It is very difficult for me to review this book, on its own, having previously watched that amazing animated series by the same name. I will try nonetIt is very difficult for me to review this book, on its own, having previously watched that amazing animated series by the same name. I will try nonetheless.
For the uninitiated, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol.1: Dawn reads like a military history novel. Indeed, it begins with a prologue that sets up the events that lead to our main story almost as if they were historical facts. It may seem a bit confusing or perhaps dense for some but I appreciated reading about humanity's expansion into the stars, how we evolved into a Galactic Empire, and how a splinter group eventually created the Free Planets Alliance. These two organisations eventually collided and have been doing battle ever since to impose their ideals unto the other. Considering the amount of information in this prologue I have to say it read surprisingly easy (for me) what can only be a credit to the writer.
The stage is now set to introduce the main players of this grandiose space opera. On the side of the Galactic Empire we have Count Reinhard von Lohengramm, a young admiral with lofty ambitions and the skill to make them a reality. Reinhard is a force for change in an otherwise stagnant Galactic Empire and firmly believes in rewarding people according to their ability and not their station. He has his eye set on the Imperial Throne and beyond but in order to do that he must play a dangerous game at the Imperial Court, rising through the ranks by showing his military prowess.
On the side of the Alliance we have Commodore Yang Wen-li, a very capable, while lazy, military strategist who dreams of retiring and becoming a historian. While both the book and the animated series highlight he's not the only man in the Alliance military with talent it is strongly suggested he's the only one with wits to spare against a man such as Count von Lohengramm. In fact, Yang is often hamstrung by decisions made by the Alliance's politicians what makes his "victories" even more outstanding and infuriate Reinhard to no end.
Almost on the background of this epic showdown between Empire and Alliance, through their agents Reinhard and Yang, we have a third player who's looking out for its own interests and that's the independent planet of Phezzan. If you're wondering how a lone planet has managed to stay neutral in this war I suggest you read the book.
As you can imagine the story is fraught with politics, history, and space battles in equal measure. While I certainly enjoy reading how the battles play out and what trick Yang "the Magician" will come up with I think the story's best achievement so far has been to depict both sides in a fair manner, both the good and the bad. In fact, I once remarked that Legend of the Galactic Heroes was the first anime I'd seen that showed actual people, their tribulations, hopes, fears, all of it. It's almost as if you were watching (or reading) a chapter in the history of humanity, hundreds of years from now. It is without a doubt one of the greatest space operas ever told.
Having praised it so much, why then a 4/5 rating? Well, that's due to my own bias having watched the anime. The anime takes this story and enhances it with visuals, voices, and most importantly, the superb soundtrack that uses classical music to great effect. It also delves more thoroughly into some of the events that take place in the book like the suppression of the Castrop Rebellion by Kircheis (which introduces the Artemis Necklace in the anime as opposed to the book) or the capture of Iserlohn Fortress. Because of this it felt like the story was rushed at times even if it does go through the same beats. I know it's unfair to compare the two when rating this first volume but I can't quite say "it was amazing" though I really, really, liked it. Thus, a 4/5.
I cannot recommend this book (and the anime) enough. It's Asimov meets George R. R. Martin in space, in a galaxy not so far away....more
This is not the first time I've read this book but since I hadn't written up a review and given it's been a while since I read it last I gave it a secThis is not the first time I've read this book but since I hadn't written up a review and given it's been a while since I read it last I gave it a second read. It took me about 3 hours (perhaps a bit less) to read it through. So, yes, it is a short read but is incredibly enthralling nonetheless.
The setup is simple enough. Keiji Kiriya is a Japanese recruit training at Flower Line Base to fight the mimics, an alien race that's on the verge of conquering the Earth. These beings are fast, powerful, and relentless, so in order to give human soldiers a fighting chance exoskeletons called Jackets were created that enhance a soldier's strength and speed. Keiji barely knows the basics and is doing everything he can just to survive on the battlefield when he's killed though not before managing to down a particularly nasty mimic. However, when next he opens his eyes he's back in the barracks, the day before the attack. Could he have imagined it all or did it really happen?
I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying Keiji is stuck in a time-loop, reliving the battle over and over again. It's interesting to follow his evolution through the loops, starting from a no-good, wet behind the ears, recruit to a lean, mean, fighting machine that's far superior to its mimic adversary. It's reading about this process that'll engage your attention from beginning to end. Keiji may not be able to retain his physical training but the one thing he can retain is knowledge, knowledge that he carries with him to the next loop in the hopes it'll be the last.
