tony

tony

In my own words, from elsewhere, I am "Slightly geeky, overly cynical and delusional about my own self importance." You can find me here on my blog or here on Twitter

Aug 222014
 

The Dragon Reborn: Book 3 of the Wheel of Time: 3/12 The Rambling Introduction

So I picked up and finished The Dragon Reborn in one rainy Sunday.   With a week of work ahead, it’s unlikely that book four will see the same progress (and it’s over 390,000 words, longer than any of the previous three books by some margin).  However, book three was definitely easier going than the second book, with much less loin girding required to get through it.  Whether this is because I got a full clean run rather than having to read in fits and starts I’m not sure, but anytime I have to gird my loin a little less is a good time for me.

The Review

The deep irony of Jordan’s third book in the Wheel of Time series, The Dragon Reborn, is that the Dragon hardly takes part. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is somewhat amusing. Essentially, early on, Rand decides or is pushed towards a goal, a place he has to go to, and the thing the Prophecy says he should do there. To achieve it, after a little bit of preamble with the whole gang, he sets out alone. And other than literally, one or two half chapters, that’s all we see of him until right at the end.

The original book cover basically gives away the ending of the book, in case you’re wondering.

The rest of the story then, is filled with the adventures of Mat, Perrin, Moiraine, Lan, Loial, Egwene, Nynaeve, Min, Elayne and The Bad Guys.

The Dragon Reborn is the shortest of the first three books, but still rolls in at a meaty 250 thousand words. That time is spent covering the separate journeys of three groups, Moiraine, Lan, Perrin and Loial; Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne; and Mat. Sometimes their paths cross, or they travel together, but they spend large periods of the book separate from each other.

The relationship between Lan, Moiraine and Perrin is interesting, and Perrin grows significantly in the Dragon Reborn, discovering more details of his ‘condition’ and some of the dangers it brings. However, close behind in terms of development are Mat and the girls. If Jordan had all this planned out from the start, then my hat off to him, but if not, it does feel like he suddenly realised Mat needed ‘something else to do’, and some quirk, to hang it together and he gets it in spades in this book. From a virtual back seat passenger (always ill) in the first two books, he develops into a significant player in this one.

The majority of the book really focusses on The White Tower and the continuing education (planned or otherwise) of Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve, and their adventures drive most of the story even if it isn’t obvious what’s going on initially. There is intrigue and danger throughout The White Tower and the girls struggle to stay above it.

We get a few new characters thrown in, and some old characters take form properly, and all the time we are driving towards the first big proof of the prophecy.

There are some less exciting moments, and the continual ‘all women think men are stupid and need women to pull them out of trouble and all men think all women need saving and protecting from the world’ thread is bared more than ever and it grates. Sometimes the major players seem to act out of character, and not just because of events forcing them, but because Jordan needs them to; they act dumb when they should be clever. However, as before, those things can be overlooked when the story is gripping, and The Dragon Reborn is mostly just that.

The story is like 20 rivers, all running down from the mountains towards one city, one event, one moment, and it brings together characters, races and creatures from all over the land in that one moment. Like the books before, Jordan spends a long, long time writing the set-up, and then the conclusion is over in less than a chapter. But that chapter packs a punch. The Dragon Reborn feels like the most scripted, and carefully planned of the three books at the start of the series, and shows Jordan’s skill in bringing together many threads at once.

The Retrospective

I try and avoid actual plot spoilers in this section, but I do reveal some of my frustrations with the overall series to date, so you may want to read carefully if you’ve never read the books.

I had completely forgotten how little of Rand there is in book three.  It was a real surprise to me that we’d only seen him a few times by the time we reach the end.  In my mind, I had a memory of him going increasingly crazy – but I guess that must be one of the later books.

On top of that, during the read, I kept remembering things that are yet to happen, and then wondering if they happened in this book or not, which did lead to a little bit of confusion (wait, that can’t happen until the other thing happens, but that hasn’t happened yet, so when does the first thing really happen).  I tried to squash those feelings, because they were getting in the way of enjoying the book, but it’s always going to be an issue with such a complex story over so many books, read so long ago.

However.

There’s a lot in The Dragon Reborn that I look forward to, and a lot that comes after it as well.  These may be more spoilerish than previous retrospectives, so be warned.

I love the Aiel, I love the mythology and their delivery.  So I enjoy anything that has them, and they start creeping into the story here.  Their arrival really cheered me up.  I also enjoy the truth we’ve had hinted at, that the Forsaken are loose and it is they, and not directly The Dark One who Rand et. al. have been battling.  It’s a great reveal, and it adds depth to the story.  Now we know what we’re up against, and the strong hints that the bad guys aren’t all pulling in the same direction counter-balances the truth we’ve known all along, that the good guys certainly aren’t doing that either (for a myriad reasons).

