Maybe it's not this book, maybe it's me. If I recall correctly, I'd written in my review of Divergent that I found it hard to deal with the numerous p...moreMaybe it's not this book, maybe it's me. If I recall correctly, I'd written in my review of Divergent that I found it hard to deal with the numerous plot holes and just the avalanche of inconsistencies and things that don't make sense in this series' world. The sequel has not rectified this, but while I should really just suck it up and ignore the deficiencies in world building, the truth is that I can't. If anything, these flaws have gotten more distracting and that's only made me more frustrated.
Once again, I have to wonder how on earth it is possible that this faction system even came about in the first place. And how is it that this society has managed to function under it for so long before this? Organizing the population into five groups (well, six if you count the factionless) based on their personalities and aptitudes just doesn't really make sense if you consider how much variation there is in human beings. But the book makes it sound so simple, using such clumsy and unsophisticated science and explanations to prop up these ideas, it's enough to make anyone with even a minimal understanding of human behavior to want to bang their head against a wall. I realize this is sci-fi/dystopian fiction, but the premise is just so implausible I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief.
It also doesn't help that I just don't find the main character and narrator Tris Prior to be all that interesting, and so by extension I don't find the other big part of this novel, which is the romance, to be very interesting. I hate to say this as well, but Tris reads a bit like a Mary Sue, always central to the conflicts at hand, and is more talented and extra special even amongst the other Divergent. She's sixteen, but also appears more competent and knowledgeable than everyone else, which includes the adults.
Though to be fair, it doesn't seem like any adult or any character for that matter in these books are capable of much complex reasoning or thought. I admire the author for wanting to tackle some very adult and mature subjects in these books, but it sort of lessens the impact when everyone seems to have a five-year-old's view of the world. Here's one example: Tobias, our main protagonist's love interest and prominent member of Dauntless, left his old faction in his youth to escape his abusive father Marcus, and the response by some of the other Dauntless is to call him a coward for it. What can I say? Dauntless isn't exactly known for being classy. Anyway, Tobias' solution? To confront Marcus in the middle of a crowded cafeteria and proceed to beat the crap out of him in public, presumably to win back the respect and faith of his fellow Dauntless and prove to everyone that he is not in fact a coward. This, along with the Dauntless idea of jumping out of moving trains as a way of proving you are brave, or the Erudite custom to wear glasses to show that they are smart, are just some examples of the type of schoolyard logic you will find in this book.
I also don't think the adults in this novel actually sound very much like adults, and in general I find the written dialogue very awkward. This makes the main villain sound like a cartoon character when she speaks, and also made for a lot of cringing on my part when Tris and Tobias have their blundering conversations about their relationship.
In some ways, I think this book might have worked better as a hard sci-fi novel. It would have been easier for me to accept all the trappings of this world as the strange customs of a unique alien society, instead of a screwed up dystopic future version of Chicago. Anyway, I still plan on finishing this series (I assume it'll be a trilogy) because I've already gotten so far, but I'll have no problem waiting for the next book. Any speculation as to what it'll be called? My guess is: Emergent.(less)
It always pains me to write a negative review, especially for a book I had high hopes for and had looked forward to so immensely. As mythical or legendary creatures go, harpies don’t get near enough attention in fantasy, and I was very excited to see a novel feature them with such prominence and with a background that sounded so incredibly fascinating and unique. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy this book. I try to look at the big picture when reviewing, taking into account both story and writing, and there were too many issues with both that prevented me from getting into it.
The first thing I noticed was the very awkward and clipped writing style. A lot of telling and very little showing, laying out the character’s every single thought and action. There’s a clear message of environmentalism, but it’s delivered with the elegance and subtlety of a sledgehammer. Sometimes I would come across phrasing or word choice that is just plain odd, especially in dialogue. I couldn’t help but recall a piece of writing advice I once read, suggesting that writers should read their dialogue out loud to see how it comes across. Does it sound natural? Is it something you can picture a real person saying? A lot of the conversations in this book don’t pass this test, sounding very forced and scripted.
I was also distracted by too many discrepancies and questions that nagged at the back of my mind about the story. The book takes place on the planet Dora, following a young woman named Kari whose life was saved by a golden male harpy when she was a child. Ever since that day, Kari has been obsessed with harpies, particularly with her special golden named Shail, whose coloring is an extremely rare form of the half-bird, half-mortal species. Her father sends her to earth for ten years out of concern for her, hoping she would forget the harpy, but of course she doesn’t. Kari returns to Dora feeling bitter and angry, and more in love with Shail than ever.
