So, another series is over and, I'm afraid to say, for me the ending was just meh. Unfortunately, this appears to be the fate of so many series theseSo, another series is over and, I'm afraid to say, for me the ending was just meh. Unfortunately, this appears to be the fate of so many series these days. The Soookie Stackhouse, Georgina Kincaid and Dante Valentine books all immediately spring to mind. Like the first two of these three, the main problem with the Parasol Protectorate series, I think, is that there just was not enough plot for the five books and the series went on for longer than the author is convincingly able to sustain the storyline.
This last instalment takes place two years after the ending of the previous book with Lord and Lady Maccon still residing in Lord Akeldama's closet. The latter is the legal guardian to Prudence, the infant inconvenience who is now a toddler causing a lot of havoc and keeping Lord Akeldama, all his drones and the majority of the Woolsey werewolf clan on their toes. That is, until Alexia receives a summons from Matakara, Queen of the Alexandria hive and the oldest living vampire and the Maccons, along with the Tunstells and their troupe whom they take along as cover, set out for Egypt where, inevitably, they encounter adversity, mystery and adventure, leading to the series being very neatly wrapped up and tied up with a bow (a very oversize one with pink and turquoise stripes, to fit in with the general atmosphere).
Where with the previous book I was a teensy bit bored, with this one, I was a lot bored. In fact all of the first half of this book was just filler, with the author re-visiting some of the more memorable places and characters from the previous books - the hat shop now run by Biffy, the Woolsey Hive (with notable appearances from Countess Nadasdy and Mabel Dair), the fleeting return of Felicity Loontwill in a flurry of spite, the sudden reappearance of Lady Kingair (in the nude in certain placess, no less!) and a single appearance of Guatve Trouve (to deliver a replacement parasol) to name but a few.
The charm and humour of the earlier books has fizzled to a point where a lot of it read like bad panto tipping over into complete absurdity at several points (yes, I am talking about the hideous trouser ripping episode involving Tunstell and the overabundance of silly names). Most of the book could have been illustrated with images like these:
Not a great visual backdrop.
After the leasurly self-indulgent intro, the actual story and the wrap up were far too rushed and felt desperate and emotionally manipulative. (view spoiler)[Two major caracters die or are on the point of dying only to be miraculously rescued a few pages later, for crying out loud. (hide spoiler)] But the most disappointing thing of all, is that the main mysteries of the books - the Order of the Brass Octopus, the nature of the soulless/soulstealers (what/why/how are they?) etc - remain unanswered pretty much completely, unless you count the fact that Alexia's abilities are discovered to be cancelled out when she is submerged in water (I am not even going to mark it as a spoiler because, really, after five books, that is what we find out?!?).
Having said that, there were a few things that I liked which saved this from being a one star disaster. While I still feel that too many pages were dedicated to it, I did like the relationship between Biffy and Lyall. It was nice to have a homosexual relationship which was genuinely sweet and not reduced to riduculousness. I admire the fact that Alexia stays human and the elegant solution introduced by Carriger to deal with Connall's immortality and that Alexia never descends to the depth of Bella's vanity to obsess about her aging. But the thing I like most of all is the fact that, unlike in the vast majority of urban fantasy and PNR, Alexia remains very much her own person, with her own separate interests, friends and responsibilities and does not immediately turn into a woman-sized appendage of her virile sexy werewolf of a husband, entirely subsumed into his world, beliefs and persona. I can respect that. And I still love certain characters enough (Madame Lefoux and Lord Akeldama please make your way onto the stage) to be content to simply watch them. I almost feel nostalgic already. Almost.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Little Brother is a story of Marcus Yallow, aka W1n5ton, aka M1k3y, who lives in San Francisco in a not too distant future. I was going to say that MaLittle Brother is a story of Marcus Yallow, aka W1n5ton, aka M1k3y, who lives in San Francisco in a not too distant future. I was going to say that Marcus is pretty much your average 17 year old but, on further reflection, I realised I have no idea what an average 17 year old is like these days, let alone what they will be like in a decade or two. I imagine they are not too dissimilar to Marcus. They like computer games, have a bunch of mates, a bit adventurous, a bit horny, a bit rebellious, that sort of thing. But then, in some respects, Marcus did strike me as not very teenager-like at all. Reading Kerouac, his diverse food tastes (he knows all about all these great food joints and just what to order there), love of coffee and hate of Starbucks, his extensive knowledge of San Francisco's history etc. I wouldn't have been surprised if he popped down to a farmer's market at any point (and in fact I think he does mention a fruit market somewhere).
