zaterdag 7 september 2013

#FridayReads: September 7th, 2013

FridayReads is a hashtag over on Twitter where people share what they'll be reading over the weekend. I thought it would be nice to bring that hashtag over to my blog, so this way I can share what I'm reading and provide a little more text along with it.
 
By now, I think everyone knows I'm not the best at consistently putting out some blogpost, let alone make FridayReads a weekly thing - or even a Fridaything for that matter. It's been two months, but here is once again what I'll be reading for the remainder of the weekend. Having finished the brilliant Pale Demon by Kim Harrison - the ninth en best entry in the Hollows series so far - I picked up The Book Of Lost Things by John Connolly.
I got this book as a monthly themed gift from Jeremy over at Inklingstime for the 'Books about books' theme. Coincidently, the theme for thins month's challenge at my bookclub, is also 'Books about books'. What better book to read than this one?
I have never read something from the hand of John Connolly, so if this happens to turn out rather good, I'll definitely buy some of his other works. Some googling have taught me that he has a rather interesting supernatural thriller series going on, which I'm all too willing to check out.
The Book Of Lost Things is anything but that, however. From what I've gathered from the blurb, this is a novel where fairy tales play a very prominent role. I'm curious, to say the least, to see how all of this will turn out, cause instead of the sugary sweetness one has come to expect from faity tales, this one sounds rather creepy...

maandag 2 september 2013

Serial Reading: Sword of Truth #2

The Fantastical landscape is filled with series, trilogies and other-ologies. As a committed Fantasy-reader myself, I am deeply immersed in several series. Serial Reading is my way of keeping track of all those series in a lighthearted way. Some of these series will have complete reviews on here, others not so much - mainly because I'm already too far in to busy myself with retroactive reviewposting. If you want to read my views on those books, feel free to consult my GoodReads. Enjoy your breakfast!
 
Note: Spoilery bits might be included.
 
Credits: http://blogs.bu.edu
 
Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth is one of those series that have a little place in my heart. Nothing beats Harry Potter when it comes to childhood nostalgia (*), but Sword of Truth comes close. Reading them now, I do wonder why I read them as a young boy, cause they're explicitly violent and whatnot. Anyway, I seemed to have enjoyed them a-lot when I was about 15 so they became one of my favourite series ever. This is also expressed by the amount of re-reads those books got. The first and second book got the privilege of being read five times. As fas as insane goes...
However, the last few books have only been read once, with some seriously big gaps between them, so I figured that this year (**), I was going to go through them all once more and then shelve this series for quite some time. Upon writing this entry, I've read up till book four, so what follows is my impression of Blood Of The Fold and Temple Of The Winds.
 
- Book 3: Blood Of The Fold. With the re-read of the second novel in the series, Stone Of Tears, we witnessed the brutal attack of the most vicious, merciless creature ever, the Suck Fairy(***). Luckily for us, avid re-readers, the suckiness they spread isn't contagious. In fact, whereas my appreciation for the second instalment dropped, Blood Of The Fold, always a bit of a black sheep, managed to rise in my appreciation. Just a little bit, mind.
My main issue with this book is the fact that it figures as one long set-up for the remainder of the series. Where the previous books - Wizard's First Rule for sure - were pretty much self contained, the overarching plot that makes this series a series, really kicks in here. Perhaps kicking implies perhaps too much action, cause it's mainly a lot of talk and some unfinished business wrapping up. That has always been my complaint no.1 here. Nothing really happens. Richard and Kahlan did a very good job of missing out on each other while running cross country, so in order to continue their sappy romance, they have to find each other again. Hence a 600+ pages of travelling towards one another. Throw in a random evil dragonesque creature to explain the Mriswith and some other minor evildoers and there is your book.
It wasn't all bad, mind you. The main storyline is just a bit meh here, but the other plotlines - Nathan, Verna, Ann & Zedd - really provide some great moments. Also, the Sisters of the Dark are becoming an actual threat now that Jagang owns them. Before, they were supposed to be a big evil that everybody was afraid of mentioning, but some bodycount aside, they felt to me like schoolgirls gone rogue with black lipstick and too short skirts. Now, however, their true potential glimmers. The fact that they need Jagang for that, is unfortunate. See, Jagang does the job as main adversary, but he is so evil that it's just not compelling to read. When I was younger, I never really paid attention to this, but being a bit older and having read more, it's become clear that pure evil doesn't work. At least, not with some backstory. Voldemort is also bad to the bone, but at least there is something behind it. Jagang simply relies on the fact that he's born this way and it's harder to buy into that now. In doing so, the reader is also left with no choice but to side with Richard, wether he is a prick or not.
 
- Book 4: Temple Of The Winds. Contrary to Blood Of The Fold, the fourth book, Temple Of The Winds, has always been one of my favourites. From what I've heard of others who have read this series, this is not a popular opinion, but even after reading it five times now, I stand by the fact that this is one of the better books in the series. It's not as glorious as Wizard's First Rule nor as mesmerizing as Faith Of The Fallen, but it does a lot of things right.
First of all, the scope of the storyline is being reduced. Whereas the previous book had a lot of politicking and Richard preaching about freedom(****), Temple Of The Winds leaves the grand scheme of things for what it is - not completely though - and focuses on the happenings in Aydindril, where Jagang has unleashed a plague epidemic amongst the children. Because of this, the big war takes the backseat and Richard becomes more human and approachable, less Master Rahl. Which is good, cause for most of the book, he isn't a pompous ass. He shows his true colours towards the end again, though, but then again, he's probably born this way(*****). I've previously referred to Richard and Kahlan as starcrossed lovers, and while finally being reunited in Temple Of The Winds, faith messes things up again when Nadine and Drefan come into play, breaking up the dynamic between the two. While I don't particularly like Nadine nor Drefan, it's really nice to see how the four of them interact. Things don't get any easier when Cara starts putting her nose in there. Which is probably for the best, cause Cara might be the best character ever to have walked Goodkind's pages. She was great in Blood Of The Fold, but here, she takes matters into her own hands and throws herself out there as a leader.
The reason why I like this book so much, is because the plot gives way for some beautifully human but heartbreaking moments to arise. The fist time I read the scene with Raina and the squirrel, I cried. Even though the crying is behind me, that scene strikes home every time and there are a couple of those. Little things, but beautiful.
Leaving the mess that is roaming in Aydindril, there is the emancipation of Nathan. That man knows what he's doing, instead of Richard who's diving headfirst in stuff he doesn't know let alone understand. While Nathan has a great storyline, the stars of the show have to be Zedd and Ann. I've always liked Zedd, for he provides some much needed comic relief, but paired with Ann they make a great duo. Their adventures here were just hilarious. All the while Ann kept in touch with Verna, but I found that Verna was done injustice. She goes on suicide missions in order to save her friends, but it doesn't really translate to the reader. Her chapters felt rushed and jammed between the bigger storylines just to break things up. Pity, cause it could have been more, especially with a great character like Verna.
 
Both of these books had something that annoyed the hell out of me, and that was the insanely large amount of repetition. I was able to skim/skip at times a whole page because it was just copy/paste from a previous book. I could go on about this, but instead, I'll just devote a little post to this topic later on.
 
