Saturday, March 18, 2017

Golden Son - Pierce Brown [Red Rising Trilogy]

Golden Son - Pierce Brown [Red Rising Trilogy]
Source: Library
Original Review: March 18, 2017
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I don't know why this relief didn't hit me while I was reading the first book in this trilogy, but I find myself relieved that there is no jumping from character to character. There were bare hints at a subplot in the first book, and I feel those were sufficiently fleshed out and handled in this the second.

It also struck me, where it didn't before, that in all of the Carving and teaching they did to make Darrow into a Gold, certain things - such as the matter of being the "brightest of humankind" - came from him, from Darrow, not from the Carving. A point to the message of the book, perhaps?

But I was disappointed again early on. While the transitions have become almost seamless, Brown has stayed predictable. Darrow has repeated the same mistake he made at the beginning of Red Rising - except this time the consequences of his assumptions cost him human lives instead of just his pride.

And Darrow? He's full of faults. Full of them. Makes it really hard to sympathize with him, especially when he starts naming them himself. He doesn't even vie for justice anymore, early on. It takes a good portion of the story for him to even start thinking Justice again. He begins this story in a very, very dark place.

I daresay all of the predictability has come from this plot being one repeated and recycled throughout the decades of Science Fiction literature. Politics - it's always about politics. Politics, the suppression of humankind in a "slave class", a singular hero chosen to fight against the brutality of the Empire... oh, I'm sorry. I mean The Society.

Despite all that, however, the writing is very much redeemed. I'm watching a movie inside my head. T his is where it become actions & sci-fi with characters and cause I can cheer for and get behind and wish the best for, as opposed to your standard dystopian mush. Here is where I can start being eager and surprised and feeling sly and cunning on Darrow's behalf. Where he was physically carved in Red Rising, here he becomes Carved in a different way. The boy from Red Rising is no more.

Unfortunately, many others who play a vital role - do not change at all. Not in any way vital to the story.

In Golden Son, it is the action that waxes and wanes. From natural and cinematic, to stiff and full. The one thing that managed to surprise me - really surprise me - so far, was worth all of the predictability. At that moment, I was eagerly awaiting the final book in this trilogy, for all it's faults.

But Brown completely obliterated the surprise, and any chance of me reading book 3 along with it.

The end of Golden Son unravels the entire story so far. And...



We still don't know.

We get to the end of Golden Son, and we still don't know why the dance, and why the song, are killable offenses! And I'm so bloodydamned disappointed by the ending, and by the lack of creativity as whole in the first two books, that I'm not even going to bother with the third to see if there's finally given an explanation there! It's reading more and more as a plot device and nothing more. And I hate ASB's.

Brown's got major talent as an author - there's no mistake about that. It shows during the parts of these books that are paced well, immersive, and he definitely knows how to hook a reader. My biggest disappointment is, knowing this, he comes across as lazy because his brilliance is not consistent.

I am encouraged that the release date for his next book is being pushed to allow for some fine-tuning. That being said, I hope that it doesn't fall victim to over-editing. I can see where that may have played a role in this trilogy.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Red Rising - Pierce Brown [Red Rising Trilogy]

Red Rising - Pierce Brown [Red Rising Trilogy]
Source: Library
Original Review: March 13, 2017
Rating: ★★★☆

One of the first things I notice - and not in an understandable, this is a completely different culture way - is the selling. With the c's and the k's and the lack of consistency. There isn't consistency to the how & why, and there's no reason for it. It's distracting. Why didn't Brown just come up with new words? Or, better yet, just leave the spelling alone?

Chapter brakes & scene transitions are messy and awkward. And by Chapter 4, things have become predictable. No true building of conflict. Not one I'd care about, anyway. I try to imagine what I'm reading, try to put myself into the world Brown is creating, and I can't. The seams are too visible.

The transitions get smoother as I read, which is a shame. How many readers have already been lost by now? This improvement gives me hope, though. I hadn't reached my decision point by then, so there was still time. But the progression remained predictable. You can't put your main character in life-or-death situations so early (or so many times) without cuing the reader he'll survive. And for what? It's supposed to cause suspense, I'm sure, but fails.

There are a lot of questions early on, but none of them seem all that consequential. Things are made out to be horrible, with no given reason as to why. And if that's the point, and a critical thinker can't truly pick up on it, how will the average reader?

The further I got into the story, the more satisfied I became. The imagery was easier to picture, to immerse myself in. The attitudes and mannerisms of the characters become not so dull and monotonous. 