In the world of Little Brother security and surveillance have been taken to the n'th degree and pretty much your every move (both in the real world and on the internet) is recorded, monitored and inspected, so it is, perhaps, no surprise that Marcus is a bit of a hacker and clever with computers, a necessary skill if one is to skip school from time to time to go on Harajuku Fun Madness quests. It is on one of these missions that Marcus and his friends end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and are picked up and detained by Homeland Security after a terrorist attack.
Little Brother is a manifesto as much as it is a story. Now, I'm usually not much into books that beat you over the head with their message but I didn't mind so much here. Partly because I wholeheartedly agree with the author's views and partly because I believe that we are actually not very far off the world described in the book already and it is important for us as a society to consider the issues of freedom and privacy and to what extent these should be sacrificed in the name of security and how our views are affected by the climate of fear and paranoia created by the government and the media in response to terrorism. It does get a little much at times, like the tone gets a bit lecturey and do we really need the same quote from the Declaration of Independence repeated at us three times. But somehow, it didn't bother mee too much.
Welcome to the present.
I live in the UK and don't know much about what it's like in America, but here, we are already very much a surveillance society. The UK supposedly has more CCTV cameras than any other country in the world. According to Wiki, the exact number is not known but one estimate is 1.85 million, which is an average of one camera for every 32 people with an average person making about 70 appearances on CCTV cameras every day. Other estimates are higher. The justification for all these cameras, public and private, is crime prevention. But the same Wiki article states:
"There is little evidence that CCTV deters crime; in fact, there is considerable evidence that it does not. According to a Liberal Democrat analysis, in London "Police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any." A 2008 Report by UK. Police Chiefs concluded that only 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV. In London, a Metropolitan Police report showed that in 2008 only one crime was solved per 1000 cameras. There are valid reasons for including CCTV as a component of a physical security program, but deterrence is not one of them."
And CCTV is by far not the only means for Big (or Little) Brother to keep tabs on you. Registration plate recognition cameras, mobile phones, travel cards, credit cards, loyalty cards, medical records, interenet use (social networking sites anyone?), DNA databases… these are all things that can be used to determine what you have been up to at any particular point in time. And it is astounding how many of us are completely oblivious or indifferent to the staggering amount of private information about them that is available to state authorities and, all too often, anyone else who cares to look. Your average Joe Bloggs attitude is still very much "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" and "If it prevents criminal behaviour or improves its detection, I am all for it." (actual quote from a BBC article). Well, the problem is, as mentioned, there is tonnes of evidence that it doesn't and there is lots to fear because, it seems, the government is unable to keep our private info safe (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7449927... and this article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7690005...).
Anti-terrorism legislation in the UK, pushed through parliament in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks and the London bombings in July 2005, allows the police in certain circumstances to stop and search you without any grounds and to detain you for up to 14 days without charge (that period was 28 days until recently) and gives the police and other state authorities very wide powers of surveillance. Not worried because you are not a terrorist? Think again. Instead of using the anti-terrorism powers for, well, dealing with terrorism, there is much evidence to suggest that police use them simply as "an additional tool in their day-to-day policing kit" to stop and search people without reasonable grounds for believing they have done anything wrong, to detain lawful protesters and in other instances that have nothing to do with terrorism (such as walking on a cycle path http://news.sky.com/home/article/1345...). Local councils in the UK are using anti-terrorism legislation to spy on people in connection with horrific offences such littering, putting rubbish in the wrong bins, dog fouling and breaches of school admission regulations.
Online activism is also very much a reality these days. Think operation "Avenge Assage" by Anonymous in support of Wikileaks.