In summery:
- Richard becomes more and more pompous as the books go on - so far for being a humble guide - but luckily for him did Temple Of The Winds allow his ass to be reduced. If not, he would have had his pants resized...
- It's still a long way to the finish, but things are starting to heat up.
- The side characters and their stories are really entertaining.
- CARA CARA CARA CARA CARA!!
 
Because graphs are fun:
You don't have to be eagle-eyed to notice the steep fall in rating that's to come, so I'm actually curious to see how that will turn out. Soul Of The Fire and Faith Of The Fallen will be the last books I'll be reading this year as far as this series goes, so you can expect the next Serial Read for this somewhere in December, I think.
 
(*) Technically speaking I was a teen, but the lines between child - teen - adult tend to blur most of the times. Fun times living in my head.
(**) From January 1st up till now, all my illusions of actually succeeding have been mercilessly destroyed. Perhaps I'll manage to finish somewhere near the end of 2014.
(***) Yeah, if Goodkind thought he got us scared with Jagang, he definitely hasn't met a Suck Fairy...
(****) Recurring theme alert!
(*****) Challenge: How many gay anthems can you wriggle into one sentence?

maandag 26 augustus 2013

Review: Juliet Marillier, Heart's Blood

When I first found out about Juliet Marillier, I was amazed at how she was able to take well-known tales and put her own – Celtic – spin on them to weave compelling stories that touch your heart. That was way before I discovered the online book community and the dominance of young adult fiction therein, where retellings of everything older than the past decade – I jest – are to be found. I couldn’t be bothered by those numerous retellings, but for Juliet Marillier, I always take some time apart. This particular novel of hers, however, inspired by Beauty & the Beast, didn’t cut it completely.
 

 
Whistling Tor is a place of secrets, a mysterious wooded hill housing the crumbling fortress belonging to Anluan - a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the region in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan's family and his people, and the woods hold a  perilous force whose every whisper threatens doom.
 
Then the young scribe Caitrin appears in Anluan's garden, admiring the rare plant know as heart's blood. Retained to sort through entangled family documents, Caitrin brings about unexpected changes in the Household, casting a hopeful light against the despairing shadows.
But even as Caitrin brings solace to Anluan, and the promise of something more between them, he remains in thrall to the darkness surrounding Whistling Tor. To free Anluan's burdened soul, Caitrin must unravel the web of sorcery woven by his ancestors before it claims his life - and their love.
 
In my introduction, I already pointed out that this novel is based on the well-known story of the Beauty and the Beast. However, if I hadn’t known that beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it all too soon. See, while the general flow of the storyline is reminiscent of the fairy tale, Juliet Marillier really made it her own and created an almost new Celtic tale that hints at the fairy tale. This is perhaps the strongest asset of this novel, because with retellings, you risk repetition since your readers already know what’s to come. Here, however, whilst I was able to pinpoint some parallels in terms of who was who, the storyline was not all that the same so it felt like a whole new story to me, rather than a retelling. For example the role played by mirrors. In the fairy tale – at least the Disney version of it – the Beast gets an enchanted mirror to see the world outside, the world he’ll never visit because of his affliction. The mirrors at Whistling Tor, however, are far creepier than that. They might show things you wish you hadn’t seen… Not only the – slightly eerie – Celtic spin on things, but the nature of the curse as well was very refreshing and interesting and I really appreciated the way things ended. Goes to show that it doesn’t have to be all well to end well.
While being a far cry from the original tale definitely being a pro here, the plot also has its lesser qualities in its slow pace and predictability. As for the former, it just takes too long for things to get going. It’s not that it’s not interesting at all, but because things developed so slowly, it was too easy to put the book aside, which I did quite often. Also, pretty early on, you get a good hunch at how things will eventually pan out and while I kept hoping for a surprising twist to take my breath away, it never came. I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed because of this.
The characters that inhabit Heart’s Blood are very interesting to say the least, but most of them failed at engaging me. Most of the characters seem to have a very troubled backstory and I would have loved to have explored those, but apart from some hints now and then, these are left untouched, which I felt was wasted potential. It might have been helpful to add these stories just to break the pace a bit. One backstory that does get explored, is Caitrin’s, and here I have to take my virtual hat off to Juliet Marillier. It seems like all we read about nowadays are ‘strong female characters’(*) who have or have to overcome their insecurities and do so with ease and grace. What I loved about Caitrin is how she is everything but that. She as well has a troubled past, and her past made her how she is today. The way Marillier made Caitrin’s past echo throughout her stay at Whistling Tor and the way she rose above that, were a pleasure to read. She may not be the stereotypical female character with the gutsy kick-all attitude, but she surely is all that in her own way.
Which brings me to probably the main reason why I didn’t like this book as much as Sevenwaters, and that would be the writing. See, I loved Marillier’s prose in Daughter Of The Forest, for it was lush, poetic and very descriptive. The writing in Heart’s Blood is not that very different, but it just didn’t work as well for me. Rather than very, it was overly descriptive and I found there to be too many words for what was being said and less would probably have been more in this case. This made the already slow plot almost dragging around halfway through. As a result, it felt like it took me hours to turn the page and thus made me put the book down way more that I would have liked to.

All in all, I did like Heart’s Blood, but not as much as other offerings from the author. Still, as far as retellings go, I think this once again proves that Juliet Marillier knows her craft when it comes to handling a well-known story in order to make something interesting out of it.

 
Let yourself get swept away by a love that surpasses time and get your copy now!
 
* This article raises some valid points concerning the omnipresence of SFC's. If you're interested, it's worth your time.

Review: Charlaine Harris, Dead Until Dark + True Blood S1


Looking at my track record when it comes to reading, I think it’s fair to say that it’s a little miracle when I read a book within the year of its release. In fact, I am so terribly behind on numerous series and other books, that I’m probably allowed to get my own charity. One of those series that have been lingering around since back when, is Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series – along with it the True Blood tv-series, because one does not see the movie or series before reading the book (*). With the sixth – already – season airing this past summer and since I had a road trip planned with lots of small free moments for reading, Dead Until Dark was the ideal choice.


Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Until the vampire of her dreams walks into her life - and one of her coworkers checks out.... Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn't such a bright idea.

