TheDark Moon (Julia Gray 2000)

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The Dark Moon is the first book in The Guardian Cycle, a series of five books by Julia Gray, which I picked up at random some time ago. I’ve put off reading it for some time, but I finally found time in my hectic reading schedule to finish it. The book revolves around the crippled and weak Terrel, the secret twin brother of the the emperor’s firstborn son, Jax. There was a prophecy surrounding the emperor’s child, saying that he would become the Guardian, a saviour for their people. Yet the prophecy did not state that there would be two children, and rather than admit the prophecies could be wrong Terrel is imprisoned at birth and raised in an asylum for the insane, nobody willing to believe that Terrel could possibly be the Guardian. As Terrel discovers the secrets of the land and the mysterious Dark Moons he begins to discover abilities within himself, eventually journeying out into the wide world for the first time in his life.

The first thing I noticed as a was reading it was just how many fantasy clichés it fulfils. The hero is heavily implied to be a chosen one, though the matter is twisted somewhat by the ambiguity as to whether or not it is he or Jax who is the Guardian. Yet the heavy role of prophecy is still a cliché in itself and not one I’m particularly fond of. It gives the work a deterministic feel, that ultimately everything will go according to some divine plan, the only dramatic tension coming from the fact that neither characters or we as an audience understand it yet. They basically outright say that the hero will defeat the villain and/or save the day and negate a lot of the narrative tension and I feel this is the case with this novel.

A lot of the characters are also quite cliché as well. Not only is Terrel implied to be a chosen one, but there is also has the whole being a lost prince thing going for him which is pretty much one of the standard fantasy tropes and one which I’m simply sick of seeing. Jax seems to be the stereotypical evil twin. Even though the novel toys with the idea that there may be more to him than that the ending shows that he has a definite mean streak to him. I don’t know if he will redeem himself in later novels or not but in this novel on its own he is a definite evil twin and his reasons for being evil towards his brother seem to be motivated by selfishness and pragmatism. Characters who seem mean for the sake of being mean don’t really mesh well with me and at the moment I can only see Jax as a petty twin brother who doesn’t want to share the limelight.

With regards to the supporting characters they made a nice twist by having most of them be ghosts, with a combination of recently dead characters and people who have been dead for many years featuring amongst Terrel’s support network of spirits. There is also his love interest Alyssa, who isn’t dead but can communicate with him through dreams and follows him around by possessing animals. As a character I felt a lot of them were boring, especially since most of them were dead. I felt that it would have been better if Terrel had at least one living companion with him throughout the novel, at least one who wasn’t possessing animals to travel with him. I felt like Terrel was kinda lonely since he never had any actual travelling companions except for spirits and it the real world conflict seemed lessoned since Terrel was always so wrapped up in talking to his spirit friends that the real world people were sort of glossed over.

The plot as a whole didn’t do a lot for me either. It felt kind of boring since it seemed to move at a snail’s pace. I never felt like there was any real danger to Terrel, which is partially tied in to the themes of prophecy since you know he is going to get out of most of those scrapes so he can do whatever he is destined to do. The twist ending with Jax’s betrayal was a nice addition but the climax of the novel before that seemed a bit too leisurely and not really all that threatening to any of the characters. It was also quite confusing as to who the antagonist of the novel was, as the Dark Moon was set up as a threat yet it never seemed to do anything except create strange natural phenomena. It wasn’t until the end that I started to get a feel for the direction the series wanted to go.

Overall I couldn’t help but feel that this was just another generic fantasy book with a lot of clichés abound. It plays around with them just enough to briefly hold your interest but only for a few seconds at most. I couldn’t get to grips with the book’s main plot at all and I felt like it was little more than an extended prologue for the rest of the series. A bit of a disappointing read overall, but as always I will continue with the series. I hope that the other instalments may provide some kind of improvement.

SCORE: 3/5

IN A WORD: BORING

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The Broken Kingdoms (N.K. Jemisin 2010)

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This time I’m reviewing The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I reviewed previously. To put things bluntly, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was not what I was expecting it to be. I walked into The Broken Kingdom with a greater expectation as to what I was getting. Like the previous novel, The Broken Kingdom is a romantic fantasy. The novel revolves around Oree Shoth, a blind artist who can see magic, but must conceal her ability since it considered heretical by the Order of Itempas. She takes in a homeless man who shines brightly to her magic sight, an apparently mute man whom she dubs “Shiny” who is in reality the villain of the previous novel, Bright Itempas, a god who was sentenced to live life as a human as punishment. The two are dragged into a conflict with the Order of Itempas and their rival group, the Order of the New Light, after one of the local godlings turns up murdered.