There is a substantial disconnect between the segments of underground vs. above-ground, though (and if that's a spoiler, I think you're in the wrong genre...) and probably not in the way Brown had hopes. People, especially ones in new & shocking situations, tend to revert to their base natures. Darrow's discipline, from being raised in the mines and the constant introduction of perception-shattering data could explain his apparent stoicism, but this is never explained. Darrow's state of mind, his ability to process everything "new & shiny" is never explored. There is no self reflection. Only observations, pitifully disguised as such.

I finally start getting absorbed into the story at about 100 pages in. Finally, things stop being so predictable and dull. (Yes, I use the word "dull" a lot when reviewing these books. Sad.) We still aren't getting much self-reflection out of Darrow, but the story is getting more interesting. Though I feel I should be much further through the story. A lot could have been left out, or done differently, to make the pace actually match the real estate of the book. For as quickly as I get interested, I get bored just as fast.

There is a message here, but it is so muddled and vague. But it's there. Brown must face something like Darrow when he writes his story. A question. How far to take it?

It's a pity how uninspiring the book turned out to be. There are good lessons, good ideals to be had. They just weren't driven home. However, Brown has proven skillful at manipulating, The Society he depicts should be hated and despised. They've grown worlds on the backs of slaves who've no idea they are slaves. Yet you could almost sympathize - or at least feel a little sorry for - how the children are turned into their leaders.

The good news? Once I got past the halfway point, I was absorbed. I'm not a fan of the similarities to the first book of the Hunger Games, but having all of the other background and details made it different enough to stand on its own. The action is good, well written, and engaging enough to keep me from finding something else to critique. But it took a long time to get there. I could easily see this as a movie, where the entire first 1/2 of the book would take a good 2/3 of the movie, where it should realistically only take up a few opening scenes. The pacing is uneven.

When I finish reading - it's like what the hell just happened? The first half of the book vs. the second half... what switch was flipped in Brown's brain for the second half? The only thing keeping me from immediately going out to the second book is the first half of this one. I'm going to read it - and soon - but I'm not nearly as excited about it as I could be.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Bone Witch - Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch - Rin Chupeco
Source: NetGalley (in exchange for an honest review)
Original Review: March 2, 2017
Rating: ★★

The Magic
Chupeco obviously has skill in bringing setting and environment to life in the mind. Her descriptions are fluid, and in many cases seem natural (with one caveat, noted later). Her use of simile and metaphor, if overdone, at least make sense. And her decision to use taste as the sense used to describe how using magic felt was not only out of the box, but also skillfully done. I definitely applaud her descriptive skills.

The idea of a Heartsglass is definitely unique. I don't know that I've encountered anything like it (though I do have to admit I have a LOT of fantasy previously released that's in my TBR pile, so anything is possible!).

The Madness
So... I have one major, major gripe with this book. It's obviously a part of the fantasy genre. One big note that's made constantly to authors is this - write what you know, and read the genre you plan to write in. Get familiar with it. Be familiar with what you are writing.

But don't make it familiar. At too many points in this book, I was distracted from the story by a scene, an organization, a moment being familiar because of another book. Another fantasy book. In The Bone Witch, I saw manifestations of The Kingkiller Chronicles, the Wheel of Time, Kushiel's Legacy, Memoirs of a Geisha (which I figured even before Chupeco pointed out on Goodread's that the women were Geisha-esque. Tsk.), and even World of Warcraft!

*sighs* If I see one more story of magic where the first use is accompanied by life-threatening illness, I just might explode.

And, perhaps this is just the fact that Chupeco fell victim to the fact that her heroine is both narrator and heroine, but there was far too much description in this book, and the action that did exist also fell victim to the "show, don't tell" folly. For as much as I love the way she describes things, it's hard to continue to appreciate something that is so overdone.

The Musings
All in all, my opinion of this book seems to fall in line with a lot of others I've seen. I want to love this book. I love the premise. But there is absolutely no real tension to speak of. The heroine is indestructible. So is her sidekick. The switching back and forth between events is distracting, especially since we're still seeing things from only one point of view.

