Sunday, September 30, 2007

Summer Book Reviews

In the wake of finishing my M.A. coursework, I did a lot of reading - of things I actually chose to read, not required reading. I've done up a bunch of short reviews, just like in the movie post.

The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block - 6/10
Yet another collection of modern, revisionist fairy tales. The difference between this and many other updated fairy tales is that, unlike her Weetzie Bat books, Francesca Lia Block has leeched all the magic out of the stories - there is still a sense of inherent wonder, however, an aspect of everyday enchantment (I retain my preference for the mixture of both everyday and otherworld enchantment in De Lint). Highlights include a Sleeping Beauty whose magical sleep is heroin induced, and a wolf who is all too real and familiar from the real world. I will admit that the jaded aspect of the characters tends to get old; one would hope we can still find a protagonist for fairy tales somewhere other than the underbelly of modern metropolitan society. Still, a work definitely worth reading for those who loved Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's adult fairy tale series of anthologies.

The Dragon Conspiracy: World of Eldaterra, Volume 1 by E.R. Moredun - 0/10
Don't judge this book by its cover, the only thing "The Dragon Conspiracy" has going for it, as an example of smart marketing. I'm living proof; "oooooh...look at the Dragon in the Jar..." If Moredun had written a book on viral marketing, he'd likely have done better - his notes at the end about how he concocted his own Dragon conspiracy was far more interesting than his narrative, which is unreadable trash. I couldn't finish, no matter how much I wanted to. The poorly written prose challenges the reader to stay focused on the action. The characters lack personal voices, and the action lacks suspense. Don't bother.

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire Book 1) by Naomi Novik 9.5/10
A wonderful alternate history of the Napoleonic war where dragons provide the aerial support for both sides of the conflict. Good swashbuckling fun written in an engaging prose that is evocative of the period it is set in without being cumbersome. Naomi Novik has created a wonderful secondary world and filled it with loveable characters both human and draconian; the death scene of one of the dragons brought tears to my eyes. Highly recommended.

The Warrior Prophet (Prince of Nothing Book 2) by R. Scott Bakker 8/10
A thoroughly adult heroic fantasy that strips all the romanticism from the genre without losing the grandeur. The moments of the sublime the heroes climb to are made all the richer for the atrocious horrors their antagonists are capable of. Selfishness is as common as selflessness, and Bakker writes in a beautiful poetic prose that forces the reader to savor each paragraph even when the action begs to skim ahead and find out what happens. Not for the faint of heart or prudish, but highly recommended nonetheless.

The Thousandfold Thought (Prince of Nothing Book 3) by R. Scott Bakker 6/10
R. Scott Bakker's third installment in the Prince of Nothing series should have been called "The Self-Absorbed Thought", since almost all the characters are narcissists, or under the sway of one. While this "realist" approach to the fantasy epic felt fresh in the first two installments, I found the third nigh unreadable due to the preponderance of the character's selfish actions; is anyone besides Achamian pursuing a higher goal here? As for Kellhus, the ostensible protagonist of the series, the unbeatable Messiah motif gets old really fast. It's why Superman doesn't really work once the origin and initial revelation is unpacked. If you can't beat him, there's no tension, and no one cares. If I want Philosophy, I'll take a class. While the first book was incredible and the second really well written, the third is simply beating a dead horse.

The Burning by Bentley Little 6.5/10
Inverting the cliche' "don't judge a book by it's cover", I picked up Bentley Little's "The Burning" for its cover art of a malevolent steam locomotive belching hellfire. This multi-thread ghost story telling four different stories with one common thread is an uneven read, at times working so well I nearly jumped at revelations coming around the bend of a page turn, at others being terribly predictable. That said, Little's work is a refreshing change from most popular horror, which attempts to explain everything in the final pages. There is none of Koontz's psuedo-rational explanations nor King's alien deus ex machina (although Little does cheap out at the climax to some degree). Instead, the supernatural is simply that, and unapologetically so, which is why I believe this was one of the funnest horror reads I've had in a while. I look forward to reading more of Little's work.

World War Z by Max Brooks 10/10
One of my most enjoyable reads in 2007. I listened to the audio version, which is also one of the best audiobooks I've ever experienced - the all star voice cast includes Mark Hamill and Alan Alda; I kept thinking..."I know this voice!". A documentary of the alt-history Zombie War, told by the survivors. Not literature, but thoroughly engrossing, ontologically complete and sometimes just plain fun for boys who like guns.

A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan 6/10
This particular Robert Jordan novel has been the Achilles Heel of me getting over the middle hump of this bloated fantasy series, but I was finally able to make it through, with the help of the unabridged audiobook off I actually found that listening to Jordan's prose (redundant or richly detailed depending on who you talk to) works better for me than reading it off the page. I did a little of both while reading this installment, and enjoyed it. I'm not a die-hard fan of the series, but I loved the first book -- it would be one of my top 10 fantasy novels for sure, but I have the same complaint as many...when will it ever end? I gained a new perspective while re-reading the first 6 books a while back, namely that reading a series like Wheel of Time is like watching a television series. In fact, I think that's the only sort of filmed adaptation that could be done of the books. Aside from the unnecessary (at least it seems so now) wounding of Rand by Padan Fain in the last few chapters, the book was a great "next step" for all the characters in the series. That said, Mat Cauthon's storyline is the one that I liked the most this time around. Rand was too moody and Perrin's too obtuse. And as a quick side note...why are only males ta'veren?

Planet X (Graphic Novel) by Grant Morrison 6/10
Grant Morrison continues to play with the universe of the X-men in fresh and powerful ways. Given the timing of the original release of the issues collected here, the storyline is timely and relevant. Jiminez is no Frank Quitely, but his artwork is definitely first rate.

The Waste Lands (Dark Tower Book 3) by Stephen King 6/10
Like the monster train on the cover, the third Dark Tower novel takes a long time to get going, but once it does, it rolls along at freight like speed and tension, bringing a satisfying close to cap a tedious opening which serves as a poor man's possible world theory and a typical King middle with a house that seems ripped off from Barker's "Thief of Always".

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling 9/10
A highly satisfying epic conclusion to a series that reminded many of us what it was to be a kid again, and then allowed us to grow up once more, along with Harry, Ron and Hermione. Among the delights are the copious cameos, as though the characters were coming to take their bow at curtain call; the book successfully says farewell to Harry and the world of Hogwarts in a way which brings closure, but also sends one back to the bookshelf for book one.

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