I’ll be honest. When they were finally reunited, I was more confused than happy. Was I supposed to see Shail as an animal or a person? Kari treated him like a pet more than anything, giving him pats on the head and even calling him “Good boy”. I was at a complete loss as to what to make of their relationship, because calling it a romance felt horribly wrong on so many levels. The writing didn’t help this, describing their lovemaking as more animalistic (not in the good way), biological and Darwinian, completely devoid of emotion or passion. It’s also unclear at the beginning whether or not Kari truly fell in love with Shail, or indeed he had cast his “harpy spell” on her; if the latter, clearly there are disturbing implications, especially since he makes his first sexual advance on her out of instinctual desperation and while she was half “caught” in his magic. To be fair, a lot of this was semi-explained later on in the novel, but it still made me very uncomfortable and the relationship didn’t sit right with me at all.
Also, about two thirds of the way through the book are not one but two very graphic and violent rape scenes. Major trigger warnings should come with this novel. It’s an adult book with many adult themes, and while I don’t shock easily, I was a bit unprepared and blindsided. The mature and graphic content caused my brain to struggle with the dissonance caused by the relatively simplistic style of storytelling, and nothing in the description indicated that the book could take such dark, violent turns. Readers be forewarned, these are some very distressing scenes.
Finally, perhaps one of the biggest factors preventing my enjoyment of this book was Kari herself, who plays a disappointingly passive role in what is supposed to be her story. She’s a self-proclaimed recluse and standoffish, and a self-absorbed snob to boot, which by itself wouldn’t be so bad if she also wasn’t so weak of character. In the last half of the book, her involvement in resolving the conflict was practically nil, shrinking in on herself and relying on others to take charge and solve the problem. The concept of harpies in this book is underdeveloped and not very convincing, but (and minor spoiler here) what rankled me most about them is the idea that female harpies lose their minds out of grief if their mates die, and they either die themselves soon afterwards from despair or committing suicide. As someone who prefers strong, proactive female characters in my fantasy, both this aspect of harpies and Kari’s helplessness and utter lack of drive really bothered me.
I ended up finishing this book, and I don’t regret that, but I really wish I had liked it better. Ultimately, there were too many issues with the story and writing, and even a trivial detail like the fact I couldn’t stop picturing Shail as Brad Pitt (the author dedicated the book to the actor for providing the inspiration for Shail, and her bio on her website actually states all of her protagonists resemble a young Brad Pitt) compounded to make me rate the book the way I did. I wanted badly to like this book, but in the end it wasn’t for me.(less)
I very much wanted to give this one a fair chance, but I still couldn't bring myself to like it. It makes me a little sad because I remember enjoying...moreI very much wanted to give this one a fair chance, but I still couldn't bring myself to like it. It makes me a little sad because I remember enjoying the Anita Blake series so much when I was younger, but I do feel the quality of the books have started declining, probably about a book or two back.
This one was my least favorite so far. It did have its high points, but on the whole I just couldn't spot a cogent plot no matter how hard I looked. Random sequences seemed like they were thrown together, mixed in with some vampire politics and a healthy dose of drama from Anita's love life. And speaking of which, I too am noticing what a lot of reviewers have observed, which is the series' direction into more sexually charged waters. So much of it was unnecessary in this book. And what has LKH done to Richard?! She has turned him into a petulant, immature and jealous 13-year-old brat.
After reading this book, I also realized how wonderful it would be if GoodReads had a separate rating system for audiobooks. By itself, I think the novel would have gotten a 1 or 1.5 star rating from me. But the narrator for the audio version is amazing! She makes even the mediocre story engaging with her voice acting, and she's probably the only reason why I'm going to continue giving this series a chance. My county library has the next two books available in audio format to borrow.(less)
I'm sure I've said before that I would never read another World of Warcraft book by Richard A. Knaak, and yet here we are once again. I guess I just n...moreI'm sure I've said before that I would never read another World of Warcraft book by Richard A. Knaak, and yet here we are once again. I guess I just never learn my lesson.