In fact, it’s ever more clear that there’s not much in the way of black and white going on here.

I love Rand and Moiraine developing their powers, Moiraine starting to show signs of being increasingly bad-ass, and Rand showing us (confusingly) how powerful he can be.  He hints at some of my favourite things later in the books where lots of the characters learn new and powerful things to do with the One Power.  No more lighting candles, we get a whole slew of powerful skills.  So the little hint of Rand picking them up is excellent.  Jordan does show his handle a little early here, with the apparently simple defeat of two Forsaken, but there’s a twist in that tail later.

The Dragon Reborn plants its feet firmly and gives Jordan a really solid footing to move on from in the next few books, growing Rand and everyone else in power while increasing the complexity of the threat three-fold.  So that memory of what is to come definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the book.  So it’s definitely a two-sided coin.  I know what’s coming so it enhances my enjoyment, but some stuff I can’t remember leading to confusion.  Overall, the stuff I do remember coming wins out in the end.

The irritation is still there, my memory of it matching the reality.  Too many repeat phrases (okay, we get it, Nynaeve tugs her braid when she’s angry, but once or twice is example enough), too many over-stated themes (yes, all women think men are fools and all men think women are over-bearing bullies who need to be saved), and too many out-of-character dumb moments.  But the story, pacing and reveals in the Dragon Reborn get you past them, still.

The Dragon Reborn was as good as I remember, but not always for the reasons I remembered.  Bring on book four.

The Angry Spoilers

There are spoilers here, for the book and possibly for the series.  Stop reading if, somehow, you’ve never read these books before.

Seriously, spoilers.

Was Jordan an idiot?  Was he a genius?  Was he living in a world where men and women have broken relationships and no shared understanding, no ability to realise their own commonality?  Or, was he just trying to write a world in which that was true?  Intentionally, or accidentally?  Is it a real theme, is the world broken not because of the physical breaking, but because of the sin of the male channelers, their pride, and their subsequent madness?  Is that in some way an allegory for the idea of ‘original sin’, some attempt to redress that balance?  To show men what a dumb idea original sin is?  Or does it just feel like a theme, because it’s some weirdness stuck in Jordan’s head and authors ‘write what they know’?

I still don’t know yet, and it’s irritating me.

I like to try and give him the benefit of the doubt, that the behaviour the two genders have for each other is a metaphor for the broader conflict, a mirror of the male and female channelling breakdown.  That the Age of Legends, when men and women channelled together was better not because of the channelling, but because men and women liked each other, respected each other, enough to work together towards the same goal with open hearts.  Instead of deceit, subterfuge, bullying and contempt?

Is the misogyny and misandry intentional, part of the story, part of the whole point, or is it casual, just something Jordan included, or worse perhaps, unthinking, a revelation about Jordan’s psyche?

Check the ‘net, there’s plenty of discussion about it.  Right – moving on.

There’s the usual collection of Jordanisms.  It could be a drinking game (I bet if I searched the ‘net now, I’d find someone had already created it).  Braid pulling = angry.  Rand / Mat / Perrin all think the others know how to handle girls while they can’t.  Girls mooning over good looking men.  Men mooning over good looking women.  Women who are ‘handsome’ rather than ‘beautiful’.  Men falling into three camps, so boring as to not warrant a description, ugly due to some facial injury or beautiful and being mooned over.

We don’t learn a massive amount of new stuff in this book, unless I’m missing something.  We have some things confirmed, we meet another couple of monsters, and we have some stuff clarified, but not a huge deal is new.  We learn more about the cultures, about the prophecy, but nothing substantial about the One Power, or the world.  Jordan has pretty much introduced everything we need to know by this point – and from here on in, it’s how those things are applied, how the world is explained that becomes his focus.

What really happens in book 3?  Rand confirms what we all knew, takes Callendor, and the gang get back together.  Egwene leans how to move around in the world of dreams.  That’s pretty much it basically.

So it’s slowing down, I hope book 4 doesn’t piss me off so much I give up (and then book 5, and then book 6, and then book 7 ……)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (3)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Aug 162014
 

The Great Hunt: Book 2 of the Wheel of Time: 2/12 The Rambling Introduction

Despite some crazy long days (and nights) working, I did manage to pick up book two of The Wheel of Time and give it a good read.  Managed only about 1/4 of it during the week, but made a big dent on Thursday night, and then pretty much finished it Friday and into Saturday.  I still have an appetite to read them all – we’ll see how strong that is after the expected food poisoning around book 7 – and I’ll keep reviewing them.

