Hiatus from Blog Activity

I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately about the long term future of this blog. To be perfectly honest I read through my reviews and I can’t help but think that I could improve on the quality somehow. Every time I read through my posts I feel that there is something missing, especially now that I want to make the transition from a hobby writer to a professional writer.

As a consequence I’ve chosen to take a hiatus while I figure things out and what I want to do with my time spent blogging in the future. I like to think that I will keep doing this blog in some capacity but I can’t say for sure. I can’t say how long this hiatus will be but I will update you all regardless of what the outcome is. I thank you all for your patience and understanding during this time.

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The Crippled God (Steven Erikson 2011)

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At last, the end of this long drawn out The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. What a pain this has been to read. I swear I am not picking any fantasy series longer than five books now that I have finished reading it. The Crippled God, the tenth and final book in this series, is exactly what you would expect from the last instalment of an epic fantasy series. Adjunct Tavore and her allies are preparing for their final battle with the intent on challenging the gods themselves (as quoted from the blurb). In the process though, the opponent isn’t the Crippled God, but rather the mysterious Forkrul Assail, one of the elder races. They have hijacked the Crippled God’s plan and seek to eliminate all of civilisation, and every human in the process. This subsequently leads them into a final battle for all of creation. Like I said, the usual fantasy stuff. The twist is that they aren’t fighting who you’d expect to be fighting.

Despite this the twist wasn’t too great in my eyes, in part because the Forkrul Assail have spent the majority of the series making no appearance whatsoever, instead being mentioned every now and again as part of the background lore. Consequently I knew very little about them except that they were the bad guys and wanted to kill everything, a rather generic motive in itself. Needless to say I wasn’t too keen on them. They seemed to act as a group rather than having a leader, and although they are elder beings they are still a far cry from the Crippled God as far as villains go. I vastly preferred the Crippled God as a villain and while I feel changing things around was the right way to go about it, with the vast number of gods in the setting they should have had a villain with a bit more divinity behind them. It’s an Epic Fantasy series which has been building up to some big epic battle and I felt that the final villains were a bit underwhelming all things considered.

Like I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, the book was so damn complicated that at times I wonder if there was another villain and I just missed it all under the sea of purple prose and complicated subplots which suddenly become relevant out of the blue with little to no foreshadowing in previous books. Sometimes I actually wondered if the author made it up as he went along because a lot of characters in the series seemed to die without warning and a lot of characters seemed to disappear during the course of The Crippled God, including a lot of my favourites. Rather it seemed that he had so many characters the author couldn’t decide which ones were important to the finale. Even when the end came, I found it be be abrupt and did little to help me understand what just happened.

Point is this book was a bit of a mess to be honest, though this was in part because the series was a complicated mass of plots and subplots to begin with. Some people could argue that I simply could not follow such a complicated series, but if you ask me the only reason the ten books are so complicated is because they were badly written to begin with. I know why it was written as it was. It was an attempt to be realistic, why would you start the story neatly at the beginning and hold the reader’s hand? Of course in real life there would be a number of complex plots at play. Yet, I handled A Song of Ice and Fire just fine and that was the same.

To be perfectly honest I thought the books used realism where it wasn’t needed, that throwing the reader into it with no explanation would somehow enhance the reading experience. In reality all it did was make me feel lost and confused throughout the whole ten book affair and I understand the series no better than I did at the start. I can say I’m glad this long trudge is over. I can move onto better things now, hopefully things with a bit less complexity to them.

SCORE: 2.5/5

IN A WORD: COMPLICATED

Tales from Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin 2001)

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This is going to be a difficult book to review, in part because this is the first time I’ve tried to review a collection of short stories. Some are novella length while others are short stories. Of the stories in the collection there are five in total. The first novella length story, The Finder follows the story of how the school of magic is established on Roke Island. Darkrose and Diamond revolves around the romance of a young couple, the daughter of a witch and the son of a rich merchant. The Bones of the Earth follows Ogion the Silent as he deals with an earthquake. On the High Marsh focuses on a healer arrives in a remote village where there is a livestock epidemic. Lastly is the second novella length story Dragonfly, which acts a postscript of sorts to Tehanu and follows the girl Dragonfly as she seeks to become a wizard despite the wizarding schools only taking male students and thus follows her attempts to shatter the gender barriers prevalent within the school in the process.

The Finder was normal enough, a simple story detailing how events lead to the creation of the school on Roke Island. Given the institution’s role in A Wizard of Earthsea I found it interesting to see how the school originally developed. The use of gender roles and establishing that women played a key role in the school’s founding was a clever way of redressing the gender imbalance from the previous Earthsea novels, where women could only ever be witches as opposed to mages. The fact that these women were later excluded from the school made me feel sorry for him and I liked the novella in part because of how it addressed the issues present within the previous novels in the Earthsea series and challenging notions which were previously not discussed.