But I am getting carried away here. Back to the book. I loved the questions that it raises and Doctorow's obvious enthusiasm for the subject which pours off every page and is very infectious and I even loved the techie stuff, though I struggled to understand some of it. It is a great social commentary book, bang up to date, on point and relevant, but not without its problems as a work of literature, I think. I had a few issues: the sex stuff really made me cringe, some of the characters weren't very well developed, I struggled with the plot sometimes as it was a bit too convenient (if the Xbox universal was so great and already had all that free stuff and anti-detection software available for it, why wasn't everyone using it already; mum and dad just happen to be great friends with a major investigative journalist; why would an investigative journalist be put in charge of liberating a secret federal security prison, that sort of thing), Marcus was very much a stand in for the author (which is why he didn't really sound like a teenager most of the time, I think) and the whole "don't trust anyone over 25" thing was a bit silly and peed me off, though very teenager-like, I suppose. Overall, however, I enjoyed the book hugely and would highly recommend it to adults and teens alike. ...more
Viy is a story written by Nikolai Gogol which is most often classified as horror. I'm not sure I necessarily agree with that classification, althoughViy is a story written by Nikolai Gogol which is most often classified as horror. I'm not sure I necessarily agree with that classification, although it does feature a bumbling main character who comes to a sticky end at the hands of a bloodsucking witch and a horde of other demonic creatures. Gogol himself styled it as a folk tale re-telling.
The titular Viy is a creture of Ukrainian folklore, a demon in the form of an old man with his eyelids and brows reaching down to the ground. If the eyelids are lifted, nothing can hide from Viy's gaze and he is able to kill and destroy villages and whole towns with his eyes.
At the start of the story, three seminary students from Kyiv's Bratsky Monastery set off for home on their summer vacation. They veer off the main road to try to find shelter and something to eat for the night. They come across a remote farmstead where an old woman reluctantly lets them in but separates them to spend the night each in a different place. Khoma Brut, our main hero is put into an empty sheep pen and is just about to drop into a dead sleep when the old woman enters and all the fun begins.
Gogol's language is very rich and colourful and he has a particular gift for treating his characters with so much humour that even though most of the story happens in a dark church at night with the hero under attack by a dead body and other unpleasant things, it reads as a comedy.
I really enjoyed the story overall and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Ukrainian/Russian folklore, as well as any fan of Gogol. There is also a fantastic Russian film made in 1967 which is based on it, available on youtube with English subtitles. You can see the first part here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjiB6a......more
Veronika is a 24 year old Slovenian woman who one day decides to kill herself, apparently because (1) "everything in her life was the same and, once hVeronika is a 24 year old Slovenian woman who one day decides to kill herself, apparently because (1) "everything in her life was the same and, once her youth was gone, it would be downhill all the way" and (2) everything is wrong with the world and she feels powerless to make things right. After she takes an overdose of sleeping pills, Veronika wakes up in a mental asylum and the remainder of the book is, basically, a series of interactions between Veronika and a number of the inhabitants of the asylum, including a young schizophrenic named Eduard, who mainly stands around mutely and masturbates while Veronika plays the piano. Veronika (what else!) inexplicably falls in love with him, after she similarly inexplicably regains her joie de vivre.
I suppose, that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Veronika, and certainly Coelho does not add much else in terms of characterisation. Some reviewers have pointed out that to create realistic characters or believable plot is not the point of this book and certainly not Coelho's intention. I guess one really has no choice but to agree with this as it is patently obvious that this is not so much a book as a meditation on insanity with characters and plot which are merely vehicles to convey the author's thoughts on the subject and encourage the reader to reflect on the same and to explore how they may feel/behave/think in similar circumstances.
Paulo Coelho himself makes a brief and pointless appearance at the beginning of the book to tell you that it is based on his own experiences as a mental patient and proceeds to bash you over the head with his message, which is that everyone is crazy, insanity and genius are two sides of the same coin and we should all let our inner freak out and stop trying to conform.
