASIS in their millions. OASIS is a huge online world where, if you can afford it and/or have the skills to 'level up' you can be or do just about anything. Hero of the story, Wade Watts, is a typical geek - overweight, low self-esteem, self-deprecating - who has grown up loving and living the OASIS. He doesn't even need to attend his regular school as he was academically able enough to ditch that and be educated at one of the OASIS schools.
The story starts five years after techno genius and creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, passed away, leaving a huge surprise in his last will and testament: his complete fortune and control of the OASIS would go to the first person who could solve his puzzle. It is the ultimate contest, where winner takes all, and as such Wade and everyone of his generation became totally obsessed with solving the puzzles and finding Halliday's Easter egg. And five years on nobody has come even close.... until Wade Watts has a flash of brilliance whilst daydreaming during his online Latin class. From this moment the race for the prize is on, with Wade competing against some of the most famous egg hunters (or 'gunter's' as they become known) in the world.
Of course, no dystopian novel would be complete without a particularly nasty villain and in Ready Player One this takes the form of IOI, a huge corporation that seeks to control the OASIS and start charging users, thereby shattering the lives of the many poor and needy that rely on it to escape from their terrible real lives. With this in mind, IOI employ huge teams of players, known as sixers, who work full time to try to solve the various puzzles that emerge as the story unfolds. For IOI the end completely justifies the means, and they will stop at nothing if it means they win control of the OASIS. Even mass murder.
For me, this book has everything. I love quest novels - it has a grand quest. I love action and adventure - it has these in abundance. I love ordinary heroes who are flawed, and can easily be identified with - Wade Watts is one such guy. And I so, so love the 80s: the TV (just got the complete MacGyver DVD box set for Christmas); the movies (Ferris, Breakfast Club, Goonies, Wargames to name but a tiny few); the cartoons (He-Man, Transformers); the list goes on and one and this book bundles all of these elements together in the perfect story.
Whatever your level of geekness, and whatever your age, from teen upwards there will be something for you in Ready Player One. Yes, it is full of 80s references and terminology, and therefore those alive during this time will get the most out of it. But there were many references that were totally new to me, and far from causing problems, this just made the book even more fascinating. It made me want to read it all again, with a PC close at hand so that I could look up many of the games, machines, films and music mentioned in the story. After all, films such as Wargames and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and TV shows such as Ultraman, are readily available on DVD, Rush’s 2112 can be listened to on youtube, and also thanks to the internet you too can play early 80s arcade games such as Joust and Black Tiger. This book is written for every geek out there, and I am sure will go down a storm with some of the 15+ boys at school.(less)
Some people have been waiting patiently for four years for this final instalment to The Power of Five series to be released whilst Anthony wrote a fantastic end to the Alex Rider series, and a brilliant addition to the Sherlock Holmes stories. However, some people (me included) have been waiting just a little bit longer for Oblivion - it has been twenty three years since Day of the Dragon, the fourth book in the Pentagram series, was published, a series that Anthony would go on to rewrite as The Power of Five. I did not discover these books back in the 80s when they were first released - I had to wait until I discovered them in a Birmingham charity shop not long after I started teaching in 1995, but seventeen years is still quite a wait. Was it worth it? Hell yes!
Before I say any more, I want to remind you of the closing lines of Necropolis, words that sent many a Power of Five fan's heart racing with concern, and no doubt caused howls of frustration to echo out across the land:
"The Five had entered the door without knowing where they were going, so none of them would have arrived in the same place. They would be as far apart now as they had ever been. Worse than that, the door had been disintegrating even as they had passed through it, and the final blast had played one last trick on them. If the five of them had survived the journey, they would find out very soon.
It would be a very long time before they found each other again."
What a cliffhanger that was! It left fans wondering whether all of The Five would survive, and where on earth the doorway would take them. It was also the perfect set-up for Oblivion. I don't think it is creating a spoiler to say that not only are The Five scattered around the world (again), but the doorway also sent them all ten years into the future, by which time the King of the Old Ones has had his wicked way with Planet Earth. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong - war, famine, disease, environmental meltdown, death and destruction - you name it, it has happened somewhere or other. Nowhere on earth has gone unaffected, giving the poor, unsuspecting Five quite a shock as they arrive through a variety of doorways, not knowing where the others are, or even if they survived the hasty escape from Hong Kong. They also quickly discover that the doorways are all inexplicably no longer working, meaning they will have to rely on more traditional means of travelling if they are to come together again to banish Chaos and the Old Ones back to whichever hell they came from.
You would be right in thinking this a seemingly impossible task, especially given that the minions of the Old Ones have had ten years to prepare for their arrival. Have no fear though, this is an Anthony Horowitz book and the man does have a knack of bringing things together to create a nice neat ending. Be warned as well though, this is an Anthony Horowitz book and the man does have a propensity for killing off main characters. There are both sides of the coin for you. What would you prefer? A nice neat ending with a favourite character being slaughtered by the Old Ones? Or perhaps a death-free end for The Five and their friends, but loose ends left blowing in the wind. I would certainly prefer the former of the two, and again, it's not really creating spoilers when I tell you that this is the road that Mr Horowitz chooses to travel, although you could stick hot pins under my toenails and I still wouldn't tell you who dies and who lives, or whether any of The Five manage to fully triumph over the forces of evil.
I'm rambling now, and that is because I am finding it very difficult not to create spoilers. I was one of the incredibly fortunate few who received an early proof of this book (naturally I dropped everything to read it) and I have been agonising over this review for some time. It is only now, the day before its release, when I feel I can no longer put off writing it any longer, and so I have forced myself to sit down and get it written. Why am I finding it so difficult? Well, I really, really loved this book but to really explain why would just create so many spoilers. I loved the characters, and the way Anthony really tests them to their limits; I loved the many, many action scenes (he does action so well); I loved the varied (almost) post-apocalyptic locations and their (often insane) inhabitants who have all been affected in some way or another over the past ten years. And most of all, I loved how Mr Horowitz has taken many of the issues facing our planet and its population today, and imagined what they would be like after ten years of Chaos and his Old Ones. The imaginary future he creates is all the more scary because in the back of your mind you realise that unless something is done pretty damn soon by the world's numerous governments then his fiction could become a very painful not-too-dissimilar reality for us all.
Oblivion is more than 650 pages long, and I am sure there will be some who will question this. However, I doubt many of these detractors will actually read it, and if they did they would quickly realise that when your five main characters (and various friends) are scattered around the world, it does take many, many words to lead them up to the ending that he delivers for his fans. However, I'm also not going to sit here and say that the book is perfect, as in my mind it isn't. I have one small gripe, and that is I felt it could have been just a handful of pages longer. Just twenty or thirty, as after the wonderful (or should that be horrific?) journeys he creates for his Five, the final climactic scenes in Antarctica just seemed to come to an end a little too quickly for my liking. However, I don't want to dwell on this as I had so much enjoyment reading this final instalment to a series that in one way or another has kept be enthralled and entertained for more than fifteen years.(less)