Bridge of Birds and The Story of the Stone were two great novels that I remember with fondness. I'd always hoped that Barry Hughart would either write...moreBridge of Birds and The Story of the Stone were two great novels that I remember with fondness. I'd always hoped that Barry Hughart would either write more adventures of Master Li and Number Ten Ox or, at the very least, more books.
Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago with I discovered Eight Skilled Gentlemen at one of my local used bookstores. What a score! I'd had no idea the book was even out there. Lucky me.
Well, while I wouldn't say it is a "bad" book, it was pretty disappointing. The plot felt a bit muddied and ramshackle to me. It never really seemed like a very clear adventure tale. It was more like a collection of loosely related stories and incidents cobbled together into book length.
I did still enjoy Hughart's wit and charm and of course Master Li and Ox were their enjoyable selves, but the story was weak in my opinion. Worst of all was that both villains were easily predicted and the whole [mild spoilers] tea and cages plot seemed not only overly complex, but kind of pointless.
I know I have a habit of writing reviews that seem to focus on the negative, so let me reiterate that I still enjoyed reading Eight Skilled Gentlemen, it's just that in comparison to the first two novels featuring the Master Li and Ox, it was a very disappointed book. (less)
Where do I start with this review? Originally, this book was recommended to me by a tattoo artist who was doing some work for me. We were chatting, as...moreWhere do I start with this review? Originally, this book was recommended to me by a tattoo artist who was doing some work for me. We were chatting, as you do when someone is driving ink into your fingers, and it turned out we had a lot of similar reading and genre interests. I can't remember how we latched on to the topic of Mistborn, but nonetheless, we did. The tattooist (Keith, by the way) had high praise for the Allomancy form of magic that Brandon Sanderson developed for the Mistborn books. I was somewhat skeptical of another fantasy trilogy, but Keith's recommendation was sincere and I figured I would give the books a shot.
First of all, I will say that Allomancy is an original and intriguing form of magic, even if I did find it a little too easily abusable in action and plot terms. As I noted in one of my updates, the line in the book about (paraphrasing here) "Allomancers not being able to affect metals within the body because otherwise they would just rip them right out of people's stomachs" was almost too much to take. However, it's possible that was just a red herring and that facet of Allomancy may have been invalidated by a later revelation in the book. Or it could just be a case of bad writing that was accidentally saved by a later plot point. Either way, the fact that at the moment I read the line I literally smacked myself upon the forehead makes it a gaff in my opinion.
Anyway, that's a pretty minor point and not really indicative of the overall book. What is indicative of the overall book is Sanderson's over-reliance on some fantasy tropes (which, I'll be honest, is almost impossible to avoid when writing a fantasy novel) as well as some phrases that get over used and too much "faux-ld english" style speaking. I mean, when characters sound relatively modern and then someone busts out a "Fear not..." it sticks out. There were also more than a few instances in the book where I felt like Sanderson used a phenomenon that would be unknown in his fantasy world to explain or describe something. Not having the book with me at the moment, I can't grab a specific example, but a few times at least I felt like what he was writing simply didn't have any relation to the world he had created, if you can follow me.
This first novel in the Mistborn series centers around a slave uprising against a totalitarian regime, led by a charismatic Allomancer named Kelsier and his motley crew of thieves and soldiers, along with Vin the young girl newly born into her powers. Pretty standard fare, for a fantasy novel. Evil sorcerers, powerful henchmen, young heroes, dynamic leader born of tragedy, etc. Set in a world of floating ash and desolate landscape (I was constantly wondering where the food came from- never a mention of food animals and all the plants are brown and unhealthy, apparently), a class system divided by master and slave and a select group of Allomancers- the titular Mistborn- who can burn various metals for a wide array of effects and Mistings, those able to utilize only one type of metal to perform magic.
Speaking of those fantasy tropes. The chosen one is the biggest of course. The chosen one is also a teen girl, who, it turns out, is immensely powerful. She falls for the handsome, yet disheveled and rebellious son of the realm's most powerful nobleman (outside the Lord Ruler and his oligarchy), who, of course, also falls for the young heroine. There's the usual crew of supporting characters- dashing and witty con men, tough soldier types, curmudgeonly old men, taciturn older brothers, etc. It's almost like Sanderson wrote the book from a "fantasy novel template".
I can admit though that even if he did use a template, Sanderson managed to inject it with enough spark and originality to sort of balance it out. I did enjoy the story and the chapter headers that gave us snippets of an ancient logbook written by a hero of yore laid a really intriguing back story that I hope will be further explored in the second two novels.
While I felt like all the characters were a bit flat, sort of one dimensional caricatures of real people that I really never cared about, they served well to drive the story along. For example, a fairly prominent character dies in the second half of the book and I really did not care. Yes, it was unexpected, but I simply didn't care that the character was dead. I had nothing invested in the character and their death did not bother me. There was perhaps a little too much internal mulling and introspection by our main character, but it didn't detract from the story.
Honestly, the story is where the book shines. Sanderson has crafted an interesting world (if implausibly inhospitable) and it's intriguing to wonder how it got that way. There are a few clues throughout the book, but nothing overt. There was an obvious calamity in the past, but we're never told the details. While I hesitate to call it a plot "twist" there's a really nice changing of gears in the latter half of the book which I wasn't expecting, so it was nice to see that the book didn't go down the exact road I thought it would. At more than a few points in the book I kind of felt like I wouldn't ever bother with the sequels, but the story was good enough in the end that I've picked up the second book and will read it for sure.