As a reader, I find this approach supremely unsatisfactory. For some reason, I tend to be much more receptive to the message when I can actually bring myself to care about the story or the characters, however unsympathetic they may be. I am sometimes able to forgive lack of plot or character development if the book is particularly informative or beautifully written or manages to turn me on or makes me think about a subject in a new and interesting way. Unfortunately, this book did none of that. Veronika fails even as a placeholder because her actions are so absurd and incomprehensible that I was completely unable to relate to them or to put myself in her shoes. So all that was left was the message and I had absolutely no patience for Coelho's particular brand of preachy self-help pop-psychology. ...more
OK, so what can I say about this that I have not said about the previous instalments? Not much, I'm afraid. And that's not a good thing.
Pacing is stiOK, so what can I say about this that I have not said about the previous instalments? Not much, I'm afraid. And that's not a good thing.
Pacing is still good (though action scenes are becoming more and more confusing), world building good, plot ok (while I do have some beef with the whole Gabe and Eddie dying sideline as it seemed completely unnecessary and irrelevant, the overall story arch developed nicely here) but it falls flat on its face in the execution. Japh is still an abusive control freak. Dante is still a whining imbecile. And the repetition. Oh holyjesusmarymotherofgod, the constant repetition.
I have actually done a count for this one so, Ms Saintcrow's editor, please take note:
• in fifth place we have the emerald on Dante's cheek which is mentioned 7 times, with emeralds altogether (there are 3 necromances plus Lucifer and Eve all with emeralds on their faces) being mentioned 18 times;
• in fourth place we have a tie between Dante's molecule-drip nail polish and black-diamond flames of a demon's aura with a respectable 8 mentions each;
• in third place, Dante's rings winking, swirling, sizzling, rolling, spitting and sparking 18 times;
• in second place, things glowing green are mentioned 36 times, mainly Japhrimel's eyes which have turned from radioactive green to laser green.
In case you need an illustration, here's one of the first results that Google image search comes up with for "glowing green eyes".
• And finally, in first place, mentioned a mind boggling 76 times, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the mark. It pulses, it twists, it burns, it flares, it heats, crunches and flushes. 76 times. All I can say is if you are using this book for a drinking game, do not go with the word mark unless you want to end up at the hospital with a serious case of alcohol poisoning. ...more
Hmmm. This book was frustrating. It was much better than the first in many respects yet much more irritating in others.
The writing seems to have improHmmm. This book was frustrating. It was much better than the first in many respects yet much more irritating in others.
The writing seems to have improved considerably though there is still a lot of repetition. Dante's thought pattern sure is circular. She goes round and round and round with the same old "Japhrimel is dead/I can't love Jace/my hand is cramping/I don't want to think about anything" crap until you almost start feeling dizzy. It gets very tedious.
Being in Dante's head is a bit like riding on one of these:
One of the problems was that this didn't have the break neck speed of the first novel, so you actually got the time along the way to contemplate the characters, their actions and the reasons behind them.
Dante is a frustrating character. She is very self-absorbed, self-deluding and a bit of a coward to boot (despite the showy heroics). She will go out and fight villains and catch criminals but is completely unable to face anything affecting her own life and will bury her head in the sand and avoid facing things for as long as she can. Perhaps, this is understandable given her history (and we do get a lot of back story on her childhood in this book, which was good), but chapter upon chapter of her not doing very much other than going round and round and round in her head with the self-delusional bullshit was frustrating.
I detested the way Dante treated Jace. She was a bit of a prick tease in the first book gallivanting naked around Japhrimel (it's not like he will care, he is a different species from me. is he blushing? nah, must be seeing things again.) but this was much more morally suspect. I suppose this is yet another facet of her inability to face things. She knows that she will never return his feelings, yet she continues to string him along, allows him to move in with her, sleep in the same bed as her, tag along on her bounty hunts. Now, he is a big boy and can choose for himself but I still cannot condone this passive cowardly stance that she has, particularly given that she supposedly cares a lot for him as a friend (view spoiler)[and given that he dies for it (hide spoiler)].
There are also a couple of WTF moments, the biggest one by far being when she "destroys" the urn and torches down her house because (a) it is a very childish, not to mention selfish and irresponsible, action and (b) even an imbecile would realise what is going to happen as soon as she has done it. (view spoiler)[There is no subtlety to the resurrection, it just happens. And that was a huge disappointment. I would have much preferred for her to wrap up her past in this book and spend the time in the next book researching demons, her own nature and trying to resurrect Japh so that it would actually mean something instead of being some half-baked half-assed how fucking stupid are you accident. (hide spoiler)]
The ending made me cringe. They ride off into the sunset in a hover limo. Seriously.