Of course, I had my reservations, but my interest in the game's lore and characters won out in the end, especially since I discovered from the title and description that this book was going to be focused on King Varian Wrynn. I never really cared much for him as an in-game NPC, but after reading the World of Warcraft comics he started to really grow on me. I was curious what this book would add to his character.
I really shouldn't have bothered. I have to say he's pretty unlikeable in this book -- petty, arrogant, pig-headed, annoying...the list goes on and on. The worst part is, it was done in such a ham-fisted way in order to make the flimsy plot work.
This whole book also reads like a very bad piece of fan fiction. I know I shouldn't expect that much from game tie-in novels, but I've actually read some pretty decent ones in recent years and I think my standards are pretty realistic and I'm not demanding too much. The problem, I think, is Richard A. Knaak; I'm just not a fan of his writing. Guess I'll just stick with WoW books by other authors from now on. Christie Golden, for instance, has written some that I thought weren't too bad. (less)
By far my most disappointing read this year. I don't know why I keep picking up the Anita Blake books, but I guess it's because there's always this fa...moreBy far my most disappointing read this year. I don't know why I keep picking up the Anita Blake books, but I guess it's because there's always this faint hope in the back of my mind that this series will get better despite the declining ratings and what people have told me. And for about thirty minutes there, I thought for sure things have turned around! What an awesome intro and premise -- Richard has been arrested and thrown in jail, framed on a rape charge. Anita and pals must get him out before the next full moon rises in a few days and he becomes a werewolf. This actually had the potential to be a great story. In any case, it was enough to get me fully on board.
But my excitement was short lived as things immediately started to fall apart. For one thing, there's hardly any plot in this novel. I didn't know what I expected after the intense build up of the intro, but it certainly wasn't 300 pages of Everything-You-Ever-Wanted-To-Know-About-Anita-Blake's-Sex-Life. The characters have sex, talk about sex, think about sex, and yet none of it seems to have anything to do with the story. Normally I wouldn't have minded that sort of stuff, as long as it has a point. But I honestly couldn't see one here, and that's what disappointed me. I felt like the book drew me in under false pretenses, then completely blindsided me with something I didn't ask for.
This has also soured me on many of the characters. Apparently, in the world of Anita Blake, to be a werewolf or vampire is to have the mental maturity and world view of a hormonal teenager. Everyone around Anita seems to depend on her to explain why certain things are socially wrong or innappropriate, especially when it comes to matters of sex ("You mean you shouldn't automatically jump into bed with someone just because you find them physicaclly attractive? Golly whiz!") For that matter, Anita own way of thinking isn't any better or more logical. For one thing she's constantly being wracked by guilt over her rash decisions and violent actions, and yet this hasn't made her any less trigger-happy or less apt threaten to kill people at the drop of a hat. Many times, she seems to do exactly the opposite of what she intends especially when it comes to sex or her relationships (she says she doesn't want to feel like a slut? Well, then don't act like one!)
I also realized recently that on the whole, these books haven't aged too well. Some of the physical descriptions of the characters and what they're wearing is reminiscent of 90s goth/rave attire, and while it didn't bother me so much when I read these books then, it just makes me cringe when I try to picture it today. Small nitpick, but compounded with many of the characters' naive and infuriating attitudes towards sex, they just became so unattractive in my eyes.
The only saving grace was the fact I listened to this book on audiobook, and I have to say the narrator is fantastic; Kimberly Alexis is one of the best voice actresses I've had the pleasure of listening to. If I end up picking up the next book, it would be because of her performance in this series and the fact that these digital audio titles are available to borrow at my county library. I may do it if I run out of audiobooks to listen to, but chances are I won't. I think I've stuck around long enough, and it's time to give up. I remember why I liked the earlier novels and I just feel that Anita's character has changed along with the series' direction. Life's just too short to force myself to continue with a story or characters I no longer feel connected to. (less)
World of Warcraft: Stormrage by Richard A. Knaak is the latest game-related novel I finished. I’ll admit I picked this one up solely due to my fascina...moreWorld of Warcraft: Stormrage by Richard A. Knaak is the latest game-related novel I finished. I’ll admit I picked this one up solely due to my fascination with its eponymous protagonist because in fact, I am not a big fan of Knaak’s writing at all. The War of the Ancients trilogy, for example, is the last thing I read by him and it was a torturous ordeal just to try and force myself to get through all three books. I find his style overly simplistic and at times vapid and flavorless, though to be fair, I’ve only ever read his WoW-related books even though he’s known for being quite a gifted author for his works in many other titles in the fantasy genre.