In the midst of his personal war with the mimics he comes across Rita Vrataski, an elite soldier, member of the U.S. Special Forces, famous throughout the military for her extraordinary prowess against the mimics. In fact, Rita, or the "Full Metal Bitch" as she's also known, is the U.S. military's pride and joy and widely considered to be humanity's best hope for defeating the mimics.
(view spoiler)[Eventually Keiji finds out Rita herself was also stuck on a similar loop on a different matter what largely explains her proficiency in combat. He confides in her he's in a similar situation so the two pool together their knowledge to get Keiji to defeat the mimics (in this battle) once and for all. (hide spoiler)]
Keiji's relationship with Rita is rather short and abrupt due, in no small part, to the fact that he alone retains the knowledge of their past interactions whereas Rita keeps meeting him for the first time in every loop. The romantic angle is (unfortunately) downplayed, probably because both characters are pressed for time in the middle of a warzone. Even so I would not have been averse to seeing this arc develop gradually over a longer period of time. After all, Keiji can practically live forever in that loop, right?
The supporting cast is good for the few moments we get to spend time with them but their characters aren't really given the chance to develop. I understand the main focus of the story is Keiji but I would've liked, for instance, to read more of Keiji's training sessions with Sergeant Ferrell or his interactions with Rita's personal mechanic, Shasta Raylle.
Another issue that should be mentioned is the rather unexpected exposition dump on the mimics about halfway through the book. It comes out of the blue and really doesn't add much to the story. More information is always appreciated, to be sure, but if you were to take that passage from the book the story would remain largely the same and would probably even flow better. In any case, this is a minor issue.
The ending is a bit confusing and probably doesn't hold up under further scrutiny but Keiji, and through him us, is not given enough time to pause and consider. It's a bit sad but somewhat fitting. Also, while I understand this was not the battle to end all wars I would've liked to know more of what happened after but, alas, that is often the case with these stories.
In the end, I think the quote in the description describes this book rather well. "All You Need Is Kill" certainly reads fast and it definitely kicks ass. If you like war stories with some science fiction thrown in for good measure this book has you covered.
**BONUS: EDGE OF TOMORROW REVIEW**
As you know, in "Edge of Tomorrow" Earth has been attacked by an alien force known as mimics, who have taken over most of Europe. The United Defense Forces (UDF) are preparing for one final push to retake Europe with an operation that is not unlike Normandy's D-Day. Enter Tom Cruise, playing PR spokesperson for the US Army, Maj. William Cage. When he's ordered to join the strike force in order to persuade the public that the invasion will succeed, Major Cage promptly refuses and tries to blackmail his way out of it. Needless to say, his charm doesn't work and he's sent to the FOB where he joins J-Squad, a group of misfits who have the "honor" of leading the invasion. Cage quickly realises he's out of his depth; he's neither fit to fight nor does he know how to use the full might of the powered exoskeleton that grunts have been using to fight the mimics. As expected, Cage dies within five minutes of the invasion but not before he kills an "alpha" mimic, gaining the power to reset the day upon his death. Soon he joins forces with the UDF's most decorated soldier, Sergeant Rita Vrataski, who will teach Cage how to use his newfound power to win the war.
So, that's basically the premise. "Edge of Tomorrow" is based on the novel "All you need is kill" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. The novel, however, takes place in Japan and Major William Cage is actually Private Keiji Kiriya, a grunt who's about to fight the mimics for the first time. The movie also alters the ending substantially but I'll mention that later.
My earliest impression was that the movie was too short and there are a number of reasons why it should've probably been longer. Cage relives the same day over and over again and the movie plays with showing/telling you something new or different every time to keep things fresh. However, one of the things I found lacking was the interaction of Cage with J-squad. J-squad feels like a secondary character at best and Cage's interactions with them are kept to a bare minimum. It is understandable since they've never met him before and, in their eyes, he's extra baggage. That's why I find it difficult to believe how Cage ends up knowing so much about them towards the end of the movie. This movie needed to show at least a couple of lives were he bonds with J-squad so we can believe it when Cage displays his intimate knowledge of the team. On the other hand, Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farrell was excellent for the short time we see him on the screen and his exchanges with Cruise's Cage were among the funniest moments in the movie.