That being said, I found Sanderson to only be an average writer, skill and language-wise. Seriously, way too often when something dramatic or action oriented was happening characters "cried out" as they leapt or were injured or did something or had something done to them. Hey Brandon, what about "yelled out", "shouted", "screamed", gasped, grunted, roared, screeched? Did it really need to be "cried out" every time someone got stabbed or punched or launched an attack? I mean, I don't think he is a bad writer, but I didn't see any personality shine through. I found his actual language and sentences and word choices to just be bland as hell. It was like vanilla pudding all the way through. When I think of writer's who I've enjoyed and who's works I've sought out to read- authors like PKD, Zelazny, Banks and others, it's because they inject a real personality in their writing, through the words they choose and the phrases they use. Sanderson lacks that spark and flame in his writing.
Looking at his bio I see that he is that same age as me, but I feel like he writes like a much younger and inexperienced man. Perhaps his later novels show more maturity. Granted, Mistborn was published 6 years ago, so Sanderson was approximately 30ish when he wrote it, but even then I felt like I was reading a novel written by a guy in his early 20s.
Personally, I don't think that this first book in the series is deserving of all the four and five star reviews it received, however, when comparing it to many of the fantasy novels and series out there, I can see why maybe it gets such high praise. When all you get is fast food the occasional sit down meal at a mid-tier restaurant probably seems like fine dining in contrast. Ultimately that's how I felt about Mistborn: a solid mid-tier entry in the the fantasy genre. Maybe, like a chef (to continue the food analogy) he'll hone his craft at one restaurant then move on to the next and the next, improving his craft each time.
Mistborn: The Final Empire was a tasty enough appetizer to make me come back for more. I hope that the next course is even better.(less)
I know, just like anyone else even passingly familiar with manga that Osamu Tezuka is considered to be t...moreThis review encompasses both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
I know, just like anyone else even passingly familiar with manga that Osamu Tezuka is considered to be the godfather of anime and I'm betting that a lot of reviews of this particular manga are coloured by that hallowed status. I also know that this is one of Tezuka's earlier works and that it probably never was intended for a strictly adult audiences.
Taking all that into account, I still can't find my way to giving these two volumes more than a mediocre review. I'll also admit that I've never read Astro Boy, only ever seen the cartoons in my childhood. However, I have to believe that even though Astro Boy began his adventures a few short years before Princess Knight saw publication, Tezuka's technique, skill and storytelling must have matured mightily at some point after Princess Knight.
First of all, the influence of Disney on Princess Knight is blazingly obvious. In fact to my eyes, many of the characters look like they could have been lifted outright from a Disney comic or sketchbook of the era. The only characters that don't look too obviously "Disney" are the mains- Prince/ss Sapphire, Franz Charming (really? "Franz Charming"? The name almost literally couldn't be any closer to Prince Charming, the prince in Snow White), Blood the Pirate and a few others. Many of the other character designs appear to my eye to be lifted from various sources, mostly Disney. Tink the angel springs to mind immediately, as well as others. What makes it so obvious is that Tezuka's main protagonists all have manga features and his supporting characters- those that are heavily influenced by other sources- don't. There's no consistency in character design between the "manga" characters and the "Disney" characters. You could get the same result simply by cutting out manga characters and pasting them into a Disney comic.
The story line itself is a mishmash of events, which is somewhat understandable given that Princess Knight was originally serialized, and it certainly shows. There's a lot of deus ex machina in these books, with not only some sort of Christian god being represented but also quirky versions of Satan, as well as witches, angels and Eros, the god of love. It certainly doesn't make for a coherent mythology, to say the least.
All the characters in Princess Knight are capricious to the extreme. No one seems to have any real motivation aside from love, hate, greed or selfishness.
The boy/girl heart plot at the center of the story not only feels pointless at the end, but merely a hook to start the action and doesn't seem to have any real point or impact.
Speaking of boys and girls, the "proto-feminist" impact of the books is probably minor, to say the least. While there are indeed some strong female characters and King Plastic does speak of misogyny and rewrites the rules so that either a man or a woman can become ruler of the kingdom, most of the time women are firmly entrenched in the stereotypes of the 50s. When Sapphire is without her boy heart she becomes physically weak and can no longer sword fight. Freibe, the female knight, while a dynamic fighter attempts to woo Sapphire by donning a dress and extolling her virtues in the kitchen. These stereotypes abound and I think too much credence is given to any pro-feminist stance of the books. I can't say for sure, but I doubt Tezuka was aiming at feminist values and was more likely just making interesting characters that happen to be women. Manga and anime have a long history of powerful, dynamic, crazy and weird female characters that still embody all the stereotypes of females in pop culture.
I guess I'll end here, because I feel slightly silly being so harsh on what is probably a lovely manga for young girls and boys (except for the inexplicable decision to have a character in a children's book use the word "bitch" near the end). For what it is, a somewhat charming fantasy tale about princes and princesses and witches and knights, it's probably great entertainment for children.
If you're an adult, I'd suggest giving this one a miss unless you are a big fan of children's entertainment or wish to read it to your own kids.
The story is great, but the art leaves much to be desired. I usually hate to criticize comic book art, but the art in this first volume simply does no...moreThe story is great, but the art leaves much to be desired. I usually hate to criticize comic book art, but the art in this first volume simply does not measure up to the quality of the writing and kept this book from a 4-star rating.
I plan to read further volumes and hope to see some better quality art in those books.(less)