On the plus side, I was still very much impressed with the complexity of the world that Saintcrow created. We get quite a bit more detail in this instalment and it is impeccably thought out. There is a historical, legal and even scientific context which is integrated into the story (although some of it is delivered as part of a couple of "research" essays and a glossary at the end, which some might consider a lazy approach, but I actually quite enjoyed that part, it certainly read very authentic). Nichtvren (vampires) and werecain (werewolves) make an appearance and we get a better understanding of the nature of some of the other types of psionic ability.
Overall, I still think this was a compelling and worthwhile read and am planning to continue on with the series. I am particularly interested to see how things will develop with Lucifer, who remained on the periphery throughout this instalment and how Dante, and her relationship with Japhrimel, will develop. I'm hoping there will be a lot more of her exploring her new half-demon powers and kicking ass, instead of moping about feeling sorry for herself and avoiding thinking about things.
What a ride. I have read the entire series in just under three days and probably need a few days to absorb the whole thing properly. Just wanted to joWhat a ride. I have read the entire series in just under three days and probably need a few days to absorb the whole thing properly. Just wanted to jot a few preliminary thoughts down.
The series as a whole was magnificent. Emotional, entertaining, challenging, provoking, gripping. An absolute joy to read. Why have I not come across this one sooner? I'm not really the target YA audience but this is easily on a par with Harry Potter and a million times better than Twilight and I heard of both of those.
I thought the first book had the best structure and pacing and was undoubtedly the best in the series. I raced to the end at breakneck speed and wanted to re-read it pretty much as soon as I was done. The world building was incredible - vivid, realistic and terrifying, it had interesting, likable and engaging characters, non-stop rollercoaster of a plot and the enchanting promise of more great things to come.
In the second book, I was expecting that we would learn more about the different districts and thet Capitol and the history of Panem. In fact one of the gripes I have for the series as a whole is that the political system is not really described in any of the books in any detail. We have President Snow and we have the Peacekeepers and that seems to be the extent of the political system. President Snow is the ultimate baddie here, the Hitler/Stalin of Panem and the peacekeepers are the brute force but he cannot be running the whole country single-handedly. A dictatorship requires a huge political machine to support and enforce it but, other than a single reference at the end of Mockinjay to some people being executed for their crimes in addition to President Snow, we see no description or mention of this. The second book with Katniss and Peeta doing a tour of the districts would have been the perfect opportunity to provide these sorts of details of the world that was so magnificently introduced in the first book and we did get some glimpses but I'm not sure I was entirely satisfied with a re-run of the Hunger Games instead. It felt a bit repetitive.
In the third book, Katniss and a lot of the other major characters spend most of their time in a state of complete shell-shock, unconscious and/or recovering from injuries. A lot of the story happens in a daze and I felt not a little dazed and shell-shocked myself by the end of the book. It was still a great book but, for me, not completely satisfying. I had a real problem with the attitude that Katniss had to Peeta's condition and the resolution of their relationship was a complete flop. I wanted to see Katniss realise that she loves Peeta just as deeply as he loves her. I wanted a real punchline to their story with some underlining and exclamation marks. Instead, all I got was Peeta's feelings being wiped away, a couple of sentences where the both "grow back together" and their kids playing together in the meadow. That was a real let down. I was disappointed that Mrs Everdeen and Gale would just fade out of Katniss' life. I can understand the latter but her mum dumping her to go back to 12 alone was just weak. There was no resolution for Haymitch. He simply goes back to drinking and herding geese. Perhaps this is realistic. That some things people never fully recover from. But it irked me nonetheless. What happens to some of the other characters we never even find out. Effie, Johanna, Enobaria? We learn that Annie has a son but nothing else. Also, I am glad that there was no rosy utopia at the end but it would have been nice to see a bit more of the brave new world that Katniss had helped to usher in....more