The Review

Book two of The Wheel of Time picks up literally where book one left off. We are with Rand and the others in Fal Dara, near the Borderlands after the battle at the end of The Eye of the World. From here, things progress at a reasonable clip, and Jordanisms aside, are pretty interesting and engaging until about a third of the way into the story. Then however, it becomes hard going.

I found it hard because the characters are inevitably split up, which happened in book one as well, but it’s not handled as smoothly in the early parts of The Great Hunt. In The Eye of the World there was always an obvious goal for the whole group – get to Tar Vallon. It drove all their decisions (right up until it changes, for reasons I’ll leave to those who’ve not read the first one). In The Great Hunt though, the reasons are less well defined in some ways. Or they are well defined, but less interesting, I’m not entirely sure which. Despite the obvious risks that Jordan introduces if the goals aren’t achieved, it’s just not quite enough to flow properly.

Along with that, a new character is added, and her presence irritates me because I never like significant personalised deception as a plot device. That’s odd I admit, but I just never enjoy it. I don’t mind the deception of politics or war, and non-personalised deception, but when I know there’s some deception going on, and can see a character being fooled by it, I struggle.

However, once beyond the middle of the book, the plot tightens up again, the pace improves and it’s a much more enjoyable rush to the finish than it feels like it might be in the middle.

There are some moving moments in the book, and some really touching scenes as well. If you like honour and justice there’s plenty of that to go around too. We follow all the characters from the first book, we learn more about them, and most of them grow, we meet a few more legends, and for the first time (I think) we get point-of-view pieces for Moiraine.

Also, Verin makes an appearance, and I love her.

The book features my favourite scene so far, out of both the first and second books, where Lan takes Rand under his wing and teaches him a little Borderlands pomp and ceremony to bolster him against the Aes Sedai.

Of all the major characters that transfer from book one, Egwene and Nynaeve make the most progress in terms of character development, they also suffer more than the other characters (along with a friend or two that started as possibly minor characters in book one). Rand, Mat and Perrin do make some progress, but it’s more subtle overall. Moiraine and Lan even show a little bit of development here as well, which is good considering how static they are during the first book. The end though, as so often in Jordan’s novels drives all of the characters forward in a big leap, and changes them for ever.

The Great Hunt isn’t quite as polished as The Eye of the World, and the annoying habits that Jordan brings get in the way more than they did in the first one, but it’s still worth a read, it’s still entertaining, and it’s still unique.

The Retrospective

I try and avoid actual plot spoilers in this section, but I do reveal some of my frustrations with the overall series to date, so you may want to read carefully if you’ve never read the books.

I don’t remember anywhere near as much of this book as I did the first one.  I remembered most of the basics, how it started and roughly how it ended, but the detail eluded me until I was in it, which was a surprise.  In some ways it was good, I saw a lot more than I did the first few times I read it, and in other ways it was frustrating because I knew something was going to happen, but couldn’t remember when.

I’ve already alluded to the most frustrating bit for me plot-wise in the review section, which is basically the introduction of Selene.  Because I know who she is and how that plays out, I found it harder to cope with than normal.  Also, I sometimes think that Jordan assumed his readers were as stupid as his characters.  If you have to make it that obvious that someone is lying or behaving oddly, but not let your characters notice it, then you need to think about it and give your readers more respect.

So overall, not as memorable as the first one, and I think it suffers from ‘middle of a trilogy’ syndrome.

The Angry Spoilers

There are spoilers here, for the book and possibly for the series.  Stop reading if, somehow, you’ve never read these books before.

Seriously, spoilers.

Jordan allows his main flaw (in my view) to really show through during parts of The Great Hunt.  At times, his characters behave as though they have no common sense or are plain stupid.  However, we know that’s not true.  We know his characters can be clever, and intelligent and observant, so when they step out of character and act dumb for plot reasons, it’s really quite infuriating.

I’ll give you a specific example.  In book one, we witness the descent of Mat into madness thanks to carrying the dagger.  Egwene and Rand, among others, see this and know it to be true.  Egwene isn’t stupid.  Yet Egwene upon visiting Fain regularly, a man she knows to be a darkfriend and who Morgaine has described as dangerous, comments on but otherwise ignores the fact that the guards around Fain are becoming more surly, more rude every day.

At no point does she connect to the two things together.  At no point does Rand make the connection when it’s described to him.  Yeh yeh, I get it, they were both under stress, but it’s out of character to not even question it (unless there’s some great mystery yet to be revealed to me).

Equally, Ingtar’s behaviour descends towards the same kind of crazed intensity in the search for the Horn, and yet Rand pays it no attention.  Rand, a man who knows he’s going to go crazy, who has watched Mat do it basically twice, ignores Ingtar’s increasing switch from ‘we will find the horn’ to ‘I MUST HAVE THE HORN FOR MYSELF’.

It grates on me.