Plotwise, there isn’t much more to the novel than what it says on the tin. It’s a murder mystery slash romance novel, and a pretty straightforward one at that. Everything you can expect from a novel like this is present, including the police who are clueless and randomly picking on the wrong suspect, some danger and in the end the heroine to save the day. In fact, it’s fair to say that the romance takes first chair and the murder mystery is just along for the ride. Throughout the story, there are none whatsoever clues to who might have killed those women and when the murderer is revealed, it felt like he was the unlucky one who picked the shortest straw in a kids game. It felt quite random without the intentions and backstory behind the murders being revealed after he was caught.
More central to the whole story, was the relationship between Sookie and Bill. I’m not one for instalove – and this nearly is – but Sookie and her naïve attraction and devotion towards Bill are just so endearing, that I don’t mind. Her almost childlike contemplation concerning a vampire’s ability to get an erection and produce semen, as well as other sexual ponderings, are silly and borderline hilarious, that I can’t find it in me to frown upon it. It’s only when they go on-off-on again for the what seems umpteenth time, that things get just a little tedious. Seeing as the spine markets these books as Fantasy/Mystery, the true nature of Dead Until Dark might rub some readers the wrong way. I had a gut feeling of where these books were headed – reading it years after publication might have helped me there – so I actually enjoyed the simple and frivolous plot, even though a twist or two (**) might have been welcome.
Dead Until Dark hosts a bunch of characters, but only a handful are really explored. We see everything from Sookie’s point of view, which makes her the most developed of characters and I really liked her. There is something sweet and endearing about her and she’s just so happy and positive most of the time, that it tends to affect the reader in a positive way as well. Apart from Sookie herself, Sam, Bill and in a lesser degree Gran and Eric felt like a character with their own voice. As for the rest, they all felt alike – cardboard, that is – and only their names separated one from the other, if they speak at all. I do know that books like this one don’t tend to give a lot of space for developing secondary and tertiary characters, but even Sam and Bill fell a bit flat at times, so it feels like a wasted opportunity to me.
The writing is more or less what one can expect from the genre. It’s not particularly good writing – perhaps a bit forced at times – but it’s not bad either, it’s enjoyable enough to keep reading. More important here, is that it fits the book. Charlaine Harris wrote a fun, light story and in terms of her writing she isn’t pretending otherwise and serves what you bargained for: a fun and quick read. One thing that I do regret here, though, is the setting or rather lack thereof. The series is officially titled ‘Southern Vampire’ and is set in Louisiana, but it could as well have been rural L.A. or NY for that matter. I missed some real Southern accents here that I did encounter in other novels, just to make the setting feel more real and differentiate it from the pack.

In sum, I actually enjoyed Dead Until Dark, perhaps even more so that I imagined beforehand. I do am glad to own the cheapest edition possible and neither do I regret not reading this way earlier, but I will return to Bon Temps and I will do so with a smile on my face.
 

Fall for Sookie and Bill by getting your own copy here!

* There are some things I'd like to say re: this ongoing debate, so expect a post about this in the near future.
** Apart from the ones in Sookie's knickers, that is.
 
 
Soon after finishing Dead Until Dark, I started watching the first season of True Blood, which is based on the first book in the series. I have already seen numerous book adaptations and even though I keep the book and the adaptation as much as possible separated, I can't help but rule in favour of one side of the other. Most of the times, I rule in favour of the book, but True Blood is a notable exception. As mentioned above, I did like the book, but the series gave the story some extra punch, mostly because of the characters.
 
The plot didn't really change a lot. Because the series isn't stuck in Sookie's head as is the novel, it makes for some leeway and enables the exploring of the secondary characters. The main plot, however, remains untouched in such that it isn't until the penultimate episode that the audience can figure out whodunnit. The laying out of new plotlines for the second season was a nice extra touch as well. It takes away some focus from the main plotline - which the viewer has figured out in the one but last episode - and thus keeping the end of the season exciting and non-void.
The characters, however, did get a serious boost. If you like book-Sookie, you will love serie-Sookie. I know I do. The same goes for Bill and Sam. Also, contrary to the book, the secondary characters are discernable and - perhaps more important - memorable. Lafayette, the cook who gets to utter one miserable line in the novel, becomes perhaps one of the more memorable characters on the show and the addition of his cousin Tara might have been the second best change to the characters - with Lafayette being the best.
Perhaps what I missed most in the book, was that Southern touch, which True Blood nailed with the set, intro and most of all, the characters' accents. It all contributes to a great atmosphere that oozes the South and gives it character.
 
It might be raunchy at times, and you might not want to watch it with your parents around, but the first season of True Blood was bloody delicious and made for a great adaptation of a fun little book.

vrijdag 9 augustus 2013

Between The Pages: Lost in transit

I think this blog might not be among the usual suspects when it comes to frequent posting, but the last few weeks, it has been awfully quiet over here. For a very good reason, that is. I have been on a trip across the Narrow Sea Atlantic to the sunny California and surrounding states.
This particular post will deal with what I have and have not read in the USA (*).
 
I don't know how others choose the books they are going to read while on holiday, but for me, it was quite a production - not fit for Broadway, but coming close. I mean, there were a lot of factors to take into account. If you're on the road for two weeks and more, hotelhopping across four states and almost never spending the night twice in the same place, time for reading is limited, scarce and precious. Thus no big, epic, attentionconsuming books. Rereading a book can be fun, but having to start all over again every night because you weren't paying attention the day before to the twist in the plot of the sidequest concerning the daughter of the cook of the handsome prince's late mother's niece that went missing (**), is not fun anymore. Also, being away from home for that amount of time means lots of luggage and even more hauling with it. Will the heavy hardcovers please stay home?
 
Taking all this into account, the four books that crossed the ocean were...
 
 
The first one I read was Charlaine Harris's Dead Until Dark. I am probably the last one to read this, but then again, I'm never at the races when it comes to reading books close to their publication date. I will even add that if it wasn't for the trip and the long flight that goes with it, I probably wouldn't have read it cause I'm already over my head in series. It's just that it seemed a good plane-read and while I was at it, I could finally start watching True Blood. Win-win! This book is also a good example of being overly ambitious, cause I figured I could finish this on the two flights to L.A. and be done with it. But then I saw the little monitor in the headrest before me and the music and movies and series and gamesthat were on it, and my whole plan backfired (***).
Even though I started a new series with Sookie, I made up for that escapade - a little bit - by continuing an ongoing series with Laurell K. Hamilton's Burnt Offerings. With finishing this seventh instalment, I'm nearly 1/3rd through with the series, yay! I finished this one the evening before we had to leave for Belgium again (****), but another long flight would give me a good start in Heart's Blood. I didn't chose this book deliberately, as I did with the others, but instead, I pulled it out of my TBR-jar. Quite a satisfying pick, if you ask me, seeing as it is a standalone and has been standing alone for quite some time on my shelf. The 'good start', however, didn't happen. Having to get up at 3.30am didn't really put me in the mood for reading, not even if it's a Celtic retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I did manage to get 50 pages in, however, so that has to count for something.
Funny how the book I was most excited for, Pale Demon by Kim Harrison, didn't happen at all. It's also a series I am near to catching up with the writing of it, but I recently read the previous novel, so I wanted to sqeeze some books in between. Mission accomplished.
 
(*) The original plan was to write a post about what I was planning to read and publish that before leaving. That obviously didn't happen. Also, note that I'm going to talk about what I did NOT read. This post will deal with the downside of being overly ambitous. Thou art warned.
(**) I am so very sorry if I spoiled a Game of Thrones plotline here, without my knowing. I jest, the cook's daughter isn't featured in GoT , but she might have!
(***) Oh, and getting up really early to go to the airport makes you sleepdeprived and that doesn't go well with reading.
(****) A week or more so later than planned, so that one blew up in my face as well. But when one is going to the dogs, the rest will follow.

dinsdag 16 juli 2013

Review: Kevin Hearne, Hunted

I am one of those people who loves to buy and read a lot of series, and when it comes to reading them, I like to have a lot of variety in my bookish diet. Thus best case scenario, there will be a two month gap between subsequent instalments of a series. But as with every best case scenario, it’s not often the case. So in my experience, authors tend to write faster than I can read their finished products and the unfinished series keep piling up and up and up. Whilst I don’t get to talk along that much with other readers of said series – seeing as I am several books behind – I don’t get to experience the dreaded wait for another novel. The Iron Druid Chronicles, however, is the odd one out here. Right from the start I managed to keep track of the series and thus I had the privilege (?) to experience long wait between Trapped and the new one, Hunted (*). But boy, did it deliver! It was well worth the wait.

