Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Read: 1 September, 2018

I’d be really interested to find out how Pratchett and Gaiman collaborated on this book, because the narrative is a perfect meshing of their two styles. I recognised so much that was distinctively Pratchett or distinctively Gaiman, but all blended together to make a fantastic amalgam style with both footnote humour and mythic humour.

Some of the jokes haven’t aged too well, particularly where gender is concerned. The book also has a very ’90s/Fern Gully sort of environmental message that dates it rather unmistakably.

Other than that, though, this was wonderful.

Vampirates #1: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper

Read: 29 August, 2018

Eons ago, I spotted a book in the bargain bin of my local bookstore called Vampirates. At that price, there was no chance in heck that I wouldn’t buy a book called Vampirates! I mean, that’s just amazing! I bet Somper is incredibly glad that he stumbled onto the name first. In fact, I bet the name alone has half made his career!

Unfortunately, the Vampirates I bought was Tide of Terror – the second book in the series. I didn’t want to start with the second book, but I also wasn’t intrigued enough by the name alone to justify buying the first book at full price.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and I found Demons of the Ocean on a friend’s shelf. She, also, had seen the amazing title of Vampirates on a book that was on sale, and also decided that it was worth buying for that alone. Between the two of us, we had purchased enough material to judge the series on more than just that incredible name.

And… it’s fine.

It drags a bit, particularly for a children’s book. Within the first few pages, the heroes’ last remaining parent has died and they’ve run away to sea. Only, they’ve capsized and each been rescued by a different pirate ship – Connor by normal human pirates, Grace by the titular Vampirates. And that’s basically it. They each make a friend, they each get to know their captain, and very little else happens. There’s pages upon pages of nothing happening.

On the plus side, there are a few moments of legitimate horror. There is a scene where Grace runs afoul of a Vampirate and I honestly started to wonder if I should be reading it aloud to my kid (it actually wasn’t all that gruesome, and I don’t think he picked up on the rape analogy at all). There’s also some fairly good creepy atmosphere while Grace is still working out what kind of ship she’s on, and I liked Connor’s moral difficulty with the whole pirating biz.

The setting is a little confusing. The story explicitly takes place in the future, but the in-story details all point to a fantasy-infused past. There are hints that there’s been an ecological disaster, and that’s why the society feels so “set back”, but there are no remnants of the modern world. Placing the story in the future adds nothing, while setting up expectations that aren’t met.

All in all, I found this to be much better than a series called Vampirates has any right to be. It isn’t fantastic, by any means, but it’s a solid children’s story with some good adventure and thrills.

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Throne of Glass #3: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

Read: 18 August, 2018

I found this to be the weakest of the series so far. The pace, which has been a fair trot throughout, slows right down. Not only is this book the longest of the first three, it also has far less plot.

In summary, Celaena has been sent to a continent that still has magic so that she can learn to control her powers. She discovers a handful of things along the way, she makes a few new friends, but the whole book is essentially a really loooong training montage.

To pad this out, we get a bit back in Rifthold as Dorian gets a romance sub-plot and Chaol discovers the rebels. This still isn’t enough to fill the run time, however, so we also get Manon – a witch who has been recruited by the king. Unfortunately, her plot is also a training montage, so much of the book goes back and forth between her and Celaena, as they each get incrementally more powerful.

While I’m sure Manon’s plot will be important, delivering it in this way just bogged the story down. Celaena needed her training, but the book could have focused on Dorian and Chaol’s plots, or even Celaena’s mystery with the weird corpses they keep finding. That, and maybe cut about a hundred pages, too.

Also symptomatic of the editing issues with this book, every character seems to “purr” all their lines.

The pacing made this a tougher book to finish than the preceding two. That said, I do like increasing plotlines and character depth as we spend more time with the cast. And while I didn’t particularly feel that Manon’s plot fit into this book, I do like where her story is going. I also really like the way friendships are treated in this series – Celaena’s devotion to Nehemia is beautiful, and Chaol telling Dorian that he loves him was absolutely perfect. Friendships often get pushed to the sidelines in fiction, and it’s great to see them treated as relationships that are every bit as deep and important as romances.

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The Witcher, vol. 3: Curse of Crows by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Piotr Kowalski)

Read: 17 August, 2018

This is my favourite book of the lot.

I enjoy the random Witcher adventures – the monsters are interesting, I like the way Geralt interacts with people, and I always like the reveals at the very end that Geralt knew what was going on the whole time. But Geralt at his very best is Geralt when Ciri and Yennifer are around.

The artwork is also much better in this one, especially the backgrounds. The city shots, in particular, were gorgeous. Kowalski also did a good job of capturing the right body language and facial expressions to go along with Tobin’s writing.

As for Tobin’s writing, he’s once again managed to capture the characters’ personalities. This is especially impressive with the banter between Geralt and Yennifer, which rides such a very fine line – too affectionate and it isn’t them, but too teasing and it could come off as mean-spirited.

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The Witcher, vol. 2: Fox Children by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Joe Querio)

Read: August 6, 2018

As with House of Glass, I appreciate how well Tobin has managed to capture Geralt’s voice and the general tone of Witcher series.

The artwork, which disappointed me a bit in House of Glass, is still rather underwhelming. However, there is now a female character who actually wears clothing, so that’s at least a little improvement (have no fear – the central female character is still naked). This is authentic to CD Projekt Red’s vision of the series, so I can’t fault it for that, but it’d be nice to have a little more parity.