Beyond that, I really don't have anything to say about this book. I was excited to read it, but it let me down. Perfectly ordinary. I almost put it down, but I kept hoping, since it wasn't a total disaster, that something would happen to redeem it's blandness. But while it wasn't a total disaster, it also didn't really stand out as anything special.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Obelisk Gate - N. K. Jemisin [The Broken Earth]

The Obelisk Gate - N. K. Jemisin [The Broken Earth]
Source: Library
Original Review: February 17, 2017
Rating: ★★★★★

The Magic
The moment everything clicked for me. The sudden realization that the real story wasn't at all about Essun/Nassun, the Stone Eaters, the Orogene, the Guardians... the real story, here, is about the Earth. Yes, it's approached so much as mythology, or a theology, depending on who's perspective is speaking, but that's what this whole story is about. The reason I couldn't connect with the characters being displayed is because those stories aren't important in the grand scheme of things.


And if I had to point out one thing that demonstrated the utter skill Jemisin possesses as a writer, it would be in the use of second person POV. Even without the revelations made in this part of the story, it never really registered as being awkward or strange at all. It seemed natural, and a great way to tie everything together. Even matters left hanging in the first book were finally brought to light here, and if it had been any other POV other than second person, I don't know that it would have worked out as well as it did.

I am starting to develop more of an interest in some of the characters, though maybe not the ones that might seem the most likely. Schaffa, for one. I'm disappointed to see so many reviews that don't even mention how much more insight we get into his character - and that of the other Guardians - in The Obelisk Gate. Into them, and into the Stone Eaters.

The most magical thing about The Obelisk Gate, however, is the fact that, when I sit down and really think about it, and the information I have so far... I can't tell which side is the one I'm supposed to be rooting for. I can't even tell which side I want to be rooting for, because... well, there's death, destruction, and a self-perpetuating exclusionary mentality that pervades every side, which seems to be the very thing everyone is railing against. Which right, is right?

The Madness
I'm still catching vibes of the Aes Sedai from Robert Jordan's WoT series. The way the Orogene's can link, the way the Obelisks can work with Orogenes, the "potential" in Guardians vs. the manifestation in Orogenes.

And while I adore getting so much more information on the Guardians and the Stone Eaters, it unfortunately makes certain things about this book so much more confusing. Then again, the way The Obelisk Gate wrapped up confusions from The Fifth Season, it could just be a way to tie this book into the next more smoothly.

The Musings
The Obelisk Gate has completely turned my gripe about the lack of characterization on it's head. Jemisin characterized where it counted - where it really mattered - to the overall scope of the story she's writing. The Obelisk Gate has cemented her place as one of my favorite authors, for her brilliant use of perspective, characterization, world building and yarn spinning. I was so engrossed in this story it took me a mere few hours to read, with the conclusion that I would willingly go back and listen to it, despite my aversion to audiobooks.

I knew I would give this book five stars before I was even half of the way through it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Fifth Season - N. K. Jemisin [The Broken Earth]

The Fifth Season - N. K. Jemisin [The Broken Earth]
Source: Audible
Original Review: February 16, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

The Musings
I have some key issues with certain elements of the book. I find the characters flat, two-dimensional, and lacking any kind of real depth or scope. The kinds of things I really need to be able to get engrossed in a book. I need it all – world building, characterization, clean writing and a clear purpose. Jemisin did a fantastic job with the world – I haven’t ever read anything like this before. The premise is unique and grabbing, and she definitely has skill with the written word. However, for all her skill, there is something utterly lacking when it comes to her characters.

Ultimately, though, I would read it again. And I’m currently hunting down the next book in the series, hopefully at a local library, so that I can keep reading.

The Magic
I take such a big issue with the lack of characterization in The Fifth Season because there are moments where you can tell that Jemisin does understand her characters. Nesun is a prime example, as she was done so well that, while listening, I could almost forget I was me, and found myself listening through her ears, seeing through her eyes, and experiencing what she was going through as her. For me, she is what makes this book special. Not Cyanite, or Hoa, or the child that comprises the third perspective along with Cyanite and Nesun (I’ve forgotten her name already, in favor of all the others).

In fact, the whole book could be viewed as nothing but character development for Nesun – but then that would take away from how large of a roll the fact that the world is ending plays in the whole story as well.

And the world. The World. “This is the way the world ends… For the last time.”

Honestly? That’s what got me. That’s what got me interested in the book. That is what kept me going when the characters were disappointing and the momentum stalled. The fact that the world was going to end. That meant that, somewhere, at some point, something was going to have to happen of more significance than ***SPOILER*** Nesun stifling a shake when nobody was supposed to know who she was. ***ENDSPOILER***

There’s not a lot of description given for the world. Nothing that fed my imagination enough to be able to see it in my minds eye, but the world being integral the story wasn’t about it’s terrain or geography or any of that. It was about the battle between the earth and its inhabitants, what started it, what caused it, how it was going to end – if it was going to end. The stone lore. I want more stone lore!