For a two-thousand-year-old Druid, Atticus O’Sullivan is a pretty fast runner. Good thing, because he’s being chased by not one but two goddesses of the hunt—Artemis and Diana—for messing with one of their own. Dodging their slings and arrows, Atticus, Granuaile, and his wolfhound Oberon are making a mad dash across modern-day Europe to seek help from a friend of the Tuatha Dé Danann. His usual magical option of shifting planes is blocked, so instead of playing hide-and-seek, the game plan is . . . run like hell.

Crashing the pantheon marathon is the Norse god Loki. Killing Atticus is the only loose end he needs to tie up before unleashing Ragnarok—AKA the Apocalypse. Atticus and Granuaile have to outfox the Olympians and contain the god of mischief if they want to go on living—and still have a world to live in.


Hunted takes off right were Trapped ended, with Atticus, Granuaile and Oberon being chased by huntresses Diana and Artemis. Fair and square, that’s all there is to Hunted, it’s a straightforward roadtrip across Europe where our protagonists try to keep ahead of the huntresses all the while trying to figure out who’s behind the grand scheme of putting the Druids six feet under, for good this time. Straightforward as it may be, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Because of the nature of the plot, there were no slower parts in the book and the tension was constantly present and highly appreciated. The previous books were always light hearted - excluding some darker moments once in a while - no matter what the plot was and Hunted is much of the same. However, at least at two points throughout the story did the mood turn grim. While I read these books mainly because they are a whole lot of fun, I greatly appreciated the change of tone, which went all too nice with the overall atmosphere of the hunt. The ending also had some surprise in store and made me long for the next one already.
The best things about the Iron Druid Chronicles are, in my opinion, the characters. Atticus and Oberon had me at hello and they keep delivering book after book. Especially Oberon; here, I thought he was on fire! It was only two chapters in and he was already wisecrackin’ his butt off, and he kept it going till the end. You just got to admire that little doggie and the stuff he pulls out of his brain. While she was always around, ever since book one, Granuaile didn’t become a major player till the very end of the fourth book. I always thought she had a great deal of potential and I am glad that she delivers on that account. Her addition to the crew makes for a nice balance with Atticus and Oberon without her turning out to be the dull one. In fact, she’s very funny in her own way, but different from her male counterparts.
When you crack an Iron Druid, you know there will be all kinds of gods roaming around, and while it used to be overwhelming in the first couple of books, I came to really like their presence and I’m always looking forward to whatever spin Kevin Hearne has put on a certain pantheon. Needless to say, but Diana and Artemis delivered big time and while he only had a small role here, I found Zeus to be, euhm, interesting, for lack of a better word…
As with the previous novels in this series, the writing is as it should be. Witty, fast-paced and effective for whatever the story has to project. I do want to pinpoint a little something here. Till book five, Atticus has always been the narrator and him as well as Oberon did have quite a distinctive voice. Hunted, however, introduces Granuaile as a narrator and I found that to be very refreshing and I was surprised at how different it felt in way of writing. The first time they shift perspective, it’s not really announced it’s Granuaile talking, but you just sense the shift. It was a very different kind of writing, a bit more lush, perhaps? I found that quite remarkable and I take my imaginary hat off for that. It's not that easy a task to write the voice of an opposite-sex character and Hearne actually made Granuaile feel genuine and genuinely feminine, just by changing the writing and the choice of words.

With Hunted, Kevin Hearne has done his best to push his series a little higher on my favourite urban fantasy list. One thing is for sure, the next adventure for Atticus, Oberon and Granuaile is top priority and can’t come quickly enough.
 
 
Feel the rush of being Hunted by Diana and Artemis yourself and buy your copy right now, before they beat you to it!
 
If you fancy a review of the previous five novels in the series, go check out my GoodReads, they're all up.
(*) In the end, the wait wasn't that long or unbearable, but let's pretend for the sake of this review, shall we?

Review: Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Why do we read? Why do I read? Sometimes it feels like I’m one of few who read, when I look at the people around me. Not seldom do I get those questions. Why do I read? What’s the fun of reading a book? Whenever I try to come up with a reply that will settle the issue for once and for all, I tend to find myself lost for words. Who do you explain the perfect match of plot and characters? How do you explain getting lost in a world of make-believe? How do you put into words how words take you someplace else? Instead of explaining, you should give them a book and let them experience it for themselves.
 
 
 
At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting — he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments.

The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous.
It wants the truth.

Reading the blurb as it is, you might think this is quite the simple story, and you're right, it is. But even though the plot is fairly simple and straightforward, it works on every account. The idea of the monster and the different tales he tells is a modern take on the parable, which contains a lesson for our young protagonist to learn. All the while, we follow him throughout a difficult time in his life. Illness, divorce and bullying, nothing gets sugarcoated. This whole idea is nothing new, but the addition of the monster and his stories lift this book above your average coming of age novel. Also, the straightforwardness of the plot keeps you engaged and keeps you from getting sidetracked by nifty little additions. Early on, I had an idea of where this novel was taking me, and I wasn’t wrong. This, however, didn’t diminish the reading experience. Even more so, knowing what’s going to happen and not being able to change the outcome was quite hard. even though I approached the ending with all this in mind, nothing was able to soften the blow of the actual finale. There aren’t many books who are able to shatter my heart, but this one actually accomplished that feat. As a result, my eyes got a little wet a sudden fog entered my room.
The main problem which might occur in a novel like this, is that the main character isn’t likeable because he or she is distant and angry. Seeing as how everything pans out from the very start, as an author, you just can’t get away with writing a character that’s jolly happy throughout the course of the book. As such, Conor is a kid who has had and still has his share of pain and disappointment in life and it makes for an angry character. These might be quite hard to like, but Patrick Ness managed to make Conor likeable, give him some appeal where you, as a reader, hardly can’t do anything but feel for him. The other characters as well, are very relatable. His grandma might not be the nicest of grandparents out there, but you can’t help feeling for her and understand where she’s coming from. Same goes for his father and don't get me started on Conor's mum. She might not be the direct focus of the novel, but she - in fact, all four main characters of the family - are wonderfully given form.
This novel was originally an idea by Siobhan Dowd, but completed by Patrick Ness after her death. Even though it wasn’t his idea to begin with, Patrick Ness definitely put his own spin on it and made it feel like it was a novel of his. Perhaps that’s the best thing about A Monster Calls. Ness’ writing is just spot on. Simple, but effective and evocative. Fluent, but still emotional. It cost me but two hours to go through it and I wished I could bathe a little longer in his words. From the very first page, a tribute to Siobhan, to the very last word, Ness set the tone and his words were gold throughout. While the story is simple, I found there to be more than meets the eye. Hidden beneath the story is the idea - the truth, if you like - concerning the power of words. The healing power of talking. Not only healing between two or more people, but also the healing of the individual's psyche.

A Monster Calls was definitely an experience quite unlike any other, and when I try to compare it with other books I’ve read, it’s up there with other gems. It compares to Audrey Nifffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife in the way it managed to pull me heartstrings, to Robin Hobb for making me care about the main character and to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book for demonstrating the power of something so simple yet moving. If, instead of explaining, I could give people a book to make them understand why I read, A Monster Calls would be one of them.
 