Moving on.

The second book once again reveals a bunch of stuff, the plot moves forward a great deal (eventually).  We learn about ter’angreal, we learn about a bunch more cities, the Seanchan, loads of channellers every-fucking where, the Aiel make a show, other worlds, other possibilities, portal stones, and a whole bunch of other things.  Not as much as book one though, never as much as book one.  The flood of stuff has slowed ever so slightly to only a strong torrent.  As the books progress it will eventually turn into a wasteland of nothing new happening (in my memory).

One final thing, and I’ll expand on this in the book 3 rant.  If you search the web for ‘Wheel of Time Feminism’ or ‘Wheel of Time misogyny’, you’ll get a million hits.  There’s a theme here, with Jordan, of men and women failing to work together.  It sneaks everywhere in his writing, and he’s either trying to introduce themes and concepts and make us think, or he’s got the oddest world view ever about how men and women operate.  We’ll keep an eye on how that progresses.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (2)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Aug 072014
 

The Eye Of The World: Book 1 of the Wheel of Time: 1/12 The Rambling Introduction

Is there any value in reviewing books that have been out for a long, long time?  I don’t know.  There are probably several hundred thousand reviews on the web for The Eye of the World (Book 1 in the Wheel of Time series).  This is true for many old books, but given the history of The Wheel of Time, it’s even more likely to be true.

The Wheel of Time is a series of books that grew up with the Internet.  It was really the first time I’d seen a community (rec.arts.written.sf.robert-jordan, or rawsfrj) form around a set of books, grow, flourish, expand and then collapse again.  The politics, emotion and inquisitiveness of that community is forever tied to my experience of reading the books themselves.  The community was almost bigger than the books.  That community was all over the Internet, web pages, ftp sites, usenet, irc, and so the web is littered with reviews, polemics, papers and discussions of the series ad infinitum.

So, is there any point?  No, probably not.  But it’s not going to stop me.

You didn’t think it would, did you?

Of course, that doesn’t make reviewing it easy.  I’ve read the book at least twice, maybe three times before my current re-read (which at the point of starting this review, I haven’t quite finished).  I know what’s coming up, both in terms of the story and in terms of the quality.  The Wheel of Time is famous for many things, but not least among them is the debate about the quality of the books in the middle of this long, long series.  Greatest among them of course, is the untimely and tragic death of Robert Jordan himself, and then eventual completion of the series by Brandon Sanderson.  So while I have not yet read all the books in the series (and starting with book 1 is my attempt to fix that), I have read many of them.

Reviewing a book you’ve already read is hard enough, reviewing it objectively when you know how later books turn out is problematic, and this is further coloured by the question of who cares now anyway, and why am I reviewing a book that’s so old?

Is this a review then, or a retrospective?  It’s both! I promise, and I’ll try and be at least a little bit entertaining.

The Review

The Eye of the World will feel familiar to anyone with a love of epic high fantasy.  Queens, wizards, farm boys with prophecy in their veins, Kings, ancient evils and quests abound from start to finish.  The world is rich, filled out, complex, political and deadly.  The story is engaging, interesting, and feels as though it’s grounded in a solid mythology that can only bode well for the following books.

The Eye of the World tells the story of a small band of would-be not-quite heroes from a small village, guided in their journey by a powerful magic wielding woman and her powerful warder companion.  The pace is pretty solid, despite the size of the novel, and the adventures take the characters through many places and cultures, before culminating in what all good epic high fantasy books culminate in, a fight, and a cliff hanger.

It’s not all roses.  Jordan has a tendency to use the same phrases over and over again, and you will constantly hear about how two of three of the boys in the group are much better at talking to girls than the others, and the girls will constantly rail about how the boys are wool headed.  There will be braid pulling, and there will be repetition.  If you can deal with that, then there’s a lot to be found in the book.

If you get into it, and start feeling like it’s familiar, you’ll be forgiven if you’ve ever read Lord of the Rings.  A quest, an evil artifact, a powerful wizard guide, a stern taciturn warrior of noble heritage, and a collection of young farmhands, at least one of which likes to get into mischief will set off alarm bells.  Jordan himself said he ‘styled the first 100 pages on Tolkien to give people something familiar to get into the story’.  I suspect he actually styled the entire first book on Tolkien, but have no fear, it’s a homage not a rip-off, and he wouldn’t be the first, or the last (The Sword of Shannara <cough>).

If you like epic fantasy, if you like prophecy riddled rich worlds, then read The Eye of the World,  you’ll enjoy it.

The Retrospective

I try and avoid actual plot spoilers in this section, but I do reveal some of my frustrations with the overall series to date, so you may want to read carefully if you’ve never read the books.