I decided to give this book a chance in the end, because if anything, my love for the Druid class made reading this a requirement. Malfurion Stormrage is also one of my favorite characters in WoW lore, and I figured maybe I’ll have a better time getting through Knaak’s writing when it’s not about Rhonin or Krasus/Korialstrasz.
Anyway, my final verdict for Stormrage is that it’s readable, but I think avid fans and readers of more established fantasy authors will be very disappointed. I realize it’s a game novel and that it’s a challenge to write for a series intended for a wide audience which may include younger readers, but there were times where the simplistic writing style made me feel like I was reading a comic book, or a very bad fanfic piece.
To Knaak’s credit, it’s clear he’s done a lot of research into the characters and locations of the WoW universe. In many ways, the book is also a nice follow-up to the War of the Ancients trilogy and ties in well with the WoW comics, though one doesn’t have to have read either to follow the story. I would still recommend Stormrage to any fans of Warcraft lore, since it provides answers to a lot of questions regarding Malfurion Stormrage and the encroaching Emerald Nightmare. WoW players will also be treated to a whole slew of appearances by well-known NPCs including Tyrande Whisperwind, Hamuul Runetotem, and the duplicitous Fandral Staghelm who may or may not have some crafty tricks up his sleeve, plus many, many more.
Oh, and that last part isn’t really a spoiler, since everyone knows Fandral Staghelm is batshit crazy anyway.(less)
This is going to be less of a review, and more of a list of my thoughts on why I just couldn't get into this book. I try generally to finish every boo...moreThis is going to be less of a review, and more of a list of my thoughts on why I just couldn't get into this book. I try generally to finish every book I start because I'm way too obsessive-compulsive not to, but I have to say it was so tempting to put this one aside. I did end up finishing it, but not without much zoning out and skimming.
- I remember really liking Ashes, the first book of this trilogy. It was, in my opinion, a zombie survival story done well. We had a great beginning, an intriguing cause of the disaster in the form of the mysterious "Zap" that started it all and turned everything upside down. I liked the main character Alex and how she met up with Tom and Ellie, I wanted to see more of them and what they would do to make it through the apocalypse.
- But somewhere along the way, this zombie survival story became bogged down with too much character drama. Alex used to be the main focus, which was fine with me; I liked her and her whole backstory about her illness and the death of her parents. But ever since Rule came into the picture, Alex started showing up less and less; other characters I didn't care for were getting more attention. There were way too many players involved already, but Monsters added even more.
- This book really could have been edited down further, with a lot of filler cut out. I heard it was originally around 800 pages long, but even now at around 600, there's still too much exposition and unneeded detail, like aimless dream sequences and a lot of redundant repetition.
- I did not like how it seemed the author felt every chapter needed to end in a cliffhanger. It very quickly became unbearable when we would follow one character's perspective, stop at a point of suspense, go to follow another character in a very different place, stop at a point of suspense for them, and repeat this pattern back and forth. This excessive ping-ponging between perspectives was even more tedious when all of it would sometimes happen within the same chapter.
- No big picture, no explanations or answers to questions. We don't get to find out more about the Zap, the Changed, or any of the other strange things that have been happening to our characters. The action scenes felt thrown in perfunctorily whenever we needed a break from the soap opera drama.
- Disappointing end to a trilogy that really started out quite strong. I'd really hoped for it to pick up, but instead, it spiraled further away from the spirit of what made me like the first book so much. I think the departure had already started happening at the end of Ashes, but it only got worse in the second. I didn't like the direction in which the series was headed in Shadows, and I liked it even less in Monsters. (less)
I really wanted to give this book a higher rating, I really did; in fact, I even started to thoroughly enjoy myself towards the end when things really...moreI really wanted to give this book a higher rating, I really did; in fact, I even started to thoroughly enjoy myself towards the end when things really picked up, but by then it was a little too late. I had a hard time getting through the beginning of the book, trying to make heads or tails of the characters, events and places. The author lets you "puzzle" these together, which I normally wouldn't mind so much, if only the pieces were laid out coherently. The problem was that there's a lot of jumping around, and a huge cast of characters is introduced in a short period of time. Things didn't "click" with me until I was around 20-25% through the novel.
