Monday, November 26, 2012

REVIEW: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Even though it was not something that would usually call to me, I decided to read American Gods because it's one of those, 'I'm so amazing and well-known that the fact that you haven't read me should cause of a profound sense of shame' books. This year I have added a lot of big names and authors to my to read list out of a sense of obligation to the genre.

The style of storytelling in this one reminded me a lot of Maguire's Wicked series ... the plot itself it not (seemingly) noteworthy or dramatic, it just tells an honest story for the sake of telling the story. I find myself yawning throughout and not being terribly moved, and then by the time the last page has been turned I think to myself ... "that was the best damn thing I have ever read".

I'm still not sure what I actually read, or what actually happened. Gaiman is so mysterious, and even though some things are wrapped up, some things go without further explanation or reference. In a way it's satisfying because as a reader it is always nice to not have your intelligence insulted and in this case, to have a little bit that keeps you wondering.

For a protagonist (or in fact, any sentient being) Shadow is curiously passive in every sense of the term. He seems to just accept every unbelievable event (and there are a lot) that occurs, which is kind of refreshing compared to the usually OMG WTF response we expect from the other 99.8% of the population. Certainly makes the plot move on faster.

What I am still undecided on is how to feel about the gods. Much like Maguire's witches, Gaiman's portrayal of the gods shows them as much more impotent and eccentric than several years worth of religion and history would have us believe. Which is great; rather than following a fantastical trope which is designed to make a gripping fictional tale, he gives a much more plausible example of how gods would manifest if they actually existed in the world. Love it. But ... while Maguire's characters echoed beautifully and poetically with their mainstream representations, the American Gods felt a bit flat. Gaiman subtly alludes to their glorious pasts and quirky brand of magic, but I wanted more, at least from a few key gods. I wanted to know their stories and more about this theory of their existence.

I questioned the motivations of most of the characters, particularly Wednesday and Laura. Most of the time it feels like no one is in control of what they're doing or where they're going ... they just do it regardless of their lack of knowledge or motives. In a way this was strangely interesting and gave a really detached and mystical quality to the story, but when you analyse it, it's a little odd.

All in all I did really enjoy this book. It is masterfully written and is a testament to Gaiman's intelligence and skill. It didn't grip me like a Brent Weeks or Brandon Sanderson novel would, but then again I think that was purposefully done. I'll definitely be checking out some more Neil Gaiman!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

REVIEW: The Shattering by Christie Golden

My partner, who knows absolutely nothing about fantasy, bought me this is a present after I finished a show because I play WoW. It was really cute, even though I never would have picked this up myself. Anyway, that was two years ago and the other day when I was deciding what book to read, he pointed out that I hadn't read the one he bought me and ordered me to do so.

I was not prepared for how much I enjoyed this.

I was immediately drawn into the story because I was instantly familiar with all the characters and settings; Jaine Proudmoore in Theramore, Thrall in Orgrimmar, Anduin and Varian Wrynn in Stormwind ... these are all places and people that I have interacted with while playing World of Warcraft. Having forged my own journey in this incredibly complex world through the game allowed me to be a part of it and invest in the story much more quickly and with greater depth. I could see so vividly the forests of Ashenvale and the fields of Mulgore, and even elements of politics and warfare gave me feelings of nostaliga from my time gaming.

On a more logistical level, it also eliminated the need for lengthy descriptions and backstories, which meant the novel could move at quite a brisk pace. However what I really enjoyed was the greater level of detail that The Shattering gave me, including personal histories and relationships that aren't so prominent in the game.

There was a great amount of action and plot development in such a relatively short novel, which Golden handled with expertise. When considering the scope of the Warcraft Universe this really felt like a short story, even though it stands at 328 pages, but it left me satisfied yet also wanting more - the best place to be!

As a bridging novel between the events of Wrath of the Lich King and the Cataclysm this works excellently. It references key events and characters and also foreshadows what we (now that the Cataclysm has happened in game) know is coming. However, what I loved was that it highlighted some great plot elements that went under the radar in the game, such as changes to key ruling positions within the various races. 

While the incredible range and power of magic systems introduced by the game could potentially be overwhelming for any one story, Golden handles it well, introducing small snippets of shaman, mage, druid and priest magic without letting it get over the top. Sometimes the altruism of the shamans and tauren can get a little tiring, but hey, at least they are staying true to character.

Characterisation was great, and I particularly loved reading from the perspective of Anduin Wrynn, who has quite a complex history and relationship with his father the King, even though he is only 13 years old.

I would really like to hear from someone who has read this but not played WoW at all (although I think that would be exceedingly rare, for obvious reasons) so see how the book stands on its own.

Really looking forward now to reading more from the Warcraft Universe!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

REVIEW: Fallen by Lauren Kate

I had a little peer pressure to read this one from a friend and in fact I own all four (the first couple have been on my shelves for a loooonngg time) from super cheap finds in discount book stores. I actually really enjoyed Twilight for what it was (read them twice!) and this series seems to be the forerunner of those that rode in on the paranormal romance wave.

Scanning Goodreads reviews it's actually difficult to find a review that has more than one star - aided by the fact that the one star reviews have an obscene amount of 'likes'. While I don't agree with most of the comments, most of which are nothing less than slanderous, I was being generous when I gave the book two stars.

Look, I finished it without ever thinking of giving up, so that's an initial few points. 

There were some great things about this book. The setting in the reform school and the small cast of juvenile delinquents were great ... some really interesting personalities and something a little different to the usual urban setting. There were a few chuckle out loud moments for me, particularly from Arianne. I felt it also started very promisingly ... it seemed nowhere near as fluffy as other similar books and had a little bit of dark grit. 

Major drawbacks were that nothing actually happens for the first 75% of the book and the suspense to find out what we actually already know becomes unbearable. It goes from a little less than normal 'girl at school with crushes on boys' to 'full blown supernatural magic with human sacrifices' time before you can say hootenanny, which was a little ... abrupt.

And yes we all liked to have a little whinge about how sickening Bella was with her fascination with Edward, but honey let me tell you she ain't got nothing on Luce (which, for reference I kept thinking of as 'loose' ... what a stupid choice for a nickname). Even I went all doe-eyed and weak-kneed at Meyer's portrayal of Edward, but Kate neglects to not only adequately describe Daniel, but in fact most of the characters. He's just some school kid with blonde hair and velvety white wings. Hence why when Loose Luce is drawn irresistibly to his ... rudeness? ... I have no sympathy or connection. I really felt absolutely nothing for Daniel or their plight against the Universe to be together for all time. Nada.

Still debating whether to continue with the series, maybe one day but not right now.