Posts Tagged ‘book’

Graceling (Kristin Cashore)

Olyvia purchased this on my behalf – I had been given a voucher for Dymocks, which is a terrible choice, because there are so few Dymocks stores, and they are so far away from anywhere I go.  Time passed, and eventually reached the point where I one day to spend the voucher or lose it – losing it seemed a terrible waste, so Olyvia offered to go to Dymocks and purchase a book – basically she read out names over the phone until finding something I didn’t own.  I had never heard of Kristin Cashore before, and I like finding new authors, so it sounded fine to me.

I was more skeptical when Olyvia arrived home with the book.  For a start, it was a softcover edition, which I particularly dislike (I like paperback, because it’s comfortable to read, and I like hardback, because it looks nice and ages well, but softcover has none of the advantages and many of the disadvantages).  In addition, the cover is terrible – it has a moderately attractive women in light armour holding a sword – it looks like a bad book trying to attract teen readers.

However, once I got around to reading it, I was pleasantly surprised.   The ‘magic’ of the world is that some people have extreme talents – rather than just being really good at something, they are ‘magically’ good at it.  In a really nice touch, the talent might be anything, even the mediocre (it reminded me of the heroes with mediocre talents in Lafferty‘s Playing for Keeps).  Although the central characters have talents that are far more impressive, the general way that ‘graces’ were developed was very enjoyable.

The central characters, Katsa and Po, were both well developed, and enjoyable to read.  The antagonist was a little weak – we never really get to know him, so there’s less at stake than with a more developed villain.  However, his ability was suitably impressive, and his lack didn’t detract from the story’s other strengths too much.

(Minor spoiler alert). I did feel that the book ended rather suddenly – although it was obvious that it was getting close to the end (there weren’t many pages to turn), the story only seemed part-way through.  I was really expecting a partial conclusion with a sequel (or two) to finish the story off – although this is probably partly due to the ubiquity of trilogies within the genre).  However, with only a small number of pages to go, the story is completely resolved.  Although it ended cleanly and it did create a real echo of surprise to match the character’s surprise, it still felt quite rushed.

In general, this felt like a really good story by a slightly inexperienced writer.  I think someone with more experience would have been able to flesh out the antagonist more and create a less rushed ending – although these would probably both have meant a longer book.  The story changes a little abruptly about a third of the way through, and I think a more experienced writer would have tied the parts together a little better as well.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable read (it’s unfortunate that the publisher didn’t find a better cover artist), and I highly recommend reading it.  I hope to read more from Cashore in the future, and expect that later novels will have more polish than this one, while hopefully retaining the originality and great character development found here.

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Foxmask (Juliet Marillier)

This is the sequel to Wolfskin – to understand the relationships that underlay the characters, it would certainly be best to have read Wolfskin first, although this is a standalone story, not part two of two (or three), which is certainly refreshing.  I purchased this at the same time as Wolfskin, so I wasn’t then aware that I’d love that book so much.  By the time I got to reading Foxmask, though, I had reasonably high hopes for anything from Marillier.

Although I enjoyed Foxmask, it wasn’t quite as fantastic as Wolfskin.  The basic story has a lot of promise, mostly as a result of the earlier book – Somerled, the antagonist from Wolfskin, was so clearly the villain of the piece, but also clearly had the potential for redemption.  Here, we can find out whether he did manage to redeem himself – but Marillier made the sensible decision to place the story a little later in time, so that although the story answers that question, it’s not actually the central focus of the story.  That means that Foxmask is more of a standalone story than a direct sequel, which is a benefit, in my opinion.

Although Thorvald, Sam, and Creidhe are interesting characters, I was never as drawn to them as the Wolfskin characters – and the antagonist of Foxmask is far more on the black side of grey than Somerled ever was, which makes him a lot less interesting.  You can see how he might have made the decisions that he did, but they are still more evil.

The weakest part of the book was the character Keeper.  For some reason, I was never interested or attracted to this character, and that made it harder to understand the relationships that he formed with the other characters.  The strongest part was the development of Thorvald’s character, particularly the leadership development with the other men of the island.

