Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson - REVIEW

If you plan to read this book and know nothing about the story, skip the synopsis, skip the review, and just read the book.  The opening pages are much better if you don't know what the synopsis tells you.  

NOTE:  Comments to this post may contain spoilers

On a side note - this is post number 50 for me.  /cheer.

Synopsis (per Goodreads):
There are no heroes.

Ten years ago, Calamity came.  It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers.  The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man.  With incredible gifts came the desire to rule.  And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics...  nobody by the Reckoners.  A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and assassinating them.

And David wants in.  He wants Steelheart - the Epic who is said to be invincible.  The Epic who killed David's father.  For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning - and he has something they need.  Not an object, but an experience.  

He's seen Steelheart bleed, and he wants revenge.  

Who really created Spider-Man?  Was it the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker?  Was it Peter Parker?  Or, was it Uncle Ben?  Because it was Uncle Ben's wisdom and with Uncle Ben's death that Peter becomes more than a man in a mask...  with super powers.  He becomes a hero.  Well, what if there were no Uncle Ben?  What if there was no one to tell all the super humans that "with great power there must also come -- great responsibility"?  

John Emerich Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, was quoted as saying "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men." Steelheart explores this concept with a world where man is given super powers, and man corrupt man is corrupt.  

I was surprised to find Steelheart amongst the YA novels in the library.  Perhaps it is known that this was to be a YA novel, but I had always thought of Sanderson as an adult fantasy writer, and I didn't do much research into the novel, so it was a mild surprise to find it there.  A few pages into the story, and yes, it is a YA novel.  The protagonist is 18, has no parents, and has all the answers.  The profanity is limited to "sparks!" or "Calamity!" or "slontze," etc.  This is not to say there is anything wrong with YA novels.  I just wasn't expecting it.

This is another revenge story (amazing how I come back to revenge stories over and over again), but set in a dystopian future of super powers and advanced technology.  It's the world after Magneto takes the homo-superior race to reign over the homo-sapien.  It's the story of mankind's fight back against the super powered oppressors.

I had been trying to find a good novelization of something with a comic book feel to it.  This is the best I have seen so far.  The setting is dark, but the characters still have a sense of humor.  David, our protagonist becomes known as the guy who cannot make a good metaphor.  The supporting cast is mostly one-dimensional having one significant quirk that makes them stand out from the others.  Regardless, the story is intriguing as the crew try to figure out how to get through Enforcement and super powered body guards to Steelheart, a man considered indestructible.  

The novel was a lot of fun, excellently fast-paced, and contains its share of unexpected twists.  

Well worth the read.  I give it...  Stan Lee and Kevin Smith...  web-slinging!  

We can't stop here, this is SPOILER country
(Seriously...  major spoilers will be "discussed" below)

Twist #1 - Prof and Megan are Epics.  I'll admit that at first, I didn't quite see this coming.  I had a suspicion about Megan, but was completely thrown off by her death.  But once Conflux was "captured" and it was determined that gifters couldn't gift to other Epics...  my thoughts went right to a) Megan was/is an Epic (since she couldn't use the tensors) and b) Prof is an Epic and the tensors are based on his powers.  So maybe Sanderson played the cards just a little too early.  That last clue was maybe just a little too big.  

Therefore I was not the least bit surprised to see Megan again at Soldier Field.

However, Twist #2 - Megan is Firefight.  Mind blown.  Did not see that coming.  A Brent Weeks-ian twist of "Epic" proportions.  And with book two of the series to be titled Firefight...  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

On The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - REVIEW

Synopsis (per Goodreads): 
Sussex, England.  A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral.  Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother.  He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (the pond that she claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back.  And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road.  Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways.  The darkness was unleashed, something scary and incomprehensible to a little boy.  And Lettie - magical, comforting, wise beyond her years - promised to protect him, no matter what.  

I'll be honest.  I didn't even read the synopsis.  I saw "new Neil Gaiman book!" and that was enough to get the book priority seating on my "to read" list.  