The Madness
There’s really quite a few elements that don’t match up. On several instances there were statements made or data given, that within a few paragraphs was re-stated, but completely different information. (One instance I believe was in reference to the number of miles Alabaster and Cyanite had travelled. Somehow it doubled – or more – depending on who was speaking). It’s a little jarring when being listened to, though I don’t know how distracting it would be had I been reading it in text instead of listening through audio.

The relationship between the Guardians and the Orogene’s almost immediately made me recall the damane and marath’damane from the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The interaction, the relationship, and the intent and purpose of the two, the origination… there are very many parallels between the two.

One of my biggest issues is this – I’ve read books where people were put into horrendous situations – and I felt appropriately horrified. I mean, there have been scenes I simply have not been able to read because I felt so much empathy for the characters involved I couldn’t bear it (Kushiel’s Avatar being a prime example). I know, at certain points in this book, I should have felt, at the very least, disgust. Or something, perhaps, beyond intrigue. Yet, there wasn’t anything I could create a strong enough connection to in order to feel emotional about. This, I can’t blame entirely on being an audiobook as I have had appropriate responses to scenes in audio as well as in text. This book just simply didn’t reach me as well as others have.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Troubled Waters - Sharon Shin [Elemental Blessings]

Troubled Waters - Sharon Shin [Elemental Blessings]
Source: Library
Original Review: February 6, 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

Thanks to one of the myriad of reading challenges I'm participating in, I grabbed a copy of this from the library as well. And it had me hooked from within the first few pages. The societal customs and beliefs underscoring them have the power to make me think. For a novel to do that so early on is fairly impressive from my standpoint - even if those elements have nothing to do with the overall story arc.

Lucky for me, they did.

For the story itself, there was obviously quite a bit of thought put into how to capture the reader. When we meet Zoe, she is watching her father burn on a funeral pyre. That particular event foreshadows more than anyone could guess, though it wreaks havoc on how Zoe approaches what's coming. She is numb with grief - and behaves as such, surprising her own self in her actions and decisions. Grief makes people do strange things.

That may be why the first "twist" quickly fades from the mind and only comes back with time and some thinking. It occurs mere days after Zoe's father's funeral, while she is still wrapped in the shroud of grief - and we are wrapped in it with her to such an extent it barely registers as passing strange. The next one, which comes when she is well out of that haze, is much more significant, and has a much broader impact.

The main counter to our heroine - Darien - is likeable enough from my perspective. He doesn't let Zoe run him over, for all her personality is water based, she is very passionate. He is, if not stable, then at least steady. He also does not condemn her for not easily going along with his plan for her in her grief, and in fact seems pleased to have her fully present in the role she has to play. Even if she does not trust him - or like him much.

Shinn's approach to her characters is definitely more idealistic than realistic, I would have to say. While Zoe, Darien, and other's behavior and deeds aren't particularly exceptional, they are what I could call "appropriate" - Zoe mourned for an appropriate amount of time and in an appropriate manner. Darien's approach after finding her was appropriate. Zoe's reactions to discovering the extent of her fate was acceptable - and her response to her dead father's trespasses was most certainly ideal. Everything extremely calculated and every word written with specific intent.

It's that, and something else I can't quite identify, that helps the story move as one of the most organic ones I have ever read. There really isn't a while lot of drama - at least, nothing major. There are feuds between people, families, enemies and friends, but the flow of interaction, of cause and effect, makes it easy to be absorbed into the story - to find my own place in it as an observer.

Troubled Waters is very much like people watching. Watching the tension build between Zoe & Darien has me held rapt, my pulse fluttering as if I was Zoe - and wondering at her placid response - before realizing it is simply the way she was written to play it. Which makes sense. It's the way I would - and have - played it. It's a pleasure to, again, see something grow so naturally in a story that it seems like an integrated part of it instead of some random addition. There's no "intense, sudden connection" or "mysterious draw" between them - just a natural evolution from dislike to distrust, from distrust to social dependence, and from dependence to affection to love.