Oh, yes, "Edge of Tomorrow" doesn't take itself 100% seriously; it does have several moments of levity, particularly in the manner of Cage's multiple deaths. But enough about Cage, let's talk about Rita. Emily Blunt plays the "Full Metal B-I-T-C-H," the UDF's top-notch soldier who proved her worth at the Battle of Verdun, incidentally her first engagement ever with the mimics, where she slaughtered hundreds of aliens (I wonder how she pulled that off, huh?). Unlike Cruise's Cage, Blunt's Rita is supremely fit and deadliest at the field of battle, wielding a helicopter blade as a melee weapon and pulling some incredible aerobatics (yes, that's right) in her exoskeleton. I won't lie, it was refreshing to see this reversal of roles between the two leads and just how good their performances were. I do believe, however, that Rita's character may have been introduced a bit too early, at least insofar as her involvement with Cage is concerned (time that could've been better spent developing Cage's relationship with J-squad and Sergeant Farrell).
As in the book, after training with her day after day and watching her die time and again, Cage starts to develop feelings for Rita (it also helps she's the only one who truly understands what he's going through). Unlike the book, however, the movie gives Blunt more room to play the emotionally-attached aspect of her relationship with Cruise's character without breaching the romance territory. As was perhaps to be expected, the movie alters the ending significantly. Without spoiling the book's ending, the movie comes up with a boss to kill (in true video-game fashion so it's at least faithful to the book's inspiration) in order to end the war. It is the reason why Rita is so keen on training him, so he'll be able to get both of them off the landing beaches and onto killing this boss. By the time Rita's done training him, Cage becomes an incredible fighting machine in his own right and the synchronicity and sheer lethality of the two during the action piece at the landing beaches is truly amazing.
(view spoiler)[Yet no matter what Cage tries, Rita always dies. And this is where the movie is at its darkest and strongest point. As he's done every day, he goes to Rita... and realises the only way to save her is to finish the job on his own. So he leaves without telling her a thing. Once he's made this decision we're treated to a completely different Cage who becomes extremely detached from events around him. Do you recall the look the private that wakes him up every time gives him? He sees a different man in Cage and for once keeps his mouth shut. For the few seconds, perhaps minutes, that this sequence lasts, Cage becomes a killing machine whose only goal has shifted from using his knowledge to save others and reach the boss to simply reaching the boss and winning the war no matter the cost. Cruise's transformation is nothing short of incredible and it is truly a pity we didn't get to see him ease more gradually into it nor did we get to see him reach the bottom of it (we definitely needed a shot of an unperturbed Cage watching Rita die). Furthermore, he falls back on his earlier persona rather too easily though there are times when we still see a shadow of the darker man he became. (hide spoiler)]
In true Hollywood fashion, Rita and Cage manage to kill the boss and end the war with a small twist that has nowhere near the same impact as the book's. It can be viewed as a "happy" ending (certainly happier than the book's) and given the last scene it is fairly evident it is intended to be viewed thus. While I would've downplayed that scene a lot more, there's still some sadness to be found (you'll understand when you watch it).
In the end, "Edge of Tomorrow" is a pretty good sci-fi flick with some incredible action sequences, strong performances from both Cruise and Blunt that could've been stronger had the movie allowed for longer character development for Cage, and a suitable pace that never bores thanks to some pretty nifty editing. Unlike Cruise's previous sci-fi flick, "Oblivion," however, the OST is mostly unremarkable as is the imagery. I wouldn't mind getting my hands on a Director's Cut with extra footage sometime in the future.
The Blinding Knife improves a lot from The Dark Prism but because of its abysmal ending I'm afraid I can't rate if four stars.
In book 2 war is fast apThe Blinding Knife improves a lot from The Dark Prism but because of its abysmal ending I'm afraid I can't rate if four stars.
In book 2 war is fast approaching. Kip is now training to become a Blackguard. Not only will he have to endure the rigorous training but he will also have to spar with none other than Andross Guile himself, Gavin's father, in a dangerous game of cards and wits where the stakes always keep rising. Liv Danaris, daughter of Gavin's friend and ally, Corvan Danavis, has joined the Color Prince in his war against the Chromeria but her loyalties will be tested until her choice is made clear. In the meantime, Gavin has the unenviable task of convincing the Spectrum that war is upon them before he ultimately loses all his colours and is unable to stop the Color Prince from wreaking havoc upon the land.
Those are, basically, the main plots of book 2, with Brent Weeks jumping back and forth between them. I enjoyed them all, to some extent, with Kip's remaining the most interesting thanks in no small part to the added pressure of having to prove his worth to the Red. However, I quickly grew tired of the "Kip Almost" routine and his self-deprecation. There's only so many times I can read Kip going over the same thoughts over and over and over again.