The plot itself is nothing to shake a stick at, expanding on the lore of gods and godlings established in the previous book. Here, godlings live in secret amongst the humans in the city Shadow. In bog standard fashion Oree Shoth turns out to have heritage as a demon, a term used to refer to the offspring between gods/godlings and mortals. This blood is what Dateh, who leads the Order of the New Light along with his wife Serymn Arameri, uses to kill the godlings and apparently he seems to possess some himself. The demon aspect of the plot was an interesting twist, though the reveal that they are simply offspring of humans and gods felt a bit underwhelming considering they are referred to as demons. They felt little more like empowered humans and there wasn’t enough inherent evil for them to warrant such an extreme title in my opinion.

As for the narrative I was looking forward to seeing how Jemisin would handle Oree Shoth’s blindness. In fact this was the reason I picked up the trilogy in the first place and as a result I had high hopes that this part at least be handled well. Yet like most other aspects of this trilogy so far, I found myself disappointed. Oree Shoth’s magic sight is used as a plot device to hide the fact that the author cannot be bothered to write a truly blind character. The author uses the magic sight to give Oree vision, albeit a very limited kind, when it suits the plot best and is basically a lazy method of not having to write description from a blind character’s POV for the entire book. The writing in that regard was disappointingly shoddy and at times the narrative seemed to forget she was even blind, using visual description which Oree herself would not be able to describe even with the magic sight. Put simply, this was a weak aspect of the writing, though given my experiences with the previous novel I was suspected this would be the case long before I started reading.

Like in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the romance itself was a bit uneven. Oree Shoth managed to one up the previous protagonist Yeine by being even more useless as a heroine, relying on the male characters such as her godling ex Madding and her love interest Shiny, or Itempas, as crutches for pretty much the entire novel. There is a cliché love triangle of sorts between Madding and Shiny, which is resolved when Madding is abruptly killed. Itempas is redeemed, despite being a heartless villain in the previous book, and is given a sympathetic motive that is somehow supposed to make us forgive him and feel sorry for him at the same time. The way the entire arc played out just felt so cliché, possibly more so than the relationship of the previous book.

Overall I got the impression that this book was more of the same to be honest, a clumsily written romance that tries to be clever using seemingly clever concepts but not quite delivering. Oree being blind is very similar to the frame narrative of the previous novel, and like the frame narrative it is poorly executed. The novel had some potential behind but the clichés and clumsy writing made it fall a long way from its true potential. Its only saving grace is that despite this I still enjoyed it more than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but this was only by a small margin. As a whole this is still a mediocre book in what is shaping up to be a mediocre series

SCORE: 3/5

IN A WORD: CLICHÉ

4 Tips for Writing Antagonists

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As a reader we’ve all encountered an opposing force or an antagonist in our works, something physical which stands in the way of the heroes. Why is it then that it is so hard to get them right? What is it that separates a good antagonist from a bad one? This is something I’ve thought about a lot since I’ve started writing and so here we go. These are bits of advice for writing antagonists.

1) They do not have to be a villain.

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It is common for the antagonist of the story to be the villain and to many the two words mean the same thing, but there is a reason why I am using the term antagonist as opposed to villain. In truth stories are complex and many times we can find ourselves following a protagonist who goes well and beyond anti-hero territory, actually becoming the main threat of the story. Contrasting them are antagonists who are actually quite heroic. These can crop up in any work but are especially common in works where the protagonist is either a villain or anti-hero.

Basically these antagonists are only an antagonist because they are forced to pursue the protagonist, usually if said protagonist is not on the side of the law, and are generally nice people despite this. These types of antagonists are usually quite well written and can serve to enhance a story. Not every antagonist needs to be a villain and if your protagonist is an anti-hero, villain or just on the wrong side of the law then this type of villain can add an extra dimension to the conflict which a typical cackling villain wouldn’t.

2) They must be a challenge to the protagonist.darth-vader-10-most-dangerous-star-wars-villains.jpeg

A good antagonist should provide some kind of challenge to the protagonist, whether it be a physical challenge or a psychological one. The antagonist may be able to kill the protagonist, or otherwise be able to capture them. Or alternatively they could pose as a psychological barrier, which creates the threat. For example, Batman could take out a lot of his rogues gallery swiftly if he fought to kill but since he does not, he has an added challenge of having to talk them down or having to take them in alive. Likewise in Return of the Jedi, is unwilling to kill Darth Vader since Vader is his father. A good antagonist makes the reader wonder if the protagonist will be able to overcome them. Doesn’t matter if it’s a small time crook or an evil king with a powerful magical sword, they must make the reader ask the question: will the protagonist win?