Darkrose and Diamond was interesting, in part because of the way it handled the romance between the two titular characters. However I feel like it could have been improved if it followed the female, Darkrose as opposed to Diamond since she was the more interesting character, being an independent female who struggles with being the daughter of a witch, again continuing a trend of independent female characters. The theme of strong independent female characters pops up again in The Bones of the Earth, where Ogion’s mentor learned his magic from a female mage. The

On the High Marsh was somewhat of an odd sheep and for some reason I didn’t follow it in quite the same way as the others, in part because I did not see any connections to the rest of the series and partially because somehow I found the plot somehow unremarkable. Consequently it wasn’t always the easiest story to follow and I must confess I sort of skimmed through it. The only connection to the series is when Ged appears towards the end of the story, revealing that the book was set during his time as Archmage. Truth be told, it just seemed like a weak story.

Another intriguing story was Dragonfly, which acts as a bridge between Tehanu and the next Earthsea novel, The Other Wind. It follows a girl, the titular Dragonfly. The interesting aspect about this is that once again it deals with the idea of independence and the challenging of gender roles, this time more explicitly since the main character seeks to become a mage despite being a girl and seeking to study at a school which only admits male students. The return to the school on Roke was quite welcome and showing the internal corruption amongst the mages was interesting after losing Ged as Archmage and the question is left as to who will become Archmage next.

Overall the theme of independence and feminism features strongly in a lot of the stories in the book, more so than in the previous Earthsea novels. A lot the stories challenge the idea that the way things are in the Earthsea novels are how they should be, rather she makes the reader stop and think about whether this whimsical world of hers as as perfect as she’s made it out to be. In some ways I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of these stories, not as much at the Earthsea novels themselves but still a great read.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: INDEPENDENT

Dust of Dreams (Steven Erikson 2009)

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First off I should apologise for not updating last week. I was busy and in my rush in the rush to get other things done I forgot about the blog entirely. Thus I give my apologies and without further ado it is time to begin the review. Dust of Dreams is the ninth novel in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series and is also the second to last. Both it and the sequel The Crippled God form the last act of this rather draggy series. The book follows a number of factions but revolves around the exiled Malazan Army, lead by Adjunct Tavore as they make their preparations within Letheras to begin their march into the eastern wastelands to confront an unknown enemy. They stand ready to make a last heroic stand as dark forces threaten to swallow the world whole. The destinies of the various characters are set to become more complicated as they prepare to make one last heroic stand, but with nobody around to witness it.

Interestingly enough the novel begins in Letheras and that is where the finale seems to be set up, since that is where the exiled Malazan Army have taken residence. There we gain insight into the mechanics of the new regime, of which recurring character Tehol has been crowned King. Tehol was a disappointingly minor character in the novel, at least in my opinion, since he never engaged in much action himself and preferred to act through his brother Brys Beddict. The politics surrounding Letheras and the people left within it start to come to a head as things start to heat up.

Most interesting is how factions I haven’t previously paid much attention to, such as the K’Chain Che’Malle, seemed to factor more into this book than they had previously. To some extent this meant the book got a bit complex to me. It seemed to bring a lot of plotlines together but somehow I struggled to understand a lot of this book because it seemed to bring to a conclusion the side plots from the previous novels, which I have long since forgotten about. With a series as big as Malazan it is easy to forget things and this worked against my enjoyment of the book somewhat.

Somehow this book seemed to drag on longer than the others, in part because the book as a whole was meant to be a prelude to the next book as opposed to a novel on its own. This was something which I would have preferred not to happen since the novels are so large and complicated already, it was worse having to read two of these novels before I finally understand what’s going on. Of course by the time I’ve gotten to the end the myraid of plots and subplots mean that the book is a blur of complicated stuff which I don’t understand. This is something I’ve come to expect with the series as a whole but somehow it felt worse in Dust of Dreams.

Overall there isn’t too much to say about Dust of Dreams, it’s mostly a book of set-ups in preparation for the next novel. Not a whole lot remarkable happened in it, although my cynicism regarding this series may be starting to cloud my judgement at this stage. It was no worse or better than any of the other Malazan Book of the Fallen books. I’ll admit that a lot of it just sort of blurred together into this mess of stuff which I understood better at the beginning than I did at the end. Knowing how this goes I don’t know what the last book will have in store for me but I hope that it gives me some sense of closure from all this at least.