Another thing I didn't like is that Brent Weeks uses the "damsel in distress" trope. He used it in the first book with Karris' capture and again in this one when she's beaten and bloodied by Andross' thugs. What's worse is that I saw it coming miles away, as soon as I read Karris was going for a walk if not before. And that situation with Ana? It was both pointless and non-sensical. Pointless because it was simply used to delay the moment of Gavin and Karris' reconciliation and add drama. Non-sensical because Gavin had only just told his Blackguards that Karris was the only woman he loved and his guards are supposed to protect him from people casually entering his room. This won't be the first time the Blackguard fails by the way.
(view spoiler)[And can I say how tired I am of reading how every villain is somehow related to the main characters? If it wasn't enough that the Color Prince was Karris' brother, now it turns out that Zymun is Karris' son. When it was mentioned in passing in the first book (it was simply there, as if someone had cut and pasted that chapter from somewhere else, unrelated to pretty much anything) it occurred to me at the time that the author might connect it later on to Kip. After all, we don't really know if Kip's mother was actually his mother and the real Gavin never confirms or deny this. Besides, he has a thing for saying blunt truths and regretting it later, just like Karris. But no, Zymun had to be Karris' son. Does that add anything to the story? To my mind, not one bit. Villains don't have to be kin in order to make them interesting. In fact, I would prefer it if they weren't, if they were simply different people with their own tragedies and triumphs.
Like I said before, the high points revolve around the Chromeria, Kip and his friends. There are a few moments that revolve around Gavin, particularly in his dealings with the Spectrum and his final encounter with his brother. That bit ended the way it had to. The real Gavin (turned Dazen) wasn't a good read. In fact, I don't believe he added anything to our duology (so far) except for being a secret that tormented Gavin. So kudos to Brent Weeks for finally getting rid of him.
Up to this point, "The Blinding Knife" would have gotten 4/5 for me. It had some pretty cool moments as the Blackguard joins Gavin in raiding pirate ships, using new skimmers and explosives. The war gets going fully towards the end of the book and our heroes don't have it easy. However, the ending is what got to me in the end, no pun intended. Our heroes won, but barely, and Gavin continues to lose his colours. For some reason that doesn't make sense to me, Andross Guile decided to join that battle if from far away. He summons Gavin to express his displeasure at his son having defied him and Kip out of the blue has this realization that Andross is a wight and has been in league with the Color Prince all along. WTF?!?! Where did this come from?! Of course, he tries to murder him with the blinding knife (YES!) and obviously fails (FUCK KIP ALMOST). The fight ends up with Gavin and Kip being captured by an enemy ship and Andross Guile in possession of the fabled dagger (that we still know nothing about, can you see a trend?!) and has also now magically regained his youth, after a fashion. I repeat. WHAT. THE. FUCK?!?!
The worst offense this scene commits is that it makes no sense. Sure, it is likely the writer needs Andross alive for his third book where a plan of Machiavellian proportions will be revealed to our heroes that stems from the False Prism's War and will further connect the Red, the Color Prince, and Zymun even. I frankly don't care. The writer could've easily achieved this by having Andross stay in the Chromeria (where it makes sense he should be given how much he seems to fear light). Instead, he places him on a boat with dozens of Blackguards that do absolutely nothing when they see the Prism and one of their own engaged in a fight with the Red and his servant. So, Blackguards, with all your speeches about protecting each other and swearing fealty to the promachos, here's what I say to you, STICK IT WHERE THE SUN DON'T SHINETH. YOU FAILED. GO COMMIT SEPPUKU OR ITS CHROMERIAN EQUIVALENT.
And, yes, you guessed it, this again separates Gavin and Karris. Because drama and cliffhangers. Never mind the war has only just begun and Gavin's losing his colours. (hide spoiler)]
Having reached this point in my review I'm seriously considering taking down its rating a notch or two. I can't believe how such a great read could've been botched by such a wretched ending. Not to mention it still doesn't address the major questions we readers are bound to have from the first book and now from this one as well. Let's make a list and award points on the basis of the answers provided, shall we?
1) Who's the Black Prism? Still no idea. (0) 2) What's the blinding knife? Well, we already guessed from the first book it was Kip's dagger but we still don't know what it is or does, so that's a zero for this book. (0) 3) What and who's the Lightbringer? Oh, it's mentioned, but it's never fully explained by any character. So half a point for mentioning the name of the trilogy. (0.5) 4) Why is Gavin losing his colours? We can guess it has something to do with the blinding knife and we have more information on how it possibly works from Kip using it, so that's another half point (0.5). 5) Why were there two light splitters this time around? I'm talking about Gavin and Dazen. Has it something to do with the blinding knife? From something Andross says in this book I believe it does. Maybe it's a way to create full spectrum polychromats? In any case, we still don't know, so zero. (0)
I think that about covers the more important questions. In total, 1 point out of 5. Disappointing doesn't cover it. And we thus reach book three's conundrum: exposition. It will have to make a lot of it if it intends to tie all the loose ends together as I imagine it will. At the same time, it will have to fight (and end) a war and have Kip breaking his "almost" routine once and for all. And, unfortunately, we'll see even more scheming from Andross but at least he'll get to play that last game with Kip (what will probably involve a fight with an exposition dump).