 
 
Make your own appointment with the Monster today, and enjoy a great story tonight.

 

Review: Brian Ruckley, The Edinburgh Dead


When we talk about how good or bad a certain book is, we mostly talk about plotlines and/or –holes and how the characters were or should have been. Not surprising, though, seeing as they are what the book’s about. There is, however, another important aspect to a good story, and that is the worldbuilding and how the scenery of the story translates into the reader’s mind. The worldbuilding might not put me off of a book, but it certainly holds the possibility of taking the book to another level altogether. Most of the books I read take place in a secondary world – own imagination galore – and most of the urban fantasy I read takes place in some random American city and, from my point of view, might as well have been another secondary world. However, when I stumble upon a book that takes place in a city I have visited – and loved, for that matter – the book appeals to me even more. Brian Ruckley’s The Edinburgh Dead falls in the latter category.


Edinburgh: 1828
In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces.
Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city's criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.
Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment - and no one is safe from its corruption.

Adam Quire is an officer of the Edinburgh police when he stumbles upon a corpse. The evidence at hand points toward the victim being killed by dogs, but upon further investigation, Quire discovers that this case is more than it seems and if he isn’t careful, it might not only lead to his untimely departure from the police, but from life itself as well. For he finds himself enmeshed with the Resurrection Men, bodysnatchers and dead things who won’t stay six feet under ground.
I’m not big on historical novels, but when it draws upon an interesting part of history it might just do the trick. The bodysnatching past of Edinburgh is one of those little fragments of history I find quite fascinating and this, combined with an interesting take on zombies, made this book a pleasant affair. The first half of the novel is kind of like your average historical mystery novel, with a murder to be solved, the brave policeman trying his utmost best despite the not too willing help from the higher class and the search for clues. Nothing wrong with that, but things start to get really interesting when the zombies are introduced. Ruckley has an interesting take on the mainstream brainmunchers and made them fit the setting very well. Perhaps zombies is a wrong turn, and is reanimated corpse more adequate. I felt like, from that moment on, when it became apparent what was going on, the story took a turn for the darker. Even though the living dead are present, other magics stay pretty much out of the picture with some notable exceptions. This general lack of magic in society and the referring to it as the arcane, adds a certain mystery and unreachability to it all, which I found to be very pleasing. As far as the development of the plot is concerned, I think Ruckley did a very fine job of bringing things to a close. My only remark concerning the plot would be the chapter about the war near the start of the book. I found this flashback to be unnecessary and it didn’t really contribute anything to the story nor the character of Quire. Well, it did give him some background, but it might have well been added in smaller flashbacks throughout the main story whenever necessary.
Talking about Quire, I think he is quite a capable main character. He’s no goody two shoes and does flirt with the edge of what’s accepted and expected from him, but it gives him a certain edge and makes him likeable. He's, say, a flawed hero. The only thing I’ve missed from him, is a distinctive voice. While reading the book, he did the job as main character, but in the mass of other characters in my head, he’s not one to stick out. Whereas Quire is quite the likeable lad, the other characters who take the spotlight for sufficient amount of pages to allow a development of feelings, certainly are anything but likeable. One in particular, Blegg, is downright creepy and he gave the group of adversaries a certain punch they needed to become believable as antagonists.
My overall opinion of this book is very much favourable but not outstanding, and that counts for the writing as well. I thought Brian Ruckley had a very nice way of writing, although it took me some time to pick up the pacing of the novel. For me, it was definitely not a fast read and the writing style did contribute to that. While this may sound as if the writing was bad, it wasn't at all. It's just a kind of writing that takes me a little longer to read as opposed to your average urban fantasy novel, for example. Whether or not that’s a con, is something every reader has to decide for him or herself, but I didn’t really mind. Ruckley has a very nice way of telling the story and in that prospect, it’s rather a pro that I had to take my time to take it all in.

Having been to Edingburgh, the experience there blended nicely with the way Brian Ruckley described Old Town and New Town and heightened the atmosphere. I doubt you’ll get the same vibe from Quire walking the different closes of Old Town and the open lanes of New Town if you haven’t experienced the vast contrast for yourself, but you can always give it a try. And heck, why not do both? Cause Edinburgh as well as The Edinburgh Dead are worth your time.
 
 
 
Fancy a trip to Edinburgh yourself? Get your Dead right here and walk in Quire's shoes.
 

vrijdag 5 juli 2013

#FridayReads: July 5th, 2013

FridayReads is a hashtag over on Twitter where people share what they'll be reading over the weekend. I thought it would be nice to bring that hashtag over to my blog, so this way I can share what I'm reading and provide a little more text along with it.
 
This weekend, I'll be reading and hopefully finishing a book that looks very promising, namely The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley. It is a standalone novel (*) set in Edinburgh - big shocker, right?! - and there's something funny going on with dead people. I'm not that far in, so I'm winging it when I say this, but I think it'll be something zombie-ish. This book managed to be the first one being pulled from my BookJar and it conveniently fits into the monthly reading challenge at the book club, with the theme being 'Standalone novels'. Excellent anticipating from the Jar there, seeing as the selection took place near the end of June.
Even though I've only read fiftysomething pages, I can already tell that I'm very much enjoying the scenery. It's mostly because I've recently been to Edinburgh, but being able to conjure up reliable images of the places being described in the book really enhances the reading experience. It does make a difference when Old Town and New Town are being described and you can actually pull the image out of your memory instead of trying to come up with your own made up model of it all (**). The same goes for the scenes taking place in the Closes of Edinburgh. Having walked there and experienced the eerieness of some of them, really adds to the text.
 
 
The story does stand on its own though, with a little help from a seemingly morally grey main character. I can't really get to the core of him, but he is intriguing to say the least. Curious to see events unfolding...
I really hope to wrap this book up come Sunday evening, cause I still have some reading to do before taking a trip overseas and with almost all plane-and-transit-books chosen (***), I don't fancy deliberating again.
 
(*) Which is quite pleasant seeing the amount of series I'm reading or planning to...
(**) This also contributed to my liking of Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon, because I've been in London and thus was able to immediately picture where the shit was hitting the fan.
(***) Expect a little post about this in a week or so.

donderdag 27 juni 2013

Bi-Annual Book Exchange #1 - The Books

 
The Bi-Annual Book Exchange - or BaBE, if you're in a hurry - is a collab between Jeremy from Inklingstime and myself, where we give each other one of our own books to read. Why, you might ask? Well, whenever we get together, the conversation tends to drift towards books in one way or another and we always recommend each other some books. Because our taste in books isn't that similar, those recommendations get met with an 'yes, sometime' response, sometime being somewhere between not now and never.
However, with both of us part of the blogosphere, we quickly came up with the Bi-Annual Book Exchange. Every six months, I get a book from Jeremy in whichever genre that may be, and I present him a fantasy novel I thoroughly enjoyed and/or find it to be a must-read. After reading it in timely fashion, we review the book and both reviews will appear on both blogs, albeit in a different format.
Everytime we exchange a book, I'll put up a post like this, where I have a little chat about them, and afterwards the reviews will be posted separately and links to those will be added in this post as well for easy access. So without further due, let's have a look at the changelings.
 