Whenever I start a book, I like to get a good feel for the protagonists early on. Once you get me to care about what happens to them, then I can start to care about the rest of the story. With all the confusion of the first quarter of the book, I didn't feel a connection to any of the characters at all. This likely went on to affect the rest of my experience.
Despite all this, I think I'll give this series one more chance. More than one review I've read has said book one reads more like an "intro", and that things start to get better and make more sense in the second one. I'll put Deadhouse Gates on my to-read list for now, and hope those reviews are right.(less)
Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire has wowed me before with her work, more specifically, with the book Feed in her Newsflesh Trilogy. I confess my deep love for zombie goodness, which is why I was so excited when I got my hands on Parasite, her new novel that appears to contain similar horror/thriller themes. Due to several factors, though, it turned out that wasn't able to get on board with this one as much as I'd hoped, but I did very much like the subject. Tapeworms, how deliciously creepy!
The book takes place about a decade into the future, where medical science has taken a great leap forward with the development of a genetically engineered tapeworm. Brilliant scientists at SymboGen Corporation have figured out a way to modify this parasite so that it would live in mutualistic symbiosis with humans. Our bodies give the tapeworm a place to live, and in turn it boosts our immune systems, secretes drugs and medications, protects us from illnesses, allergies, and all that good stuff. Within years, almost everyone on earth has one of these implants living within them.
We are then introduced to Sally Mitchell, our main character who woke up six years ago after being diagnosed as brain dead following a horrific car accident. Her recovery has not been complete, however. Despite being a young woman on the outside, Sally/Sal has in essence only been alive for six years because she cannot remember anything of her life prior to her accident. She woke up a complete blank slate, and had to relearn everything like language, social behaviors, and even basic things like how to eat. Nevertheless, SymboGen touts her as a miracle, crediting their tapeworm implant for preserving her life.
Sticking things into our bodies that don't belong there has never turned out well in these kinds of stories though, especially when they're parasites that scientists have tinkered with. Which brings me to my first thought -- that this book would have been better and more suspenseful if the science aspect had been stepped up a bit. On the one hand, being an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy means that I am no stranger to suspending my disbelief; pretty much anything can go in this genre, as far as I'm concerned. However, there's also much to be said about authors who can use science to create nightmare scenarios that are so realistic that even their most outlandish ideas can seem convincing. Books like Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park or Timeline, for example, are fun to read for this reason. The research in them are at a level where I can actually entertain the thought of their stories being possible.
This wasn't something I could do with Parasite. Admittedly, I may have been a little over-critical of its premise because of my background in biology, but I think most readers with a basic knowledge of microbiology or genetics will also find some issues with this book. There are not a lot of explanations when it comes to the tapeworm, you just have to accept that things are the way they are. It's definitely not a deal-breaker, but not being able to picture this story as a realistic situation does lessen the suspense somewhat. But not unlike those crazy made-for-TV disaster movies you see on SyFy, Parasite is still a lot of fun.
Sal's character, however, was a whole other matter. I've said it before and I'll say it again: main protagonists are so important for me, and not being able to like them or connect with them makes it harder for me to enjoy a book. First of all, I found it hard to believe that Sal is at such a high level of proficiency when it comes to social behavior and language, considering she started from scratch only six years ago. Beyond that, her personality is also like that of a spoiled brat who thinks she knows everything.
In some ways, I understand that Sal is supposed to be a little naive, being technically just six years old and all. But I've lived almost five times that and I'll still be the first to admit there's just so much I have yet to learn, and Sal's self-centered attitude really got on my nerves, along with her apparent disdain for authority figures. Sometimes, I wondered if I would have enjoyed this book more as a Young Adult novel, because then the premise and the main character's attitude would not have felt so out of place.
I suppose Sal's history also excuses her for not being all that discerning, or for not having the best judgment of people and situations. I don't think it'll take long for most readers to guess the ending to this book; personally, I was able to predict the "twist" by the halfway point (and I don't think I'm the most perceptive of readers either) but it's something Sal only manages to figure out in the final few pages, significantly lessening the effect of the cliffhanger. If any suspense still remained for me at this point, the conclusion pretty much negated it and made me realize that perhaps this book just isn't for me. For a future Mira Grant fix, I will probably pick up Deadline and return to the Newsflesh Trilogy. Tapeworms are interesting, but I think I like her zombies a lot better.(less)