3) A good motive is essential. Why do they do what they do?

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A good villain also needs a good motive, whether they’re the vilest thing on the planet or someone with a bit more sympathy behind them. We’ve all seen the cackling villain who is evil for evil sake and to be honest they’re somewhat boring. Even the most vile villain should have a reason for doing what they do, and more importantly their behaviour, personality and flaws should reflect this motive. The question you need to ask yourself is why are they doing what they’re doing? Does their motive alone explain their actions, or is there something else explaining their more antagonist actions, for example anger issues or a complex of some sort? Simply put, your villain needs to make sense more than anything and be more than just an archetype with no sense of purpose beyond being villainous.

4) They can sometimes be a personification of the real threat.

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Sometimes there is no real antagonist driving the conflict the story, but rather circumstances, and the antagonists are merely something the protagonist encounters during the course of a larger adventure. Stories such as Finding Nemo, feature the vast ocean environment as the main driving force of the conflict, and the individual antagonists are animal personifications of the dangers posed by said environment. The real antagonist isn’t always something you can see, and as a result it may be better to have a series of smaller antagonists which represent dangerous circumstances or a dangerous environment. The antagonists of the story are instead tests for the protagonist, whose overall conflict is with something much larger. One does not necessarily have to write the antagonist in this way, but it is a reminder that sometimes the antagonist doesn’t have to drive the story but rather be a part of it, an obstacle to overcome.

Film Review: The Iron Giant (Brad Bird 1999)

the-iron-giant_special-edition-dvd-cover_2004.jpgIt’s been a while since I last reviewed a film but I figured it was about time I reviewed them again, starting with The Iron Giant. I was never too interested in the film as a child but as an adult I’ve wanted to watch it for quite a while, and just recently I finally got the chance. For a bit of background The Iron Giant is an adaptation of The Iron Man, a children’s story by Ted Hughes though there are a number of key differences between the book and film. Having never read the book, I will not focus on this point and will instead review the film on its own merits. The film revolves around the titular Iron Giant, whom crash lands on earth near a sleepy American town in the fifties, before being discovered by a boy named Hogarth Hughes, whom quickly befriends the giant and protects it from the united states army, represented by the paranoid agent Kent Mansley.

The first thing I noted was how beautifully animated it was, so much so that I for a long time I actually believe it to be a Disney film. In reality it was the work of Warner Bros whom had previously produced animation in movies such as Space Jam. It is a testament to the skill of the animation team that I made this error. In particular I was a huge fan of the human characters in the film who seemed to have an incredible amount of detail in their movements. The Iron Giant itself is nothing it shake a stick it either and I loved seeing the fight sequence at the end, where it finally unleashes it full arsenal in what was one of the most frighteningly beautiful scenes I have ever seen.

Most of the characters seemed to be realistic and well written. Standout characters include the giant itself, the beatnik Dean and Mansley the agent. Despite being barely able to speak at the beginning and generally having limited speech even as it learns more words, it is hard not to emphasise with the giant, particularly as it realises its true nature and begins to fight against it. Seeing it grow up and learn about humanity made it hard for me to see the giant in any kind of negative light, and seeing it struggle against its programming towards the end was one of the most heart rending scenes in the entire film.

Dean and Mansley are two similar characters in that both are wary of the giant, yet they diverge and go on to personify the ways in which humanity may react to the giant. Dean eventually accepts the giant and realises that despite everything it means no harm. Meanwhile Mansley never accepts the giant and doggedly seeks its destruction, leading him to effectively stalk Hogarth so he can get the evidence required to prove the giant’s existence to his superiors. Despite this Mansley still retains a degree of sympathy since he is clearly paranoid about the very real threat the giant could pose, though he loses said sympathy as his methods becomes increasingly more extreme. I think the ending scenes made Mansley weaker as a character since they made him more of a cartoon villain, a rabid dog who wants little more than to kill the giant no matter how many dogs he has to kick. I think it would have been better if he had at least a little sympathy at this point even in his rabid paranoia but overall his character is good despite this, I just felt like he could have been better.