Choosing a book for Jeremy wasn't easy pickings. Beforehand, I promised to not give him certain books for the first exchange. He isn't a big YA reader, so none of that. Also, his sceptical look whenever he caught me reading an Urban Fantasy book (*), let to the solemn pledge not to throw any UF at him this time 'round. However, I did promise to let him experience the joy a good Urban can bring, so he can expect some Kim Harrison or Kelley Armstrong some other time.
My main goal with this collab is to open the world of Fantasy to him, but I figured that graded exposure was the better approach rather than flooding/drowning. So any big, epic series with lots of magic flying around was also out of the question. With all that in mind, I quickly came up with Ben Galley's The Written. A novel which I enjoyed a lot and embodied pretty much everything I like about Fantasy without being too daunting. The series has been recently finished with the concluding two volumes Dead Stars, part 1 & 2, and with a total of four books, the length of the series isn't (too) overwhelming. The story as well, isn't too crowded. It's an epic fantasy novel, but the complexity isn't a George R.R. Martin kind of complex. Not too many characters to keep track of, not too many different species and an engaging story with some pleasantly unique additions and a nice magic system. I believe it to be a nice introduction to a bit of everything the genre has to offer and I hope he enjoys it.
 
My review is just a click away.
Inklingstime review to come.
 
Exchanging books means that I also got one, and I must say that I was a little afraid. He told me the feeling was mutual, but whenever I browse his shelves, there aren't that many books that I want to read right away. Sure, there are plenty which I do want to read, some time, but having one of those thrust upon me was something different altogether. Jeremy, however, has been nice and given me one of the books I actually wanted to read rather soonish than laterish. He's been really into Neil Gaiman lately, and because I haven't read any of his works, I got The Graveyard Book. Of all the Gaiman books we have together, there is only one book of his I wanted to read more than this one, and that is Good Omens, co-written by Terry Pratchett. Since Good Omens is a book of mine, he couldn't have picked a better book and I'm very much looking forward to reading it!
 
Inklingstime review here.
My review here.
 
 
(*) To be fair, some of those UF deserved that look, but they're damned pleasant reads!
 

Review: Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

 
There is a first time for everything, and The Graveyard Book was my first Neil Gaiman read. I’ve heard a lot about his books, how amazingly stellar they are and more where that came from, but I’ve never really felt the need to pick one of his works up and start reading. This all changed when this novel was thrust in my hands for the Bi-Annual Book Exchange.

 

IT TAKES A GRAVEYARD TO RAISE A CHILD.

 

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead.
There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy - an ancient indigo man, a gateway to abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible fleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will be in danger from the man Jack - who has already killed Bod's family . . .

This novel is told by means of short stories all from the perspective of Bod. With every story, we move a little forward in time and because of this, the novel as a whole was quite a unique experience. The final chapters – or stories, if you like – make all the previous ones come together in one coherent storyline, and an engaging one at that. Because of the different short stories, it was quite hard to discern where the plot was taking you and it wasn’t until the final chapters that things were becoming clear. By not explicitly including the bigger picture in the first few stories, those solely rely on their own little plot and thus can become rather hit and miss. I didn’t find there to be a particularly bad story, but the third one – “The Hounds of God”, about the ghouls – was probably my least favourite of them all. It wasn’t bad, but the contrast with others, like “The New Friend” and “The Witch’s Headstone” was apparent. The way the different pieces of the puzzle came together in the end, however, was nothing short of brilliance. Even though it is a children’s book, I found the ending to be very engaging and exciting. Together with the very beginning, the highlight of the book for sure.
There are quite some characters inhabiting this story, ranging from the good to the evil, from the dead to the living. Even though the man Jack is a despicable human being and creeped me out, I thought he did a novel job as the bad guy. Abanazer Bolger and Tom Hustings have some fingers in that pie as well. The great thing about the characters, is how they each have their own, unique voice. From the stern Silas to the rather playful Liza, you’ll learn to love each and every one of them. The main star of the show, however, is Bod. He is a fun, vibrant and engaging character and because of the way the novel is structured, you as a reader grows along with him. You follow him in his playfulness, his endearing compassion for others – dead or alive – and schemes to right wrongs. He’s perhaps a bit wise beyond his years, but who wouldn’t be when tutored by ghosts who’ve lived in all different kinds of eras. It takes a graveyard to raise a child, indeed.
The biggest strength of this book, however, is Gaiman’s writing. His prose is not the most elaborate or complicated poetry, but it’s evocative and emotive. Go and read the first chapter and tell me that’s not excellent writing, that it does not tickle your imagination. Go and read the last few pages and tell me you’re not moved. If writing is art, then Neil Gaiman is an artist and The Graveyard Book is a masterpiece. The wonderful illustrations by Dave McKean only add to the imagery of the tale and make it a complete experience for your eyes.

The Graveyard Book was my first of Neil Gaiman, but after reading this, I know two things for sure. One, graveyards will never be the same again to me. Their eeriness has become a place of possibility and growth. Second, this might have been my first, but it will definitely not be my last Neil Gaiman novel.
 

 
Plan your trip to the Graveyard here!

vrijdag 14 juni 2013

#FridayReads: June 14th, 2013

FridayReads is a hashtag over on Twitter where people share what they'll be reading over the weekend. I thought it would be nice to bring that hashtag over to my blog, so this way I can share what I'm reading and provide a little more text along with it.

It's been a while since my last FridayReads, but clearly reading a George R.R. Martin novel and studying for finals is a no go as far as fast reading is concerned. That being said, I did manage to finish A Feast For Crows last weekend and during the last couple of days, I powered through Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box.
So for this weekend - and probably some days after - I took a new book from my TBR-shortlist, which is *drumroll please* Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison, book 8 in the Hollows series. It's an Urban Fantasy series about a witch, Rachel, who lives in a church with her friends, the living-vampire Ivy and pixie Jenks (*). Together, they form Vampiric Charms, a supernatural bounty-hunter team and get themselves involved in lots of sticky and tricky situations involving humiliation, embarrassment, fire, explosions, collisions, tears, nudity and death (**). A trip to the Hollows is always a fun and entertaining rollercoaster ride of emotions and crazy wild happenings.


See, whenever I talk about Urban Fantasy, I make sure to mention Kim Harrison, cause I can honestly say that, while I've read quite some UF, nothing comes near what she's written (****). The plot, the characters and the politics and power-struggles involved just match perfectly and make for a great and exciting read. With the events in the previous novel (White Witch, Black Curse), I left the series on a high, so I'm not exaggerating when I say that I can-not wait to see what's ahead for Rachel and her friends.
I've already read the first chapter, and talking about entering with a bang... I haven't seen Jenks - by far my favourite sidekick ever - yet, though, so I hope that the pottymouthed pixie shows his lovely self pretty soon. Cause Tink's panties, I'll be damned if he doesn't!

(*) Wife and kids included.
(**) But that was just bad luck involving a rogue creme brulee torch. It’s VERY unlikely to happen twice (***).
(***) This actually never happened. I'm merely quoting Miranda.
(****) With the exception of Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld, another UF-series which I highly highly highly recommend.
 

woensdag 12 juni 2013

Review: Mike Shevdon, Sixty-One Nails

If there is one thing that confuses me most when it comes to Fantasy, it's the whole subgenre thing. There's epic, high, low, dark, urban, urban-fairy, ... The list goes on and on and on and in the end, I can't wrap my head around it anymore. Whenever I label a new purchase in my excel-file (*), it's more a well-aimed game of darts rather than an accurate display of my subgenre-knowledge. I do know, however, that when the book features a hot chick or skillful wizardesque guy that knows how to kick ass and does that in a contemporary day and age, I have a fairly good chance of correctly choosing 'urban fantasy'. This may account for, say, 95% or even more, and while I very much enjoy novels that fit the description, stumbling upon the odd one out that takes the genre somewhere unexpected, can be an utter delight. Mike Shevdon's Sixty-One Nails happens to belong to the latter pile.