In conclusion, I still believe the story improved a lot from the first book though some of the characters remain a bit dry and certain events are forced to a particular conclusion that is not supported by the events themselves. I'll leave my 3/5 rating for the time being but the sad part is it could have been a four....more
Camaraderie. That is, in one word, the draw that wars, any war, have for me. The tale of how you team up with a bunch of people in order to accomplishCamaraderie. That is, in one word, the draw that wars, any war, have for me. The tale of how you team up with a bunch of people in order to accomplish something, the ordeals the group and its individuals go through and, finally, the reward, whatever that may be.
Some background first. Earth is at war with an alien race known as the 'buggers,' has been for some time now, enough that there have been two major conflicts already, and humanity is unsure whether they can survive a third. Thus, the Fleet places their hope in children, genius children that are trained to become soldiers and officers.
Ender Wiggins is such a child. To some, he's humanity's last hope, with the potential to become the greatest Fleet Commander the world, the galaxy, has ever seen. But first he must survive Battle School, where he'll be brutally tested beyond endurance over and over again. The lesson he must learn: win every time. For in the war with the buggers, defeat means annihilation.
That's the story for me. First, we'll follow Ender through Battle School where he'll train for combat in null-g and learn to command an army. Then, we'll move on to Command School where he'll learn to command a fleet. Throughout the story we'll be plagued by Ender's dark musings about the man he's being made into and the man he wants to be. While in Battle School (and Command School as well), the balance between action and quiet introspection is achieved nicely. It's always better when Ender, and thus the reader, learns something through action rather than have it forced upon the reader by the author.
However, the story sags a little in other areas. For instance, the whole Locke/Demosthenes bit rather stretches credibility. First, that they could manipulate world opinion that easily and in such a short amount of time. Second, that nobody ever caught on to them and exposed them. Third, and perhaps most important of all, why is this bit worth telling? To highlight that the Wiggins are smart? To highlight everybody else in the world is dumb? Take away Locke and Demosthenes and you can still have increasing tension between the I.F. and the Warsaw Pact, a short civil war, and the subsequent return to peace. To be honest, when Ender left for Battle School, I didn't expect to read about Peter or Valentine ever again and was glad for it.
Another problem is perhaps one of duration. I wasn't gladly surprised to find out that the war is apparently fought and won in a single book. It seemed rushed, like the author wasn't all that interested in the war itself, and that it was just a means to an end. Even once the war with the buggers is won, another war breaks out between the Warsaw Pact and the I.F. The entire conflict lasts two pages at most.
For me, the drive of the story was the conflict with the buggers. Ender trains to fight that war sometime in the future. The reader expects then that the war will take several instalments to reach its conclusion. It doesn't, the future is actually the present and it's all over before you know it. After that, the author speeds up things again to end up with a teenage Ender that has decided to explore the galaxy with his sister, since peace isn't exactly his area of expertise.
On a different note, I tried to read the follow up novel, "Speaker for the Dead." Took me a few pages to decide I wasn't very keen on it. Picture 17th century Earth history but in space. Of course, the author uses "Ender's Game" to set up the background for this novel, apparently his masterpiece and the novel he had intended to write all along (what probably explains why the war with the buggers was rushed to conclusion). The fact that Novinha reminds of that kid in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" remake doesn't help. Even after a couple of pages the preaching seemed apparent.
I checked descriptions for other books in the Ender's Saga but found nothing of interest. I actually thought the saga would be about Ender's war with the buggers but it seems I was mistaken. Oh, well, I guess it paid off not buying the box set after all. You live, you read, and you learn.
Summing up, "Ender's Game" is, despite its weaknesses, a pretty good read. Had it been entirely about Ender's journey I might have given it a four out of five but, alas, that is not so. My recommendation? Read it, then take a look at "Speaker for the Dead" and ask yourself which do you like best. If, like in my case, you prefer the former, then you've read the first and last book in Ender's Saga. If not, enjoy the ride and let me know if there's a leprechaun on the other side with a pot of gold....more