The story works, for the most part. I liked the ending twist, and I thought that that Tobin did a good job of building a paranoid atmosphere.

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The Witcher, vol. 1: House of Glass by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Joe Querio)

Read: 5 August, 2018

I wasn’t a huge fan of the artwork for this one. It felt a bit rough or lacking in detail, and there were several panels where I had a great deal of trouble figuring out what I was looking at. In particular, Vara’s body (her arms, especially) seemed all over the place, proportionally. It’s not bad art, per se, but it could have been a lot better.

The story was okay. It definitely felt like a Witcher story, just not one of the better ones. There’s some good mystery and ambience building up, until Geralt finds the right person to talk to and they just infodump what’s going on. Which a lot of Sapkowski’s stories also do, so points for keeping it authentic, but those aren’t the stories that I really like.

All that said, I did enjoy the writing. When Geralt speaks, he sounds like Geralt. His humour, his deadpan, the way he just goes along with what people saying – even while he knows that they are lying – just to see what will happen… that’s truly Geralt. Even the “twist” at the end that he had a good idea of what was going on the whole time, even while the reader was befuddled by the mystery, reads just like Sapkowski’s stories.

I also liked the way Geralt bantered with Vara. They had a good rapport, and it worked better than just having Geralt wandering around by himself for half the story.

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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Read: 15 July, 2018

Set in the early part of the 19th century, this book does a magnificent job of capturing the narrative style and tone of books from that period. Of course, that means that it’s a bit of a slog – at around 800 pages, this book makes a great door stopper, and the pacing is very slow.

However, I found that listening to it on audiobook was perfect. I got to sit back, relax, and absorb the atmosphere of the period and worldbuilding – which is what most of this book is. There is a rescue/defeat the baddy near the end, but it’s not particularly climactic. For the most part, the book is about creating an alternate 19th century England with plausible magic.

I adored the worldbuilding. Clarke did a really good job of blending magic into the real world world history. Best of all, she did so in such a very British way – with a magic system that draws from both the common fairy stories as well as the more “noble” pursuit of alchemy.

The world felt complex and alive, and the slowness of the narrative gives the reader a change to settle into it. I do, however, recommend the audiobook, as the book is heavy enough to put wrists at risk.

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Read: 9 July, 2018

I’ve read a few of the Star Wars books now, and I haven’t been overly impressed. For the most part, the books are fine, but I wouldn’t read them if they weren’t Star Wars.

This one, however… this is the Star Wars book I’ve been waiting for.

Both main characters – Thane and Ciena – start off believing in the Empire. They willingly enter the academy, even working hard to get there. They fight on the Empire’s side. Throughout, their reasons are believable. Even when Thane becomes disillusioned, Ciena stays on, making excuses for the bad side of the Empire, and overemphasising the good. Even when the evil of the Empire becomes more visible and personal, Ciena’s reaction is so recognisably human.

It’s so timely (perhaps it’s always timely) to see how good people can serve evil power structures, and how interlaced their reasons can be.

I enjoyed seeing the major events of episodes 4-6 again through new eyes. Finally, we get a frank discussion of the Death Star, and the moral calculus that went into destroying such a powerful weapon at the cost of so very many lives.

I would have enjoyed Lost Stars without it being set in the Star Wars universe. As it is, that only makes it better.

Throne of Glass #2: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Read: 6 July, 2018

Friend and I are still deep in discussions about the pronunciation of Chaol. Since the guide Maas provides gives it as “Kay-all”, I started calling him “Kale”, which then led to calling him “Salad”.

I noticed a definite improvement in the storytelling from the first book. The anachronistic elements (whatever that means in a fantasy setting) that bothered me in Throne of Glass – like the pool table – are entirely absent here. Characters are also starting to get a bit more depth, and I appreciated how raw Celaena’s emotions were.

I like how much more of the worldbuilding is evident in this book. I’m still rather uncertain about how each part connects (I’d like more details on the Crochan family, for example), but the stitches are starting to form and I’m now fairly well invested in finding out.

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Throne of Glass #1: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Read: 19 June, 2018

A friend is a huge fan of this series and has been singing its praises for long enough that my curiosity was piqued.

When I began reading, I complained about the main character. She struck me as a fairly weak character – petty, arbitrary, made choices that didn’t make a whole lot of sense in context. My friend agreed that she’s a tough character to like, “but she grows on you.” More than that, however, she explained that Celaena’s big flaw is her ego – she can’t make the “right” choice in a given situation because she has to be seen to be the best. Once it was phrased that way, Celaena started to make sense; she wasn’t being arbitrary, she was being flawed. And, honestly, I liked her a lot better once I had a better grasp of who she was.

My friend and I both agreed that Chaol is an unfortunate name. The pronunciation guide says it should be said “Kay-all”. Which is better than the “Chay-ole” I had going, but is still rather unattractive. Here’s Celaena swooning off this gorgeous guy and his name is Kale? Hm. My friend proposed pronouncing it as “Cole”, which suited much better.

The book is fluff – the characters do spend rather more time on romance and gowns than a life-or-death struggle strictly warrants, and the worldbuilding could do with some more work. There’s also not a whole lot going on thematically. And while this may not be strictly fair, I really struggled with a fantasy setting that has a billiards table.

That said, it’s compelling fluff. The book is a page-turner and, however frustrating they could be, I really did care about the main characters by the big climax.

I might not have given this a chance without my friend’s passion to prod me, but I enjoyed it, and I definitely will be seeking out the sequels.

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