There is a secret war raging beneath the streets of London. A dark magic will be unleashed by the Untainted...Unless a new hero can be found. Neverwhere's faster, smarter brother has arrived. 
The immense Sixty-One Nails follows Niall Petersen, from a suspected heart attack on the London Underground, into the hidden world of the Feyre, an uncanny place of legend that lurks just beyond the surface of everyday life. The Untainted, the darkest of the Seven Courts, have made their play for power, and unless Niall can recreate the ritual of the Sixty-One Nails, their dark dominion will enslave all of the Feyre, and all of humankind too.

I do read quite a lot of urban fantasy and most of them fit the description as stated earlier. What we get here, is quite the opposite. Niall is a middle-aged man who doesn’t know anything about anything and is completely new to this stuff. The first part of the book sees him discovering his magic and at the same time introduces us to the world Shevdon has created. Later on, there is precious little ass kicking going on and more of a quest that has to be completer in order to prevent bad shenanigans from happening. I got the feeling that the ideas presented here are more leaning towards Epic fantasy which are poured into and Urban setting. The result was the creation of something very refreshing. This quest we're talking about, the restoring of the Quit Rents ceremony, is an actual existing happening where Shevdon has put his own spin on. This I highly appreciated, as well as the information on the actual ceremony included at the back of the novel.
Because Niall has a lot to discover, the story isn’t that past-paced, but it still was quite a fast read because the world of the Feyre was very intriguing. Forget all the beautiful, tall, pointy-eared people you think of right away. The seven Courts differ from each other and most of them don’t even come close to looking human. Each Court has its own form of magic, and whilst there wasn’t a lot of ass-kicking involved, there was some serious power play which made for a fascinating read. The main focus, however, is on the Seventh Court. The other six don’t come into the picture until the very end and I hope they will play a bigger role in the books to come, but the Untainted were capable of carrying the book on their own. They have a fascinating set of powers to display and they Fey themselves are quite the creepy kind. Whenever they showed themselves, especially the woman, the atmosphere got really eerie.
Another thing that, for me, made the novel anything but cookie-cutter, was the setting. Instead of some random American city as is so much the case in Urban fantasy – or at least in those books that I’ve read – this story takes place in London. For once, I was able to picture things how they really are and not my own rendition of some city I've never been. It’s a small thing, of course, but it’s just nice to envision Niall walking the same streets that you have walked. It just adds that little extra to the whole experience. In sum, the world-building was top-notch!

The main characters here are Niall and Blackbird, and I liked them. I don’t think they are the kind of characters that stick with you long after and I won’t be mentioning them when someone asks me for my favourite characters, but they are so very much fitting for this book. I can’t really pinpoint why, but when I was finished with the book, I felt like only Niall and Blackbird could have made this story the way it is. The combo of characters and plot just worked like a charm.
Because Niall knows nothing (**), both him and the reader start out knowing nothing and experience and learn things the same. This was quite nice, opposed to being confronted with someone who already knows the tips and tricks of the business and takes you along for just another ride. While it took me some time to warm up to Blackbird – she doesn’t make it that easy to love nor trust her – I appreciated their interaction and quite like them as a duo. They shared some good moments in this book.
As far as I know is this Shevdon’s first novel. The writing sure doesn’t tell. It feels like the umpteenth book by a well established author and not a debut. The writing is fluent, never contrived, not overly descriptive and finds a good balance between the more darker and upbeat parts in the book.

I happened to stumble upon this series when I won a signed copy of the third book and had to go looking for books one and two. This was, once again, evidence of the fact that there are a lot of very talented authors out there who are not that well known. Mike Shevdon is one of those and Sixty-One Nails is a very good, non-kick-ass urban fantasy that is definitely worth diving in to.


Fancy a trip to the unseelie parts of London yourself? Grab your ticket here.

(*) Well, what did you expect?
(**) Yes, I did envision Blackbird telling Niall in a husky voice: "You know nothing, Niall Petersen".

woensdag 5 juni 2013

Serial Reading: Sword of Truth #1

The Fantastical landscape is filled with series, trilogies and other-ologies. As a committed Fantasy-reader myself, I am deeply immersed in several series. Serial Reading is my way of keeping track of all those series in a lighthearted way. Some of these series will have complete reviews on here, others not so much - mainly because I'm already too far in to busy myself with retroactive reviewposting. If you want to read my views on those books, feel free to consult my GoodReads. Enjoy your breakfast!
 
Note: Spoilery bits might be included.
 
 
Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth is one of those series that have a little place in my heart. Nothing beats Harry Potter when it comes to childhood nostalgia (*), but Sword of Truth comes close. Reading them now, I do wonder why I read them as a young boy, cause they're explicitly violent and whatnot. Anyway, I seemed to have enjoyed them a-lot when I was about 15 so they became one of my favourite series ever. This is also expressed by the amount of re-reads those books got. The first and second book got the privilege of being read five times. As fas as insane goes...
However, the last few books have only been read once, with some seriously big gaps between them, so I figured that this year (**), I was going to go through them all once more and then shelve this series for quite some time. I've since read the prequel and the first two books, and it's been interesting to say the least. Rereading a book definitely provides you with some new views on things, so let's catch up.
 
- Prequel: Debt of Bones. Not much to say about this one. It's nice to see how things started, how to border was brought into the world and stuff, but it's pretty dull. Zedd is still young and doesn't have any of his old-man's flair let alone his wit. The girl who goes to see him - whatshername - is an utter bore and the whole plot is nothing spectacular. For such a little novella you can't go chasing dragons around the world, but puhlease, make it at least a bit exciting. Thank you.
 
- Book 1: Wizard's First Rule. Review here.
 
- Book 2: Stone of Tears. Whenever I used to rave about these books, I always mentioned the second book as one of my favourites in the series, along with the first, sixth and books nine - eleven. As from now, I won't be mentioning the second one ever again. Memory please help me, why did I favourite this one? I mean, it's a big book of almost 900pages and no-thing happens. Well yes, things do happen, but nothing relevant or of any interest.
Basically, it's all about Richard being taken from Kahlan (one of many times *sigh*) and this happens fairly quickly. About around page 100 his captors arrive but it takes them another 600, give or take, to get him to their destination. Credit where credit's due, it is the other end of the world, but still, speed it up! For basically nothing on that whole trip is in the least a bit interesting. Also, this is where Richard starts being an ass for real. Verna asks him one little thing and he threatens a whole village. Why yes, you are lovely! His self-righteous behaviour is annoying as well.
One of the main reasons why I do like this book, is the introduction of the Sisters of Light. They are marvellous - especially Verna - and they make for a pleasant addition. Who doesn't like some religious fanatics?! (***) It's only sad that the best of them all, Nicci, didn't get to say a single word. I remembered that differently...
Roll back to Kahlan and we get a totally different story. Way more action there as the Imperial Order meets up with the Mother Confessor. Pretty interesting if not a bit brutal... and chilly. You know when someone is dedicated to their cause when they decide to fight naked... in the freaking snow! Nothing more to tell here, though, it's all about her playing war and trying not to get raped for, like, five times. Bit much there, Terry, bit much. You'd think she'd have a full-blown PTSD, but the warrior she is, she only needs a bath, some tea and some rest. Fresh as daisy, fine and dandy.
Also, while talking about Kahlan, can I get a holla for Chandalen. His grumpy disposition just made me crack a smile. Not to mention his awkward conversations with Kahlan about custom and addressing women properly without mentioning their boobs or fine ass. Golden.
The ending was pretty fine and made up for the lacklustre events throughout the first 800 pages (****). The main problem was the absence of a direct villain and a returned Darken Rahl doesn't quite cut it, nor Richard's intuitive usage of magic, but all in all, it was a nice race to the finish. And Cara (*****) was there!
 