SCORE: 3/5

IN A WORD: DULL

Give a Boy a Gun (Todd Strasser 2000)

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Recently I picked up a strange and unique novel known as Give a Boy a Gun. I should warn you that this book is about two boys who go on a school shooting, therefore I will be talking about what may be an uncomfortable topic for some. Hence you have been warned if this is not something you want to be reading about. As a British man, my view of school shootings will likely be different to that of the average American, in part because the issue is not nearly as prominent in the UK. As a result my view of the issue may at times come across as quite alien. In some ways the gun crime in America has always intrigued me, and I must confess that I have quite the morbid obsession with school shootings, particularly the famous ones such as Columbine from which this novel seems to draw its inspiration. As a consequence the book was an interesting read.

Give a Boy a Gun has a unique style of narrative in that it tells its story in the form of interviews, compiled by Denise Shipley, the stepsister of Gary Searle, one of the shooters. The story is thus told through multiple alternate point of views which change with each paragraph giving the story and almost omniscient narrative with the way it frequently flies between each narrator. Between these are things such as suicide notes written by the perpetrators and online conversations, which often serve to add variety to the narrative. This was an intriguing thing for me, particularly the addition of online conversations since this something that is often missing in a lot of the so called “scrapbook” or epistolary novels which appear from time to time. Additions such as this make the novel feel more modern as a result, though I admit having to memorise the usernames of each of the main cast members was annoying at times. I would have maybe preferred it if they put the real names in brackets or something.

The story itself is simple. Despite never seeing things from their perspective, the story revolves around shooters, Gary Searle and Brendan Lawlor and an exploration of their gradual descent into misanthropy. The story follows the course of their time in high school and uses the interviews to give an insight into why Gary and Brendan did what they did. The novel cumulates in an account of the incident itself, which takes place at a dance during their Tenth Grade. Amongst the numerous people giving accounts of the story are a mutual friend of Gary and Brendan, Ryan Clancy and Gary’s girlfriend, Allison Findley. The latter was an interesting addition because in one way it showed that even if he wasn’t completely ‘lonely’, the bullying and teasing him still isolated Gary to the point where he wanted to go ahead with the shooting despite being in a relationship with Allison. I had mixed feeling about her role in the end however, since her role in stopping the shooting seemed somewhat contrived and in hinsight I couldn’t help but wonder if she was only there to give Gary a crisis of conscience at the last second.

To me I can’t decide of that crisis of conscience at the end was a good thing or not. In the end it results in Gary shooting himself, an event which essentially puts an end to the shooting due to the resulting shock. On the one hand it showed that he wasn’t completely far gone, but sometimes I wonder if the story would have been better if he rejected that last opportunity of redemption. It also created this power dynamic where Brendan was the “stronger” of the two. This idea of one shooter being an instigator is a trend I’ve seen in fiction relating to school shootings to the point where I actually think it’s a bit cliché in a strange sort of way. Up until that point I was hoping that it would reach some conclusion that neither would be ‘more guilty’ than the other, and I was somewhat disappointed that the story did not go in that direction.

Expectations aside, the novel was a brilliant read and one I would wholly recommend to anyone who is interested in the topic of school shootings. It reflects a lot of reality, though at times I feel like it rehashed a lot of the popular conceptions of the Columbine Massacre rather than try to construct original personalities and motivations for the shooters. However it is still a great novel. It’s a little bit on the short side but throughout the entire thing I was completely gripped. I’ve been waiting for a novel like this for some time and I’m grateful for its attempt at innovation. One of the best pieces of fiction on school shootings I’ve read so far.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: REAL

Purple Hibiscus (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2003)

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Purple Hibiscus is one of them weird novels that I originally would not have picked up. However as part of a reading challenge I undertook at the start of the year I had to read a book set in a different country to the one I lived in. Set in Nigeria, the novel seemed the natural choice when I chanced across it while browsing for books to buy. The novel follows Kambili Achike, a fifteen year old girl who is shy and inhibited. She lives with her brother Jaja, her mother Beatrice and her father Eugene. She frequently has to deal with her father’s abusive behaviour behind closed doors, stemming from his strict Catholic beliefs. Things change when she and Jaja go to stay with their Auntie Ifeoma, who is more liberal and practices a different form of Catholicism compared to Eugene. Consequently her journey to adulthood begins as she soon begins to discover more about herself and the world around her.

The story is clearly a coming of age story where the character comes to terms with the world around them, growing up and maturing into an adult in the process. The theme of growing up and maturity, especially with regards to the way she distances herself and moves on from her father’s excessive religious beliefs. Her approach to religion is one of the ways in which she evolves, gradually moving away from the fear of committing sin which plagued her life while living under her father. A contrast with this is shown not just in the contrasting figures of her Auntie Ifeoma and her father, but also between her father and Father Amadi, a young priest whom she develops a crush on through the duration of the story.