The story itself is probably one of the most gut wrenching I’ve seen in a long time and ultimately it is about choosing who you want to be. The Giant’s struggles are real and the fact that is forced into a battle with the army at the end makes you feel sorry for him even after his programming forces him to unleash his full arsenal against them. When the missile heads towards the town there is a sense of dread that you don’t normally see in a movie, this idea that this really could be it. This makes the giant’s sacrifice to stop the missile all the sadder since you realise that this is the only way it can end. Granted the giant is revealed to be alive in the final scene but the fact to see him revered as a hero by the people who believe him to be dead in the scene afterwards is still sad and what makes the film one of best I’ve watched in a while.

Overall the Iron Giant is an animated classic beyond a shadow of a doubt. The animation truly brings the fifties to life and the political backdrop of the era creates an atmosphere of unease amongst the adults such as Mansley which makes their motives for being paranoid about the giant understandable. Truly an underrated gem and one I will watch again many times for years to come.

SCORE: 4.5/5

IN A WORD: SAD

Edge of Eternity (Ken Follett 2014)

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We’re finally here, at the end of Follett’s Century Trilogy. Edge of Eternity is the last instalment in the series, and covers the history of the second half of the 20th Century, ranging from the sixties all the way until the end of the eighties, covering almost thirty years in the process. Like Winter of the World before it, Edge of Eternity follows the family lines set up at the end of Fall of Giants. This time it follows the descendants of Winter of the World’s major characters, who now almost all married and with children, with a few exceptions. Most of the characters in Fall of Giants are now elderly, assuming they are still alive. The book focuses a lot on civil rights in America, the split between east and west Germany, and the gradual downfall of communism.

The Follett books have always been a bit political, but none more so than this book. I was aware of this before I started reading, but even so I was surprised at how much of Follett’s political opinions had crept into the book. In the start I didn’t notice it too much, but a lot of the characters seemed to have liberal political views, as opposed the broader spectrum in previous books. The few conservative characters are portrayed as stupid oafs who are clearly not meant to be sympathised with and portrayed as antagonistic even though their actual villainy is sometimes nothing compared to the antagonists of, for example, Winter of the World.C

The most notable example of a character affected by Cameron Dewar, who is portrayed as so inept that it is impossible for him to find love with anyone who isn’t a prostitute. He is also a huge dick to boot, a stark contrast to the Dewars of previous books. I disliked the Dewars of previous books because they were either boring or mishandled, but Cameron is such a wildly different character I couldn’t help but think that he didn’t feel like a member of the Dewar family. Granted his point of view segments were still boring, but he was such a stark contrast to the others that I actually hated him more than the others.
I couldn’t help but think that some characters would go underused for lengthy segments of the novel, including people who I considered to be major characters. People such as Rebecca Hoffman seemed to disappear for lengthy sections not doing a whole lot despite getting a reasonable amount of attention at the beginning. It felt almost as if Follett set up these character for a major storyline but eventually grew bored of them and moved onto other characters that he had introduced.

Most of the plotlines which got focus were interesting however. The most interesting included the story arcs of George Jakes and Walli Franck. The former is a black man who starts the story in the sixties involved in the civil rights movement. Unusually he is a lawyer who eventually becomes connected with Robert Kennedy, allowing him to meet people such as John F. Kennedy in the process. As the civil rights era is a period of history which I have interest in, it was interesting to see that period of history unfold. Walli Franck’s story is interesting since his story starts of action packed from the get go after he escapes from East Germany. However his girlfriend stays behind, and he eventually learns that she was pregnant and that he has daughter which he will likely never see. He then becomes a rock star and gets addicted to drugs. This was an interesting plot line since it showed the effects drugs can have on a person and provided an honest insight into the growing entertainment industry at that time.

There were a few strange decisions made, ones which made me question the works historical accuracy. The most notable of these is the character Maria. Maria is an original character whom, in the sixties, has an affair with John. F. Kennedy. This rubbed me the wrong way since, while JFK was supposed to be an adulterer according to many sources, the fact that they would make him have an affair with a fictional character suggests that Follett was willing to ignore actual history when writing the book. This makes me question the historical accuracy of the book as a whole, since to be the decision suggests that Follett might have been willing to ignore facts in other aspects of the book as well.