The magic in Foxmask is a little more overt than that of Wolfskin, which also detracts slightly from the story.  It’s also a little darker in some ways (although there’s probably less death, the reader knows the characters that die or suffer better, so they are more intense).

Overall, however, this is still an excellent novel.  If this was the first Marillier novel I read, I’m not sure I would be so eager to seek out more of her work – probably I would just hope to remember to buy one next time I see it, rather than actively looking for it, but I absolutely recommend reading it, especially since it wraps up the Wolfskin story a little more.

Wolfskin (Juliet Marillier)

The main reason that I bought Wolfskin was because I noticed that Marillier was a New Zealander (or at least was born here, although she lives in Australia now), and there’s not really very many NZ sci-fi/fantasy authors or books, and I’d like to support the locals as much as possible.  (As an aside, my favourite NZ book is Beak of the Moon, by Philip Temple, also of Dunedin).

So I wasn’t really expecting that much – it wasn’t quite charity, but I would have been happy with a pretty mediocre story.  However, I really loved this book.  I’m not sure why so many fantasy authors feel the need to set their stories in/around the UK, but it’s so common that it didn’t really bother me here.

The characters in Wolfskin were excellently developed, and a pleasure to get to know.  The antagonist was nicely grey – although you really could despise what he did, you could also understand his motivation for the most part.  The magic was pleasingly subtle, and the battles sufficiently short.

One minor note that bothered me (minor spoiler alert): early in the book, a girl is attacked, and the attacker isn’t identified.  The implication is that it’s the antagonist, Somerled.  The way the scenes were written, it seemed likely to me that it would turn out to not have been (directly) Somerled at all, but rather the girl’s friend, led to a bad decision by listening to Somerled (so he was at fault, but only indirectly).  Even later in the story, when the friend is re-encountered, nothing in the events seemed to contradict this theory.  However, the book ends without coming back to it, so I suppose that we’re meant to just believe that it was Somerled who did the attack.  I think it would have suited Somerled’s character, and improved the story, if we had discovered that it wasn’t directly his fault.

The story ends well, with the story nicely resolved, and although there’s clearly a hook left for a sequel, it’s subtle enough that the ending is satisfying and yet the hook doesn’t seem like the only purpose for that element is the sequel.

Overall I highly recommend reading Wolfskin, and intend to keep an eye out for anything else that Marillier produces.

Fallout (Kevin J. Anderson & Doug Deason)

I quite enjoyed this (a lot more than I enjoyed Resurrection Inc.).  This is really a pretty straight-forward action/adventure style story (the same sort of story as, e.g., 24).  I read a few stories along these general lines (e.g. the Dan Brown books) over the second half of 2008, and they were a nice break (I read more in this genre a long time back), although nothing was mind-blowingly great.

I gathered that Fallout continues the story of characters from an earlier story (Virtual Destruction), but not having read that didn’t effect my enjoyment of this at all – as far as I can tell, the story is completely standalone.

The plot was a little predictable – it wasn’t hard to guess who the villains would turn out to be, but the mystery wasn’t really the appeal of the book, and the characters were likable enough.

Overall, well worth a read.

Resurrection Inc. (Kevin J. Anderson)

For some time, I was posting my mini-reviews on Pownce, which seemed to suit the short format .  I’ve mostly switched to using Twitter instead of Pownce now, but 140 characters is a bit too short.  I don’t really want to create a new account somewhere else, so I guess they can go here for now.  Maybe I’ll start using one of the ‘library’ sites at some point, and switch to there, or maybe I’ll get my Delicious Library -> web system a bit more automated again and integrate it there somehow.

So, since it’s been a while, there’s a bit of a backlog.  Firstly, Resurrection Inc., by Kevin K. Anderson.

I mostly bought this because I recognised the name from ISBW.  It was reasonably enjoyable, but nothing spectacular.  A lot of sci-fi deals with immortality, and this didn’t seem to introduce anything particularly new or compelling.

I liked the first half more than the second – it didn’t end up going where it seemed like it would.  I think partly that I don’t have a huge liking for stories about such dreary futures, where humanity are essentially idiots.

Overall, though, I liked it enough to read more Anderson in the future.