Throughout all of this the story provides a lot of insight into the political climate withing Nigeria. The political aspects of the novel are interesting. Auntie Ifeoma is a lecturer at the University of Nigeria and the issues she suffers despite being in what would be a cosy position within most of the modern world. The idea of someone within education still suffering and being neglected by the state is something that would be unthinkable for a lot of people and thus the very notion of such a thing happening was kind of shopping. When Auntie Ifeoma leaves Nigeria at the end of the novel I’m kind of rooting for her because the Nigerian government and the University of Nigeria have done nothing but treat her like dirt.

With regard to drawbacks, I felt like the protagonist herself was a bit passive in places. I understood her being passive at the beginning since the point of her story arc is that she is shy and passive and has to try and grow out of it. Ultimately though she seems to just get caught up in the interesting events of everyone else’s lives, while having moments where she grows as a person. She never does anything interesting herself. Usually the interesting things seem to happen to others. In fact every other character seemed to act as a big mover in the climax apart from her. When her brother goes to jail, taking the blame for their mother killing their father with poison, I felt like Kambili never did much aside from take care of her mother until Jaja is finally released. So in some respects the book does have a few weaknesses. It promises some good character development for Kambili but I can’t decide on whether the novel delivered on that front or not.

Overall the novel is okay. The slice of life plot and Kambili’s passive role within the story kind of ruined it to me somewhat. It was almost like Kambili was there to act as an observer to events as times, something which seemed to hit home at the climax when events suddenly seemed to spiral out of her control. Despite this the novel provided some interesting insight into Nigerian culture, and the conflicts between the old religions and western religions such as Catholicism and the roles both things play in people’s lives. Ultimately this was a novel that I liked far more than I expected to, since I tend not to read novels like this, but still had some latent potential which it could have tapped into.

Toll the Hounds (Steven Erikson 2008)

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It’s time to review the eighth book in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Toll the Hounds is one of them unusual books within the series at least at first glance. The plot takes the reader back to the city of Darujhistan where the first book was set. The plot revolves around the surviving Bridgeburners, who now run a pub within the city, as they contend with assassins who wish to kill them. Meanwhile far in the city of Black Coral the threat of the cult of the Redeemer looms and the Tiste Andii seem oblivious. Meanwhile Anomander Rake, the son of darkness is set to face a challenge of his own.

A lot characters from previous novels make their return, in particular from Gardens of the Moon and Memories of Ice. Since the book shares the same setting as the first book this was natural. A lot of the characters are people whom I have long since forgotten about, with the retired Bridgeburners being of particular note. The return of Kruppe was also a welcome addition. His eccentric glory was something to be witnessed and the book is a return to form in that regard. It reminded me of how much I wished he had a large role within the series as a whole, which made me a bit sad.

The return of Anomander Rake was also welcome as well as the return to Black Coral, their city. That being said, I didn’t find it as interesting as Darujhistan, in part because I was far more familiar with some of the characters there. Black Coral felt new to me because I hadn’t seen much of it in the previous novels, and the few memories I have are very vague. Like a lot of non human characters from the Tiste species I had trouble following the ones which weren’t Anomander Rake. This is in part because I have trouble relating to non human characters, especially when there are so many different species of non human races as there are in the Malazan world. The fact that the Tiste races are essentially stand ins for elves does not help things, since I have a certain distaste for elves in fantasy novels. Consequently I could not identify with those characters well, especially since the Tiste Andii are the most non-human of the three Tiste races.

The novel for the most part seems cut off from the rest of the series, with a drop down in scale. However a few recurring characters from the main part of the series return. The most notable of these are Mappo Runt, who is trying to find Icarium, and Karsa Orlong and Samar Dev, who are continue to travel together after the events of the previous novel. Karsa Orlong’s story arc, while placing back seat compared to the other arcs, continues to be intriguing as he deals with the aftermath of his victory against Rhulad Sengar. As a whole though not a lot seems to be going on there, which I was a little disappointed by even though this isn’t too important of a novel for Karsa Orlong since he spent a great deal of the previous one in the limelight.

Overall I’m not sure what to think about it. One of the one hand I welcomed the return of certain characters, such as Kruppe and Anomander Rake. Yet I had trouble following the plot since I didn’t know the characters central to the novel as well. The problem stems from the fact that the surviving Bridgeburners whom the novel revolves around were characters whom I didn’t pay too much attention to while they were around and consequently I had to remind myself who they were every time they appeared. Regardless the step down in tone was welcome and I was more than impressed when compared to other books in the series. Now that we have finished this book it is time to move on to the last two books of the series, and consequently the final act of the Malazan series.

SCORE: 3/5

IN A WORD: COMPLEX