The Eye of the World is a bitter-sweet experience for me.  It’s really quite good, as far as epic fantasy goes.  It has some lovely mythology, some careful and clever connections, and the characters, magic and places are engaging.  It clips along at a fast enough pace, and loads of stuff happens (seriously, loads).

But in that regard, it’s like watching the first Police Academy movie, knowing the steaming pile of shit they turn into.  Are the later books steaming piles of shit?  Probably not quite that bad (read later reviews to find out) but certainly I know in my heart (from memory, I may change my mind) that Jordan loses his way.  His tight story becomes flabby, his characters become caricatures, and the world gets too complex for its own good.

So reading it, I found myself longing for 10 more books like it, knowing it’s not to be.  But I was also surprised at just how good it was, and just how much happens.  The later books had skewed my memory and left me feeling sad about The Eye of the World, when it fact, it’s a very good read indeed.

The Angry Spoilers

There are spoilers here, for the book and possibly for the series.  Stop reading if, somehow, you’ve never read these books before.

Seriously, spoilers.

Argh! Jordan!  Why?  So so much happens in the first book.  I had forgotten how much of the world is revealed to us.  We learn more in the first half of the first book, than in all of books 4 to 8 (as far as I can remember).  In book one we have, in no order (excuse my spelling, I’m writing these through the red haze of anger in my eyes),

steddings, ogier, saidin and saidar, the taint, the ways, warders, aes sedai, fades, trollocs, draghkar, Aiel, travellers, the ages, forsaken, dream walking, darkfriends, red ajah, blue ajah, black ajah, the heroes of the horn, the horn, machin shin, shadar logoth, mashadar, loads of ancient place names, loads of history, plenty of prophecy, false dragons, wolf brothers, old skills, angreal, gentling, whitecloaks and so much more.

There is so much promise in the first book, so much content, so much to interest you, and yet within 4 or 5 novels Jordan will have utterly lost his way and the story will become flabby.  New characters turning up well past the point where we need to start resolving threads.  I know it’s coming.  It’s hard to read the book knowing that is around the corner.

Why Jordan!? Wwhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

But seriously, read book one, it’s good.

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (1)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Dec 172013
 

Hi Readers & Book Fans.

As we approach the end of 2013, I just wanted to write a short post to let you know how things are going, both with the site and in life.

In life, things have been up and down for Greté recently in terms of her health.  She suffers from long term depression (dysthymia specifically) and despite the support and medication there are days, and sometimes weeks, where she is just not able to deal with reading, or writing reviews.  At times, reviews from other folk who contribute will pile up in the background on the site, and Greté’s illness will just prevent her from reading them, approving them and publishing them.

Greté is very much dedicated to the site, and is very much dedicated to getting back and posting some more content.

The website has been Greté’s hobby for a few years, and she is proud of what she has built, and grateful for your readership, support and comments.  As soon as she’s feeling well enough, she’ll be writing reviews and posting them again.  Thanks again for your support and understanding, and here’s to a better 2014.

In closing, here’s hoping you have a very Merry Christmas, and an awesome New Year.

Apr 292013
 

The City The City is a fantasy tale of intrigue, deceit, hate and revenge, and yet it cloaks all of that beneath a layer of honour, loyalty and love.  The eponymous City is a vast and ancient state.  More than merely a single construct it covers many leagues, and it is at war.  Beneath the City, where the story starts, live the Dwellers, people who make what life they can living in the sewers, and it is here we meet the first characters in the story that is about to unfold.

I am challenged by stories which have many characters, especially when the story is then spread across them.  I prefer a small number of characters on which I can focus and understand in detail.  The City has a dozen or so characters of importance, and early on I struggled with my usual challenge, knowing who to like, who to root for, and who to hate.  Not because it isn’t always obvious what’s going on, but because the story has eight or nine people who could be considered the main protagonists.  The actual tale however is compelling, and that helped me work through my issue and I’m glad I did.  The story moves from character to character, or group to group, each progressing the narrative and revealing a little bit more of the history of The City, or the underlying war and rebellion in which everyone appears to be embroiled.  There are some leaps where things I felt were important happened ‘off page’, and I was sad for that, because Stella’s words are so graceful that I would have preferred to read them first hand, rather than hear them second hand through another character.

Stella’s prose is fluid, interesting and engaging.  Her touch is delicate, and her descriptions are vivid and long lasting.  I am left with a strong visual image of The City in my mind; it’s sprawling landscape and sewer system as much a character in the story as any of the people.  The pace throughout the whole story is even and measured, with only a gentle increase towards the end.  In some ways, I struggled with that, always expecting the story to explode and be driven forward at pace, and always being pulled back.  On reflection, I think it’s intentional, playing back the behaviour of some of the characters, and in particular a game in the story referred to as urquat in which great patience is required.