You are looking for something to eat.  A snack.  A dessert.  And what you find is a small slice of chocolate cake.  Certainly this isn't enough food, but being the snack available, you indulge.  Your fork slides through the cake with ease, as it is light and airy, yet there is more.  Layers of chocolate creme that are moist, thick, sweet with a bit of salty.  One bite and the program code is already causing a reaction to your senses.  And even though this was merely a small slice of a cake, you find yourself sated.

This is much like The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  A small novel (181 pages) that starts rather simple in premise, but escalates into the mystical and fantastical.  The novel, much like Stephen King's Joyland, is a man thinking on his youth.  The novel is a magical story with monsters, witches and kittens.  But above all, the novel is an adult's reflection of the innocence of youth, of the loss of wonderment that comes with responsibility of adulthood.

I'm not sure I can go into much more detail and do the story justice.  It is short and simple, strange and beautiful, full of myth and wonder.  Highly recommended, and at just 181 pages, surely you can fit this in.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On The Necromancer's House by Christopher Buehlman - REVIEW

Synopsis (as per Goodreads):
Andrew Ranulf Blankenship is a handsome, stylish, nonconformist with wry wit, a classic Mustang, and a massive library.  He is also a recovering alcoholic and a practicing warlock, able to speak to the dead through film.  His house is a maze of sorcerous booby traps and escape tunnels, as yours might be if you were sitting on a treasury of Russian magic stolen from the Soviet Union thirty years ago.  Andrew has long known that magic was a brutal game requiring blood sacrifice and a willingness to confront death, but his many years of peace and comfort have left him soft, more concerned with maintaining false youth than with seeing to his own defense.  Now a monster straight from the pages of Russian folklore is coming for him, and frost and death are coming with her.

Back in 1994, when I was (dsjfhjdsbjs) years old, most of the television I watched was cartoons.  As such, most of the advertisements I would have seen would have been geared towards children.  So, when my friends said to me, hey Szever, let's go see The Crow," I had no idea what that was.  I don't remember much of the incident, but I'm sure I put up a little of a fight for seeing something I didn't know what it is.  They gave me the briefest of synopses, and I was still reluctant, but in the end we went (and we were under 17 for that R rated movie...  Sssssshhhh!).  The movie is amongst my favorite of all time. This story has a purpose (as they usually do on here).  Read on.

For reasons yet to be determined, the bodies of the recently deceased are returning to life...  no...  that's not right.  For reasons yet to be determined, I have been oddly fascinated with all things Russian lately.  So, when I saw the synopsis of this, my brain focused in on "a monster straight from the pages of Russian folklore is coming for him," and that's about all I saw.  I didn't really read the rest of it because why does that matter?  It's about Russian folklore.  It was The Crow; a book that I had only the vaguest notions on the premise, but pushed through anyway.  And it was well worth it (broken writing rule #3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction).

The book was NOT what I was expecting (though I suppose it might have been had I read the synopsis).  I was expecting horror - almost to a cheesy level.  This was like a horror that was written by the lovechild of China Mieville and Jim C. Hines.  It very much has a Libriomancer feel to it (thus it is little horror and more...  thriller, maybe).  A modern story of magic, but some of it is so absurd (in a good way) that it has a China Mieville feel too.  Buehlman, however, does not break the famous rule for writing (as Mieville is apt to do) #22. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.

The story is about an American warlock, wizard, necromancer, whatever you want to call him, his lesbian friend, a Russian rusalka (think undead mermaid...  sort of), Baba Yaga, and revenge (who doesn't love a good revenge story? - that sounds familiar)!  It is an easy read with very short chapters (making it good for reading when one is...  indisposed).  The pacing is a little slow to start off as you need to learn about the magic in the world Buehlman has created, how it works, who can do what, etc.  By the end, the pace is frantic, the action is high, and the magic is fun and interesting.  There are twists, and the outcome was certainly not what I would have expected (maybe Buehlman writes more novels in this world...  Buehlman?  Buehlman?  Buehlman?  Frye?  Frye?).

On Goodreads I went with four out of five stars - as much as I enjoyed it, I can't put it in the same company as Patrick Rothfuss, George RR Martin, etc.  But 4/5 may or may not still be on my recommended list (and The Necromancer's House has made that cut - I recommend to fans of Jim C. Hines, to fans of modern magic, to fans of fun/funny/horror/thriller stuff).