When I reached the final scenes, I found myself holding my breath as often as not, as secrets were unraveled and their potentially disastrous consequences revealed. Though I don't know yet if we've seen the full extent of Zoe's power just yet, we certainly see a few impressive displays - both as acts of heroism (calmly controlled) and wildly reactive. We see the results - both good and bad - of Zoe being raised away from her inheritance.

Ultimately, Zoe's preferred behavior is explained by her culture. Every person, from my understanding, "chooses" an elemental association. Certain blessings and behaviors are expected - and while Zoe is often referred to as being all water, she has a heart of fire, inherited from her father's family. Without having that to take into consideration, Zoe would likely come across as too perfect, too contrived. As I mentioned, the characters are all set up to be idealistic representatives of human nature, where any deviation is clearly explained with some sort of dire circumstance.

It is hard or me to find fault with this book, as it really was an enjoyable, well-paced read. I simply did not want to put it down, was sad when it was finished, and looking forward to the next!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ashley Bell - Dean Koontz

Ashley Bell - Dean Koontz
Source: Barnes & Noble
Original Review: February 4, 2016
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

There is something about Koontz's writing that never fails to drag me in. Granted, this is only the second book of his I have read, but his writing is so distinct that you could never mistake his for any one else's.

I was terrified to pick up another book after reading Innocence, afraid that I would be disappointed. That Innocence was a fluke of Koontz's writing that struck me so deeply. Early on, I was happy to say I was wrong. That a writer like Koontz is lucky to come around once a generation - if that!

So, imagine my surprise when - every third paragraph or so - our lead's mother starts spouting surfer lingo. Which is then promptly identified as surfer lingo, and a definition of what she said given.

Um... am I really reading the same Dean Koontz that wrote Innocence? The master of "show, not tell"? His ability to walk the subtle line between too much and not enough seems horribly compromised. I am used to seeing things that don't make sense early on in a book, but when these nonsensical things are completely disparate from the situation they are put in, they go from "confusing" to "pointless."

At only page 60 out of a 500+ page book, I was sorely tempted to return it and add it to my small (but growing) DNF list. Even that aside, I have never returned a book so early on before and, in fact, I have only ever returned a book to the store once before in my life. At that point, however, my desire to know the outcome was enough to keep me going.

Now, perhaps I read this too soon after finishing American Sniper. But reading a book in which the heroine's love interest is a Texas-born former cowboy Navy SEAL overseas on a blackout mission to take out a terrorist, while the heroine sits at home dealing with cancer with no one but her parents at her side... uh-huh.

The dialogue discourages me even more. Issues with the mom's dialogue aside, Koontz does a fair job of capturing how a person in various situations might actually speak. Hell, beyond the dialogue, he does a good job capturing how they might act as well. There just isn't enough of it!

"I need you to help me understand... You think the golden retriever cured you?"
"No. Maybe. Hell, I don't know. The dog had something to do with what's happened. It must have. Listen, I'm not saying it's a miracle dog. What would that mean, anyway, 'miracle dog'? Sounds ridiculous. But the dog and the man who brought him - they must know something. Don't you think so? I think so. Well, the man might know something. The dog wouldn't necessarily know. Who knows what dogs know? And even if the dog knew something it wouldn't be able to tell us what it knew, because dogs can't talk. So, we need to talk to the man." (p.88)
Perfect dialogue for someone inexplicably cured from a supposedly incurable disease. Absolutely brilliant.

So where's that brilliance in the rest of this incoherent mish mash?

And oh, my fucking god. She's in a coma. She's been in a coma this whole time, ever since all of the crazy shit started. We've been reading nothing more than a god-damned coma dream.


Even if it's not that... has Koontz started to rely only on his name to get people to keep reading? Using something so cliche... even if it's not really that - I'm having a hard time convincing myself to keep reading. In fact, I'm only still reading because I have nothing else to do except watch re-runs of Numb3rs, and listen to my eight year old ramble about her upcoming vacation. Both of which sound 100% more preferable to finishing this book.

But I'm more stubborn - and apparently more masochistic - than that. So, I press on.

Sort of.

Koontz still displays an impressive level of skill in portraying human behavior. However, his almost lyrical method of writing I became accustomed to previously is conspicuously absent from Ashley Bell. In fact, the style and method varied greatly throughout the book - almost as if Koontz wasn't the only one writing, and the voices just didn't blend.

I wish I could say the ending made the last week of reading worth it. It didn't. If anything, it just made my disappointment all the more absolute. There is no taking those hours back, and no redemption to be found for this book.