The City is not a riotous novel of warfare and combat.  There are certainly moments of action, vividly described, but the story is more subtle than that, a deeper reflection of the motivations of the characters, and a slow reveal of the people who inhabit The City and those who wish them toppled.  The characters throughout the story are well rounded, real and solid.  There are touching moments between two specific characters that brought tears to my eyes every time.

Although this is a fantasy novel, there is little magic, and the small amount is revealed slowly over time.  The magic is sinister, and woven in carefully to make sure we know it is powerful, closely guarded and mostly reviled.

Stella’s first solo novel is intelligent, compelling fantasy fiction, with enjoyable characters, and moments of true emotion.  If I could have one thing it would be to have spent longer with some of the characters, to have enjoyed more of the emotional moments with them.  But it is a small desire amongst an otherwise entertaining and enjoyable read.

I find myself left wanting to know more about world, the people, the magic and the Serafim.  The City is like a dance viewed from the outside, where many dancers move in beautiful and unexpected patterns, eventually settling into a final position that is both satisfying and mysterious at the same time.

Caveat emptor: I personally know Stella Gemmell.  My copy of The City was purchased from Amazon.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Stella Gemmell
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Feb 132013
 

It’s that time of year again, when Hollywood celebrates it’s own achievements.  Yes, it’s The Oscars (or the 85th Academy Awards).  As usual, many of the films up for awards are book adaptations, so I thought it would be worth having a look at some of them.

Life of Pi Life of Pi (by Yann Martel) is variously described as indescribable, and unclassifiable.  It has also been described as un-filmable, but I think many screenwriters these days simply take that as a challenge.  The book was rejected many times before finally being published, but the movie has drawn instant acclaim and already won a slew of awards.  Many of those awards are technical in nature, because the film looks incredible, with sublime special effects.  At the Oscars, the movie is again up for several technical awards, as well as Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as giving Ang Lee a shot at Best Director.

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History I’m a little confused about Argo, it’s either based on The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA by Antonio J. Mendez and Malcolm McConnell, or it could be based on Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio, or maybe it’s a mix of both.  I’m not sure if the latter book was actually written alongside the screenplay or not.  Anyway, the film (directed and starring Ben Affleck) is up for or helping to provide a good number of awards this year, including Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Editing, Music, and Adapted Screenplay.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Despite my initial expectation that Lincoln was just based on history, it turns out to be based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln written by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Again, up in multiple categories including Best Picture, I suspect this will be the vehicle for an Oscar win, in Actor in a Leading Role, for Daniel Day-Lewis.  You read it here first folks.

The Silver Linings Playbook The Silver Linings Playbook is adapted from the debut novel (of the same name) written by Matthew Quick.  In loose terms, it’s a romantic comedy, but is also realistic look at the challenges thrown up mental health, both for sufferers and those around them.  This film is up in Best Picture, but also gives many of the cast a chance at acting honours in all four of the categories (supporting and leading actor and actress).

Les Miserables (Classics) Technically, Les Misérables is based on the musical.  But since the musical is based on the book, it’s in the list!  Also up in the Best Picture category, it will be a miracle if it wins.  There have been 9 or 10 musical winners of Best Picture, the last being Chicago in 2002, and the one before that was Oliver! in 1968 – as you can see, it’s going to be a challenge.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (or Pirates! Band of Misfits! in America), is loosely based on the book of the same (UK) name by Gideon Defoe.  In line for Best Animated Feature Film, it’s actually pretty good.  I recommend the film, but I’ve never read the book!

There may be other films in the various categories adapted from books (Beasts of the Southern Wild is adapted from a play, so I didn’t include it, likewise The Sessions is adapted from an essay), but those are the ones that jump out at me most.  Enjoy!

Jul 172012
 

Something weird is going on, and I can’t decide if it’s a scam or if people are being given bad advice, or a single agent is behaving oddly.  BookThing has received four review requests in the last few weeks, all in July, and all with exactly the same boilerplate format.  In each of them, the author name, book name, and a few of the words are different, but the overall message is virtually identical.  Each request offers to send out a review copy (in PDF) of the short story (around 8000 words).  Each also includes a link to Image Shack which hosts a picture of the book cover.

Here are three of the e-mails, I’ve taken out the author name, and the book title, but left everything else intact.

Example 1
Hey,

I am [author name removed] and I write Vampire Romance Thrillers
and was wondering if you might be interested to receive a Review
Copy of my new book.

The title is "[title removed]", [series removed] series.

This is a short story of over 8000 words for easy reading.

Even though it's short, I am confident that you will love the 
plot and characters!

Several reviewers have given me rather positive and encouraging 
feedback and I hope you will enjoy it as much as my other 
reviewers!