As a whole the book has its fair share of flaws when compared to its predecessors. The characters are still the same boring archetypes seen in other novels, but I picked up more on the other aspects. The fact that it might not be historically accurate bugs me, not just with Maria’s affair with JFK but also with regards the story’s liberal bias in general. I am not a political person either way, and I believe that any political slant can ruin any attempt at factually representing history. As a result I feel as though the work’s political bias works against it. A decent conclusion but I feel as though it is not the strongest entry and the series, falling just short of Winds of Winter on that front. It is good, but there is certainly a lot of room for improvement.

SCORE: 3.5/5

IN A WORD: POLITICAL

The Seven Basic Plots – A Summary

Basic Plots.jpgThis is a summary of the narrative theory shown by Christopher Booker in his book The Seven Basic Plots. This theory lists the seven types of plots commonly found in fiction. It is useful for figuring out what kind of story it is you are writing, and the best part is that the theory transcends genre and to be honest every single plot on this list can by applied to any genre with enough creativity. So without further ado let’s begin:

1) Overcoming the Monster

The name explains it all. In short the learns of an evil, a “monster” if you will and seeks out to destroy it. This evil may be either a literal monster, like a dragon or other kind of beast, or a more humanoid evil such as a hitman in a thriller. In my interpretation this evil may also take the form of an organisation as well i.e. an army or an evil corporation. T

There are typically three types of monsters. There is the Predator, who goes around looking for victims, the Holdfast, whom guards a treasure or a person and the Avenger, whom is similar to the Holdfast except that when its treasure is stolen it leaps into action and seeks to eliminate those responsible.

These stories have their own structure. First is the call and anticipation stage where the hero becomes aware of the threat and seeks to confront it. Next is the dream stage, is the build up to the confrontation with the monster, which can take the form of the journey to the monster or preparation for the monster’s arrival. The frustration stage is a confrontation against the monster, where we finally see the monster in all its power, with things starting to turn against the hero as the monster seems to large to defeat. This is followed by the nightmare stage, a battle against the monster in which the odds are stacked against the hero. Ultimately the hero comes out on top, and gains a reward in the death of the monster stage, which is usually a treasure of some kind, whether it be literal or metaphorical.

2) Rags to Riches

The Rags to Riches plot is your Cinderella type plot. The protagonist starts off in poor, not too well off state before eventually gaining things such as wealth, power  and often love. After a few bumps along the road the protagonist usually gains a happily ever after involving some of these things, if not all of them.

Like with Overcoming the Monster there is a call where the protagonist is pulled out of their miserable life into the world. There they have an initial success, where they overcome a series of ordeals and gain a few rewards for their trouble though they do not gain the emotional wisdom that comes with them. Then there is the central crisis, where things start to go wrong and the protagonist is driven to despair, usually due to the work of a villain or rival. Once again there is a final ordeal, this time the protagonist shows their growth and overcomes one last ordeal which overcomes their growth, possibly via a confrontation with the villain. Then the protagonist receives their rewards in a fultilment stage, where they get both their rewards and the emotional wisdom to use them wisely.

3) The Quest

This is probably a type of plot associate a lot of people with the fantasy and science fiction genres and shown best in works such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Basically involves a journey, which is usually motivated by a search for a location, an object or piece of information which the protagonist or their group need.

Like most plots on this list the plot is kicked off by a call to adventure, where the protagonist leaves their home. They then begin a journey, which may involves ordeal such as monsters, temptations and a “journey to the underworld” where the protagonist must venture to a dark and dangerous place before they reach their destination. This is followed by an arrival and frustration stage, where they arrive at their destination but find more obstacles in their way. Then a final ordeal occurs where the protagonist must face one last test, which may be a literal test or a confrontation with an antagonist. Finally they reach the goal, where they win a treasure similar to Overcoming the Monster.

4) Voyage and Return

This plot revolves around the protagonist being forced into an unfamiliar environment, another world if you will. This is usually against their will or by accident. This may be either a real world location or literally another world, but basically this other world is usually alien the protagonist and they must adjust to their new surroundings. Usually the protagonist learns and grows as a result of this journey before returning home.

It begins when the protagonist is transported into the other world in a “fall into the other world” stage. This is followed by an initial wonder stage where the protagonist gradually gets used the the new world and usually becomes entranced by it, though not enough for them to feel at home. Then comes a frustration stage where the darker aspects of this world make themselves known and begins to cause problems for the protagonist. Then there is a nightmare stage where these forces becomes a dire threat and the protagonist’s survival is at stake. Then just as these things become too much the protagonist overcomes the obstacles before leaving back home, having learned valuable lessons from their experience.

