[ Book Review ] Death, with feeling

I tried, Canaries. I really tried.

I pushed my way through so much boring action, so many quaint appearances by Niccolo Machiavelli, and so much freaking talking, but I have reached my wit’s end with Michael Scott’s The Magician.

Going off my experience with the first book, I should have never tried to read the second. But in this case, my literary death came down to one singular moment, one monumental sentence: Continue reading

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[ Book Review ] Meg’s Very First DNF

Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen (Did Not Finish)

Read by James Langton

(A review in which Meg spends a lot of time comparing literature to video games. She was just that bored.)

My review is going to start with a premise that is also a chunk of advice for all future writers. If you’re going to borrow/steal, at least make it entertaining.

The basic premise of Here, There Be Dragons, is the existence of a magical land (The Archipelago of Dreams) in which every land ever imagined or committed to pen exists and is in danger of falling under the command of the evil Winter King.

So far so good. Everyone loves a great conglomeration of well-loved tales. What’s the problem?

First, by “every land ever imagined or committed to pen,” I mean every British story that has persisted longer than half a century.

Within the first few hours of listening, scenes/characters from Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Peter Pan, Narnia (though the fauns may have just been a Greek myth throwback), Sherlock Holmes and many other fairy tales marched across the plot-scape. One of main characters introduced wears clothing that is a mish-mash of every Hans Christen Anderson and Grimm Brother’s fairytale.

Had I known that this was a metaphor-times-8-million for the rest of the book, I would have stopped right there. And admittedly, that may have been part of my problem: I really don’t like any of the stories listed in the paragraph above.

If I had a deeper love for Brit lit, then maybe I would have found the references a little quainter. And maybe if the story had simply brushed by the other tales, paid them a passing tip-of-the-hat, it would have been like a delightful game of hide-and-seek to find your favorite Hobbit. But that wasn’t the case.

But it wasn’t the “borrowing” that did me in.

Recently, Mass Effect hit the video-game world with a bang and a spaceship. In this space opera, Commander Shepard fights off an invading band of uber-AI aliens while playing politics to the many races  of the galaxy, most of whom hate humans simply for being whiny meatbags.

When this epic scifi story got to the shelves, one thing became glaringly obvious: the game designer, BioWare, had plucked liberally from all of the great science-fiction staples: Stargate, Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, with some Space Odyssey and Asimov sprinkled in.

And for taking all those elements and splicing them into something original, BioWare created a phenomenon.

How did Mass Effect manage to create a great, captivating story while Here, There be Dragons did not? I suspect the ability to shoot aliens has something to do with it.

But surely the story borrowing wasn’t that bad, Meg. You just pointed out it can be done well.

Okay, take this example:

Our group of characters must get into a mountain pass where a dragon lives. But they get stuck at the front door because the way in is barricaded and can only be opened by an elvish magic word that the leader of the group has suddenly forgotten. Some of you may recall a very similar scene in Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (especially since that is the precise place where there is a clear deviation of script between the theatrical and extended cuts — yes, I have seen them that many times).

Shortly after that, they meet the dragon who begins to talk about how the real ruler of the Archipelago of Dreams must wear a magic ring. That’s right. A ring.

Oh, and the elves and dwarves have special magic rings, too, donchaknow. As soon as I hit that part, I was unenthusiastically waiting for the dragon to proclaim, “One ring to rule them!”  It never quite got to that point, but it tottered close enough that I had to call the book dead as a DNF.

Mind, I really love retellings of popular stories. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked remains one of my favorite books and Robin McKinley’s many forays into retelling famous fairy tales make a fangirl out of me. But what makes those stand out is the 100% commitment to the story. When Maguire wrote Wicked, it wasn’t about making fan-fiction nods to other versions: it was about reinventing a world that was already so well-loved that there was no choice but to go-big-or-go-home.

In Here, There Be Dragons, the whole thing felt too tame, too contained. It was just not engaging in the way that Wicked or Mass Effect are. A retelling is about reinventing a loved story, not simply rehashing it. We have reviews and cliff-notes for that.

About halfway through the audiobook, every time someone said/thought the word ‘dragon,’ my mind took a full-pelt sprint to my basement where Dragon Age II was sleeping in my Xbox. There be dragons there, too (and a whole bunch more theme stealing by BioWare, though this time from high fantasy classics). And in the game, at least, the dragons want to eat my face rather than serve me tea.

Simple equation:

Face-chomping dragons > Mildly British dragons.

Conclusion:

I may meander back to the book at some point. It’s not completely terrible; the novel is one of the rare instances where it is solely the story that kills the book, rather than the manner in which it is written. Hopefully Owens, who has a lovely way with prose, offers up something better in the next go around.

[ Book Review ] A pretty cover does not a good book make. Sadly.

Meg’s Review: The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

by Michael Scott

Audiobook read by Denis O’Hare

I am a sucker for three things: ancient-mythology-in-modern-times, perfectly-paced prose, and pink-colored alcoholic drinks.  The first weakness saw me buy The Alchemyst by Michael Scott. The lack of the second drove me to the third.

In The Alchemyst, 700-year-old Nicholas Flamel is alive and well after discovering the secret to immortality in a book called “The Codex”. He and his wife, Perenelle, are camped out in San Francisco running a bookstore (because I guess what else would you do if you were immortal and could turn anything into gold?).  Enter the villain, John Dee, who is after the secrets contained in “The Codex” — which, incidentally, are key to returning the Dark Elders (think evil gods) back to power. And in the middle of it are twin teenagers Sophie and Josh, who, by the way, turn out to be the subject of a prophecy that may or may not end the world.

I realized early on that my main problem was that I simply wasn’t connecting with the protagonists. Did that mean that I had finally hit an age where I could no longer truly commit to a young adult novel? Are fifteen-year-old minds just too different for my decrepit-self?  How to check the theory? I thought about how I felt about the plight of other YA protagonists: Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and Katniss Everdeen. Then I decided that Sofie and Josh were just kinda dumb and annoying, and that’s why I didn’t like the book.

Time for some of the good and bad:

Continue reading

[Book Review] There’s a terrified reader down there.

Mike Shepherd – Mutineer [[Did Not Finish]]

(The first of the Kris Longknife series)

Disclaimer: I ended up stopping roughly one-fourth through the novel. I couldn’t do it. I broke.

I am weak.

The Review:

“There’s a terrified child down there.”

That first sentence says,

You want to read me.

By the fifth paragraph, my interest in the terrified child had died down and I was slogging past my first narrative exclamation mark. As the main character, Kris, faces her mission to rescue this child, the reader is hit over the head with the requisite past trauma in the form of flashbacks, the angst of needing to escape the shadow of her family history, and characters that, more often than not, are used as info-dump mouthpieces.

In the character of Kris, the author appears to be trying to create a sympathetic 22-year-old who is running from her past while searching for a semblance of stability. However, as her most painful struggles are internal — tending to consist of cycling through a decade of survivor’s guilt and her crisis about being treated like the poor little rich girl — the attempt to humanize her comes across as a token salute. In the first quarter of the book, the minor conflicts are solved by the superior (flying, computer, political, etc) skills she had gained as a child, or by family members or friends with equally exceptional skill-sets.

I did not see struggle. I did not see growth. I did not finish the book.

That first sentence is the high point of the 100 pages I read (out of 400). Now, the first fourth of the book does have at least one redeeming quality. Continue reading