Here's the awesome book cover:

[url removed]

Thanks for your time.

I would be grateful if you could review my book and post it 
on your blog.

[author name removed]
Example 2
Hey,

This is [author name removed]. I write Fantasy short stories 
and novels and was wondering if you might be interested to 
receive a Review Copy of my new book.

The title is "[title removed]", [series removed] series.

This is a short story of over 8000 words for easy reading 
and won't take much of your time.

Nonetheless, I am confident that you will find the plot and 
characters intriguing!

Some readers have given me encouraging feedback after 
reviewing the book and I hope you will enjoy it as well!

Here's the book cover that I commissioned an artist to design:

[url removed]

Thanks for the time.

I would be truly grateful if you could review my book and post 
it on your blog.

Awaiting your reply!

[author named removed]
Example 3
Hey,

I am [author name removed], a horror thriller writer and was 
wondering if you might be interested to receive a Review Copy 
of my new book.

The title is "[title removed]", [series removed].

This is a story of over 8000 words for easy reading. 
Nonetheless, you will find the plot intriguing and I know you 
will love it!

Here's the book cover:

[url removed]

Thanks for taking time to read this email.

I would be truly grateful if you could review my book 
and post it on your blog.

Hear from you soon!

[author name removed]

As you can see, despite them being subtly different, they’re all the same message, delivered in the same format.  Are other book review blogs getting these?  Other review sites for things other than books getting similar stuff?  I can’t decide if it’s some weird scam, or just some misguided or badly advised authors using a completely generic boilerplate e-mail from some common source.

In any case, it doesn’t increase their chances of having their stuff read, because I trust the PDF’s about as much as I trust a Bond villain.

Lastly, why the magic 8000 words?

May 272012
 

Sorry the post is a little bit late, but we’ve consulted with Fizz the Book Guardian who has pulled the following two names out of her little cat-hat, in the Larissa Ione give away.

Sam – wins the first prize pack (all 5 books in the Demonica series)

Amanda J – wins the second prize pack (all 3 of the Lords of Deliverance series)

Grete will be in touch via e-mail soon to get your mailing addresses.  Sorry for those who didn’t win anything this time.  Congratulations to those lucky enough to be chosen at random!

Apr 122012
 

I was going to write a long article with deep research, insightful commentary and earth shattering conclusions, about whether book covers actually matter.  However, that sounded like a lot of bloody hard work, so instead I read a bunch of other people’s posts, articles and blogs on the issue.

This comment from A Capital Wasteland, sort of sums up my the starting position on the whole cover issue.

The first thing I heard about Lilith’s Brood was a disclaimer: don’t judge this book by its crappy romance novel cover. A naked woman covering her breasts with her hands, under white sheets.

But this is a classic science-fiction trilogy, I thought to myself. I must persevere!

Surely we shouldn’t have to persevere, a book cover should entice us, welcome us in, demand our attention, not put us off or mislead us.

Doug Geivett presents a view I’d not really thought about much, about enjoying book covers for their own sake, as art.  Clearly that’s not all he has to say,

When I say I’m pleased by the cover art of a book, I mean that it gives me pleasure. This is more difficult to explain. And the pleasure induced by a particular cover may be diminished or it may be intensified by the effort to explain its special appeal.

Sadly, Cover Matters doesn’t appear to have posted much content after a flurry of posts in 2010, but the small number of posts do cover a comparison between UK and US covers, which I find fascinating.  One specific comment captures the essence of a cover for me,

I find the cover fascinating, mostly because it sends a vibe of 19th century England that I am quite curious to explore.

Covers should drive curiosity, they should invite and entice!

The Book Smugglers have a really interesting (and somewhat depressing) article on covers with regard to Whitewashing, which you should check out.  The site also has a whole series of article relating to book covers, which you can see here.

I found this post over at Type M for Murder interesting, giving us the view of an author published by quite a well known publisher.

I know it’s wrong of me to say this … but when I first got a peep at my book cover for A VICKY HILL EXCLUSIVE! I cried.

It just wasn’t how I had imagined it to be at all. Even worse, I had no clout because it was my first book and as a lowly debut author …

There’s an increasing amount of conversation about book covers now that the number of self published books (both print and ebooks) is on a massive rise.  Authors who self publish often won’t have the funds to commission a good cover or the skills to create their own.  Writers don’t necessarily make artists and designers.  I have no doubt we’ll see a continued rise in the abstract cover, which hides an awful lot of sins but might not entice a lot of readers.  I have no doubt we’ll also see an astronomical rise in the number of ‘how to create a good book cover’ books and websites (not all of them designed with the author’s benefit in mind).

