I am a Terry Pratchett fan through and through, so my reviews of his novels are always delivered through rose-tinted glasses. But if I were to recommeI am a Terry Pratchett fan through and through, so my reviews of his novels are always delivered through rose-tinted glasses. But if I were to recommend a good jumping-off point for new readers, Night Watch would be my pick.
Pratchett's Discworld is a (mostly) chronological series exploring religion, society, and philosophy through the prism of a fantasy realm. It's difficult to explain Pratchett's tone to those who haven't read him. He doesn't put the fantasy genre up on a pedestal, and it's difficult to pin him down as strictly a fantasy author. No one should discuss him in the same breath as Tolkein or George R.R. Martin. He is an architect with the mind of Christopher Buckley, but was given the building blocks from Tolkein's world to play with, a satirist who writes about a world that doesn't exist but is very familiar.
Night Watch features Commander Sam Vimes and Ankh-Morpork's police force, the city watch. The novel opens with Vimes in a rooftop pursuit of the psychopathic murderer Carcer. As Vimes attempts to make his arrest, the bizarre confluence of a lightning storm and the inherent hazards of Unseen University's magical library throw Vimes and Carcer 30 years into the past.
What follows is Vimes's dangerous traverse of his own history. He joins the night watch under the guise of John Keel, a real-life mentor to Vimes when he was a teenage recruit in the watch. The real Keel in this altered timeline has been slain by Carcer, and Vimes is compelled to step in using Keel's identity to clean up the night watch, which is at this point little more than a gang.
Seeking Carcer and trying to preserve events as he knew them, Vimes tiptoes through the oppressive regime of Lord Winder and his secret police of torturers and thugs, the Unmentionables. Vimes must do all he can to steer events towards a familiar future while dealing with his greatest challenge: meeting himself as a naive, impressionable lance-constable.
Pratchett mixes satire, solemn social commentary, and his patented self-aware cheekiness in a rich, nourishing soup. To Pratchett neophytes, it's a wild sprint through Discworld lore. For dedicated Pratchett readers, it gives us a wonderful exposition on what made the man Vimes....more
Sifting through the more recent reviews of this novel by Card, it's disappointing to see how polarized the opinions are. Specifically, lamenting the lSifting through the more recent reviews of this novel by Card, it's disappointing to see how polarized the opinions are. Specifically, lamenting the lack of Battle Room action found in Ender's Game is odd, because anyone who has committed to the Ender and Bean sagas knows that interpersonal struggle and political machinations play much bigger roles in their respective fates than violence does.
For my part, I think this is Card's best novel from the Ender universe, and possibly his best novel. Like many people, Ender's Game was what got me started on Card's books, and Ender's Shadow follows the same chronology, but through the eyes of the strange, small, and brilliant member of Ender's jeesh, Bean.
We watch Bean's journey from life as an urchin on the streets of Rotterdam, to trusted lieutenant and Ender confidant in Battle School, and finally as an integral part to the climax of the Bugger War. What lies between is a first-person exploration of Bean's personal growth, and his exposure to danger both physical and emotional. What we learn about him through the other urchins of Rotterdam, the kind-hearted Sister Carlotta, Battle School stalwarts Petra and Graff, and the psychopath Achilles reveal a character that is more compelling in many ways than Scott's seminal character Ender.
What we didn't know about Bean in Ender's Game (and there was so much) is drip-fed to us throughout the Bean quartet. Chief among his attributes is his sheer brilliance. Battle School is rife with students of superior intellect and cunning, but in most respects Bean makes them all look average. Where Bean's conflict lies is his stunted leadership skills, something which comes effortlessly to Ender.
Even as Bean recognizes mistakes made in the Battle Room and in the manipulations of adults, he fails to gain the respect and control that Ender has that would allow Bean to make serious changes. The dichotomy between Ender and Bean even leads to coldness and resentment at times, but what Bean provides to Ender as a brilliant tactician, Ender gives back to Bean in forcing him out of his arrogance to embrace a leadership role, which does not come naturally to him.
I would recommend reading Ender's Game first to lay the groundwork for this novel. But Ender's Shadow is ultimately the superior story....more
I'm ashamed to say I first read the mass marketed movie tie-in edition of World War Z, months after seeing the film in theaters. Needless to say, zombI'm ashamed to say I first read the mass marketed movie tie-in edition of World War Z, months after seeing the film in theaters. Needless to say, zombies are the only common element between the movie and the novel, although the film wasn't bad.
There has been a lot of undead fervor in pop lit, TV, and film over the past decade. Max Brooks has eschewed a conventional heroic cycle, and instead has created a unique collection of first person accounts from a decade-long pandemic that nearly resulted in extinction. From the initial outbreaks, to the Great Panic, the collapse of civilization, and the eventual offensive to reclaim lost cities and nations, the reader gets a look into the varied experiences of a few dozen survivors.
Brooks remains dispassionate in his use of the story's narrator, an unnamed agent of the UN's postwar commission who is tasked with recording the oral history of the Zombie War. Aside from a few questions couched to elicit responses from uncooperative interviewees, the novel is very unsentimental and neutral in its perspective. That affords the reader an opportunity to critically examine the accounts from a cross section of humanity's postwar denizens.
Not every perspective should be taken as gospel. Brooks provides enough disparity between differing accounts of the war that readers are forced to examine them carefully and distill truth from the biases, omissions, and misinformation encountered. The author does not lead his readers to an obvious conclusion about the Zombie War, nor does he shill any neat, tidy platitudes about mankind. We are confronted with endless barbarism, but he leaves it up to the reader to answer questions about military and political culpability, human nature, logic vs. compassion, and the horrors committed in the name of survival.