My blog ratings tend to be more fun.  Let's see.  Buehlman created a world where things are not always what they seem to be.  As such...  It's a rocket ship!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

On the 5th of November

"Where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission.  How did this happen?  Who's to blame?  Well, certainly there are those more responsible than others, but, truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look in a mirror.  I know why you did it.  I know you were afraid.  Who wouldn't be?  War, terror, disease.  There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.  Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now-High Chancellor.  He promised you order.  He promised you peace. And all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient, consent."

"Remember, remember, the fifth of November.  The Gunpowder Treason and plot.  I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot."

V for Vendetta

Saturday, November 2, 2013

On The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard #3) by Scott Lynch - REVIEW

I should open this by stating that if you haven't read books one and two of the Gentleman Bastard series (which I highly suggest you do), this post may contain inadvertent spoilers (I know there are some blogs I follow and who follow me that are doing a read along of this book, so I will keep this spoiler free in terms of The Republic of Thieves).  

Synopsis (per Goodreads): 

Having pulled off the greatest heist of their career, Locke and his trusted partner in thievery, Jean, have escaped with a tidy fortune. But Locke's body is paying the price. Poisoned by an enemy from his past, he is slowly dying. And no physiker or alchemist can help him. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmagi offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him - or finish him off once and for all. 

Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body - though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean's imploring - and the Bondsmagi's mention of a woman from Locke's past . . . Sabetha. The love of his life. His equal in skill and wit. And now his greatest rival. 

Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow-orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha - or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.


"Life boils down to standing in line to get shit dropped on your head.  Everyone's got a place in the queue, you can't get out of it, and just when you start congratulating yourself on surviving your dose of shit, you discover the line is actually circular."

Scott Lynch has a way with words.  I don't say this about many authors.  Patrick Rothfuss falls into this category as well.  Ok.  Let's hold the train a moment.  Patrick Rothfuss writes prose as if it were poetry.  Words flow effortlessly into a whispering wind of elegance and beauty.  Scott Lynch takes Patrick Rothfuss' "way with words" and turns off the profanity filter.  His characters cuss like...  someone that cusses an awful lot.  But there is an elegance to it.  The dialogue is still deeply philosophical without being preachy about it, lovelorn without being overly dramatic, humorous without ruining the drama.  

The Republic of Thieves is part three of The Gentleman Bastard books, and Mr. Lynch carries Locke and Jean into another situation they will need to lie, cheat and steal their way through.  Mind you, book three is nothing like book one or book two of the series.  Scott is not afraid to take his characters in new directions (maintaining decisions within character).  Book one was a fantasy "Ocean's Eleven." Book two was a retooling of "Pirates of the Caribbean" (not to say it was an outright copy or anything, but any fun/funny piracy has the PotC feel nowadays).  Book three puts the con artistry in the backdrop of an election scandal.  In the end, this book is more about Locke and Sabetha than any con.  A love story told through a play, childish pranks, and an election.  

If I had one criticism to the previous chapters in the life of Locke Lamora, it would be Scott Lynch's use of "Interludes" to tell the backstory.  All three novels are told in two time periods - the "present" scam and the "interlude" (which takes place earlier in the life of Locke).  I don't entirely have a problem with the use of two time periods; however, in Lies (book 1) the "interlude" periods went from an explanation of Locke's childhood to exposition of city life, backstory to obscure characters, and explanations of various aspects of Camorri civilization.  Republic does away with the exposition and gives us two concurrent stories...  present and past.  It gives us the meeting and development of the relationship with Sabetha as well as the reunion with her.  It's two stories for the price of one.

I was slightly disappointed in the "origin" of Locke (assuming it turns out to be true).  Hopefully that gets downplayed a little in the next novel.  I am, however, looking forward to the comeback of the other character (leaving that intentionally vague).

Simply put, The Republic of Thieves was a fun advancement of Locke's character, a nice introduction to Sabetha, and a great setup of the next book.