A Little summary:
- Richard became an ass, but the other characters did an excellent job.
- The story was rrreeeaaaally slowpaced, bordering on boring, but there were enough good moments to balance it all out.
- Nicci was mute!
- It wasn't as good as I remembered it. Bummer.
 
So to put it all in a little fancy graph - cause who doesn't like random graphs, right? - this is what it looks like at the moment:
 
 
(*) Technically speaking I was a teen, but the lines between child - teen - adult tend to blur most of the times. Fun times living in my head.
(**) From January 1st up till now, all my illusions of actually succeeding have been mercilessly destroyed. Perhaps I'll manage to finish somewhere near the end of 2014.
(***) This is all heartfelt emotion, no sarcasm. Even though they are a bit fanatic and over the top religious, they still are marvellous. Those are not mutually exclusive things, at least not when it comes to Sword of Truth.
(****) There were good parts as well, rest assured.
(*****) And ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the sole [I jest] reason for a fine ending: Cara. (Even though that is only because I know her and not because of how she acts here).

zondag 26 mei 2013

Review: Terry Goodkind, Wizard's First Rule


Funny how, when you're reviewing a book that was an absolute trainwreck, the whole of the internet is insufficient to vent. However, when you just want to gush and rave about something, words come short. This gets even more difficult when it's a book - or series in this case - that's pretty close to your heart. Thanks for that, mind! Harry Potter aside, the Sword of Truth series must have been the series that introduced me to Fantasy and all its brightness and glory. That was ten years ago. Today, I am writing this review on Wizard’s First Rule after a fifth read and it still manages to capture me completely. The fact that it is already the fifth time that I read said book, doesn’t make it easier to review it, but here we go nonetheless.

In the aftermath of the brutal murder of his father, a mysterious woman, Kahlan Amnell, appears in Richard Cypher's forest sanctuary seeking help . . . and more. His world, his very beliefs, are shattered when ancient debts come due with thundering violence.

In a dark age it takes courage to live, and more than mere courage to challenge those who hold dominion, Richard and Kahlan must take up that challenge or become the next victims. Beyond awaits a bewitching land where even the best of their hearts could betray them. Yet, Richard fears nothing so much as what secrets his sword might reveal about his own soul. Falling in love would destroy them--for reasons Richard can't imagine and Kahlan dare not say.
In their darkest hour, hunted relentlessly, tormented by treachery and loss, Kahlan calls upon Richard to reach beyond his sword--to invoke within himself something more noble. Neither knows that the rules of battle have just changed . . . or that their time has run out
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I’ll be the first to admit, this is your standard-cliché-cookie-cutter Fantasy plot. There is the orphaned farmer’s son turned hero, the beautiful girl, the crazy wizard, the evil overlord and a nigh impossible quest. Terry Goodkind takes all these, but manages to spin a captivating and exhilarating tale out of those worn-out elements. It’s a big book, so the plot takes a slow and easy start, but things start heating up pretty fast. The trip through the border/underworld is the first of many difficult situations Richard and Kahlan find themselves in and introduces us to the first of many moments in the series where Richard and Kahlan find themselves separated from one another (*). It’s crystal-clear from the very first meeting that Richard and Kahlan are bound to become (star-crossed) lovers with the nearly-insta-love dripping from the pages. That’s perhaps one of the things I don’t really dig about this series, the romance part is overly cheesy. I’m more a fan of the action-packed lightning-throwing spellcasting plotlines. One in particular here is the Denna-story. The first time I read it, it was gut-wrenching, heart-clenching and whatnot. It still gives me shivers, but the BDSM-aspect of it is less disturbing now, compared to when I was 15 (**). Other scenes - one in particular near the ending stands out - are still as disturbing... Yes, the faint of heart should consider themselves warned. I wish I was at the time. All that stuff aside, Wizard’s First Rule offers a well-constructed story that knows how to captivate its audience and delivers a well-rounded not too cliffhangery ending.

The main detractor of the plot is, alas, the main character. Perhaps not as much in this book, but there are little hints of Richard’s annoying personality that glimmer through. I don’t know what it is, but he just rubs me the wrong way for some reason . Since it was the fifth time reading it, my perceptions of the Richard-to-be clouded my vision a little bit, but still, he was pretty self-righteous and sometimes a downright ass (***). I like Kahlan a whole lot more, even though she can get lost in her self-pity at times and her infatuation for Richard is cheesy. On the other hand, she is quite powerful and knows how to handle things on her own. Kahlan aside, I do think that this is a series that really benefits from the side characters and their interactions with the main cast. Not so much in this book – even though Denna is a little star – with the exception of Zedd, but later on in the series they are the ones to keep you entertained while are star-crossed lovers are apart for the umpteenth time. The bad guys are of the kind you can't but hate. Darken Rahl is just such a sick, twisted and evil human being that it creeps me out. The things he does the way he does is just disgusting. At times, his evilish ways were on the border of 'believable' in a way that he was almost too evil to be. I think Shota does a better job as an antagonist, for she's abiguously good/bad.
Credit where credit’s due, though. I have to give it to Terry Goodkind for creating a fascinating world filled with magic and little – or less little – creatures. The description is thorough to say the least, but it’s never long-winded and dragging (****). When it comes to the writing, Wizard’s First Rule is one of the best of the series, hands down. Fluent, action packed, well-balanced and captivating. As it should be.

You know when a book is good, when it doesn’t lose it’s polish upon reading it a second, third of even fifth time. Wizard’s First Rule is a novel that comes with a lot of nostalgia for me, so I am, for one, really happy that this is a tremendously good book that just stays good. Even though it’s falling apart from reading it a little too often.
 
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* While there is some anxiety – for she is his guide in a foreign country and all – do treasure this unique moment of separation without the, at times insufferable, accompanying angst.
** No scars for life though, rest assured.
*** Also, he should stop cutting his arm with his own sword, for it is (a) not arousing/impressive/alpha-malish in the least and (b) it’s going to get infected at some point sure. Also, I bet Kahlan doesn’t like all that scar tissue building up. His big arms sure ain't all muscle!
**** Perhaps with the exception of Kahlan's hair. Yes, Richard, I get it. It's, like, suuuperlong and beautiful and you never ever want to see it cut. I got that the first time you mentioned it, let alone the twentieth - which was only two chapters further. #ExaggeratingButYouGetMyPoint.