The genius of the novel, and why I rated it five stars, is not in the subject matter but in its structure. Brooks gives us a window into a brutal, gritty imagining of a zombie pandemic. There are no heroes to champion, and no single point of view being preached. This book is an unnerving examination of our response to an atrocity. While the underlying premise is a fantastical one, the repercussions of a global infection and Brooks's depiction of our clamor for survival seem chilling in their realism....more
Pierce Brown's second novel in the Red Rising Trilogy does not pull any punches. If anything, the tension he built up in the first installment is amplPierce Brown's second novel in the Red Rising Trilogy does not pull any punches. If anything, the tension he built up in the first installment is amplified in Golden Son, and by the last page, we're left with lot of doubt, dread, and heartbreak.
Darrow has risen in Gold culture, and he's now a Lancer for Augustus, one of the oldest and most prestigious families in Gold society. Secretly, he maintains communications with the revolutionary forces that made him into a Gold in Red Rising, while simultaneously currying favor with powerful Golds.
By design, Darrow makes himself the tip of the spear in an act of civil war between Gold houses, which fractures the society into warring alliances. Paralleling his efforts to destabilize the Golds' power, Darrow's friendships with Mustang, Lorn, and Sevro complicate his plans. He struggles to reconcile the destructive path he's on with the trust he's built with a handful of allies, who are themselves a part of the very Society he seeks to undermine. Here, Brown does a good job exploring the moral ambiguities between the different castes in Golden Son. There are deeply conscientious and kind Golds, and there are ruthless, manipulative Reds even among the revolutionaries that want the freedom Darrow wants.
The violence is even more brutal than the first novel. And the evil in some of the Golds is hard to swallow. In the climactic moments there is betrayal that will test your willingness to keep reading. I was surprised how much I cared about the disparate characters Brown has created, but the ending really knocked the wind out of me.
As in the first book, Brown is somewhat unsophisticated in his prose, and he slips into hackneyed cliches and silly references too much. "Never tell me the odds!" is an actual line from the book (Empire Strikes Back, really?). But this is still compelling fast-paced sci-fi, and the world Brown created in Red Rising gets much bigger in Golden Son....more
This is the second Neil Gaiman novel that I've read, and so far I have not been disappointed. Gaiman has a real gift for descriptive language, buildinThis is the second Neil Gaiman novel that I've read, and so far I have not been disappointed. Gaiman has a real gift for descriptive language, building lush worlds and scenes that you can see and smell and feel.
This is a fairy tale, pure and simple, but one made for adults. Gaiman borrows heavily from the Brothers Grimm to tell his story. I would not even strictly describe it as fantasy; those looking for a Tolkein or Robert Jordan experience will be disappointed. The scope of the story is much more intimate than that. It is lyrical, like a minstrel's song that has taken prose form.
At its heart is the classic heroic cycle, and a love story. Our protagonist Tristran is of humble (though mysterious) origins, a young man who crosses a forbidding wall in search of a fallen star to capture for his beloved. His adventures in the land of Faerie bring Tristran and his companion, the fallen star Yvaine, to mortal peril from dangers of all kinds. Stardust borrows many classic tropes from folklore, not limited to the three witches, tricksters, shape-shifters, spells, and ill-fated bargains. He ties all these fantastical elements together in a world that still feels grounded and never detours into "high fantasy" talk. By the time Tristran returns to the wall, he has changed from boy to man and knows himself better.
This is a quickly paced novel, and like old heroic sagas there are sometimes jarring changes in tack. The fates of characters will change suddenly, or will hinge on unlikely circumstances. But the genre allows Gaiman license to do this without seeming contrived. Stardust gives us all the elements of a wonderful fairy tale, wrapped up in glittering prose. It's magic....more
"'I'm sure we can all pull together, sir.' 'Oh, I do hope not. Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of dire"'I'm sure we can all pull together, sir.' 'Oh, I do hope not. Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.' He smiled. 'It's the only way to make progress.'"
In The Truth, Terry Patchett sharpens his razor wit and sets his sights on the world of journalism. A free press has hitherto been unknown in the city of Ankh-Morpork under the rule of the (mostly) benevolent tyrant Lord Vetinari. This changes however, when our heroes William de Worde and Sacharissa Cripslock are thrown together quite by accident in the workshop of a dwarfish printing press.
Born out of William's monthly news bulletin sent to foreign nobles about the city's goings-on, The Ankh-Morpork Times soon blossoms into a full blown daily newspaper. Pratchett takes time to wink at the audience as the conventions of journalism we take for granted like vox populi and tabloid fodder are painstakingly discovered for the first time. Everything from murder to funny vegetables is covered, and William and Sacharissa are surprised to find that, unlike gossip and hearsay, seeing the truth written down seems to upset people.
Right away the Times finds itself embroiled in controversy when it covers the attack of the palace clerk Drumknott, apparently at the hands of Lord Vetinari. William's tireless pursuit of the whole story puts him at odds with shadowy forces trying to overthrow Vetinari, and sets him on a path to find dark truths about his own family and the unfortunate reality that what is in the public's interest is not always what the public is interested in.
This was a fun read, though not among Pratchett's best. He cleverly explores the nature of journalism in a free society, though to what degree Ankh-Morpork is actually free is debatable. He lags behind in character development compared to his other works. We don't really get to know William or Sacharissa very well (much less anyone else) as they're thrown headlong into this blisteringly paced novel. It's still an enjoyable ride for anyone interested in journalism and urban fantasy....more