One thing that should be obvious with covers, is that you’re never going to put off an existing fan with a bad cover.  Once I’d read a few David Gemmell books they could have sold them with pictures of dog shit as the only cover element, and I would have still bought them, and still loved them.  Much like using pictures of diseased lungs on cigarette packets won’t stop smokers from buying them (the hope is they’ll put off new smokers), the aim of a book cover should be to grab new readers, or at least, new buyers.

My personal main beef with book covers, are those which make the books specifically look like cheesy TV series which I have no interest in.  This (currently) appears to apply to 90% of the paranormal romance and too much of the urban fantasy genre.  I’ll be honest, it also appears to apply more commonly to US covers than UK covers.  Maybe I’m not the target audience anyway, but in many cases I’m sure a good read is hiding behind a book cover I just can’t get past.

For example,

Unshapely Things by Mark del Franco.  This might be one of the best urban fantasy novels out there, but the cover screams ‘cheap cable TV series’.  I picked this up a couple of weeks ago when looking for something to read, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t even get past the cover to read the blurb on the back.

How about this,

It just makes me think of a cheap, late night cop drama that I’m never going to want to read.  I don’t want to detract from the book or the artist who did the covers, this isn’t a complaint about those, it’s just that the picture doesn’t call out to me and tell me anything I like about the potential read.  Of course, I have other issues with some book covers, but I’ll maybe save those for another post.

Can we conclude anything?  Well I’m cheating because I knew before I started this article how I would finish it.  For me, book covers do matter.  They matter because of the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.  The cover of a book says, here I am, read me and this is what you will experience within my pages.  I am a book of mystery and intrigue, or a tale of sexual delight, or a story of war and heroism.  We use the cover as shorthand, so we know what kind of world we are about to inhabit, what kind of emotions we hope to feel.  Book covers do not just appeal to our eyes, they must appeal to our soul.

Apr 112012
 

I really enjoyed Rivers of London, the first book in this series, and I had pretty high hopes for Moon over Soho, the second outing of DC Grant.  DC Peter Grant does for London Coppers what Dresden did for Chicago Private Investigators.  In Rivers of London Grant discovers that he’s got hidden talents of the magical variety, luckily for him, there’s a special division of the London Metropolitan Police that covers that kind of thing.  However, it turns out it’s a one man band, so when DC Peter Grant joins he doubles the size of the entire department.

Moon over Soho picks up a short while after the first book and deals with the repercussions of the case DC Grant solved.  However, our protagonist doesn’t have to wait long before he’s involved in a new investigation, and the continued development of a case that started in the previous book.  I do like the way Ben Aaronovitch ties the books together, these are clearly part of a broader story.  However, despite that, and despite the case being quite interesting – I really struggled through the first two thirds of Moon over Soho (well, perhaps 3/5ths).

The case revolves around mysteriously dying Jazz musicians, and as well as having quite a sluggish pace, DC Grant fails early on to spot the massive white elephant in the room.  It’s sometimes okay for authors to pretend their protagonists are dumb, and sometimes it’s enjoyable for readers to shout ‘he’s behind you’, but DC Grant isn’t stupid.  It felt entirely out of character that he didn’t spot the critically important elements in the investigation, where-as the writing made it entirely obvious to the reader.  I’m skirting the subject, because I don’t want to spoil the book too much if you do read it, but essentially within a few moments of meeting a key witness in the case, it was obvious to me what was going on.

Not the fine detail, that gets worked out at the end (more on that in a bit), but certainly the broad brush-strokes of what was happening.  I took no pleasure in finding out I was right, and I didn’t enjoy watching Peter stumble around building up a picture of something that should have been crying out at him very early on.  Either Ben didn’t realise readers would pick up on it so easily, or he had hoped to introduce some element of feeling worried for Peter.  Sadly, I just spent most of the first part of the book being angry.  It felt like Aaronovitch was using Peter’s stupidity or blindness as a plot device.

However, I stuck with it, the rest of the case is still engaging, the dialogue and writing is still witty, and in general, there was enough to keep me interested and carry me through to the final third of the book.  Which is a pretty good thing, because that’s where Ben hit his stride and the story really gets going.  As with the first book there are really 2 or 3 cases going on here at once, and Peter slides between them as required.  When the pace begins to accelerate in the later section, we see some characters in a new light, get to experience some truly powerful magical demonstrations and watch DC Grant cause untold mayhem (again).

I like the introduction of real Police behaviour in this book (and the last), and it’s good to see that being blended with the magic, rather than just ignored because it’s inconvenient.  Overall Moon over Soho was worth the effort, there’s some character progression, further twists to the overall story arc, and enough laughs, smiles and chuckles to get through the pain.

The book ends as it starts, with Lesley, and a startling revelation.  Hopefully the third book will be more consistent, and show more respect for the ability of the main character.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (2)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)