5) Comedy

Comedy is a tricky plot to define as the word holds so many different meanings amongst the various literary circles. By Booker’s terms, his definition of a comedy plot is a plot revolving around a large cast, a series of miscommunications and a large mesh of relationships. Basically Jane Austen’s books, a lot of romantic comedies and Shakespeare’s comedies fit into this definition. The plot usually starts with the characters gradually becoming broiled in misunderstanding. Gradually this gets worse, possibly being stirred up by an antagonist. Eventually everyone is caught up in a dark tangled mess. Gradually these shadows are dispelled and the villain may either get what’s coming to them or may be redeemed. A rather tricky one to define and probably rather strict in its definition of “comedy” and what constitutes such.

6) Tragedy

Tragedy, by contrast, is a bit easier to define. It revolves around a protagonist who is usually more morally ambiguous than most. They gradually do more and more morally ambiguous things, or simply pursue a tragic dream that is never meant to be. The story usually ends with the protagonist’s tragic demise. Usually the protagonist’s of tragedies have a mean streak about them, but they may just be flawed good guys in bad situations.

The stages mirror those of Overcoming the Monster. It begins with an anticipation stage where protagonist, who is in some way incomplete, begins pursuing some kind of object of desire whether it be love, money or something else. Following this is the dream stage, where the protagonist becomes committed to the goal, usually via some kind of “deal with the devil”or rather do something which they shouldn’t. Things seem to right for them until the frustration stage, where things start to wrong and the repercussions of the protagonist’s actions start to come back to bite them. This cumulates in a nightmare stage, where things start to to go horribly wrong and the various opposing forces begin to close in on the protagonist. Finally is the destruction stage, where the protagonist is in some way destroyed, either left broken or dead in some way. This is usually as a result of some final act, which causes them to finally reach rock bottom and possibly commit suicide or be killed by their enemies.

7) Rebirth

Finally is Rebirth. This is essentially a more positive version of the tragedy, where the protagonist is ultimately redeemed and achieves something resembling a happy ending. The protagonists of this plot usually have redeeming qualities to show that they deserve their happy ending. Like the tragedy the protagonist usually gets caught up in darkness and deal with the threat growing in similar stages to the tragedy, seeming almost non-existent at first before becoming so prominent it can no longer be ignored. However rather than let the darkness triumph the protagonist eventually redeems themselves, negating what would otherwise be a tragic ending.

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As a whole some of these stages may prove more useful than others. In particular I feel Comedy is lacking somewhat, referring to older definitions of the word rather than it’s modern uses. However it is hard to definite what it means to be a comedy, and some confusion was inevitable regardless of how Booker chose to define it. Regardless I hope that this list was useful, and that you will use this when planning your stories. With a bit of thinking any story can fit into these plots so it is definitely worth using them if you can.

 

‘Salem’s Lot (Stephen King 1975)

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I’ve finally felt the Stephen King bug again, so I’m going to review another classic, ‘Salem’s Lot. It is a vampire story, and one with a lot of promise. The novel follows Ben Mears, who in true Stephen King fashion, happens to be a writer. He returns to Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine, the town where he grew up. After the abandoned Marsten House is bought by the mysterious Kurt Barlow, disappearances begin to occur and gradually vampirism spreads around the town, starting with the young boy Danny Glick. Ben and several other townspeople develop a resistance against the growing number of vampires but they soon become outnumbered and the question is raised as to whether the town can even be saved.

Put simply the book basically deals with a vampirism epidemic, with Kurt Barlow being the Dracula esque figure at the head of it all. The fact that the book focuses on the growing epidemic, as opposed to a smaller conflict with just Barlow himself, is one I greatly enjoyed since it portrayed perfectly just why vampires are a threat, and by extension why Barlow is a threat. It goes out of its way to show that even without Barlow, the vampires are dangerous and certainly aren’t the nice human like creatures you see in Twilight and other modern vampire novels.

Barlow himself is nothing too special, being essentially like Dracula. Yet he still commands a compelling presence, showing that the powerful Dracula like vampire still has a place in horror fiction even in a relatively modern piece of literature such as ‘Salem’s Lot. There are interesting aspects to Barlow and the other vampires of the setting, especially with regards to strengths and weaknesses. Barlow and the other vampires appear to have most of the traditional vampire strengths and weaknesses, but there are a few twists which make the experience fresh. For example, holy symbols only work against vampires if the person using them has faith. The young Mark Petrie is able to use a cross to fend off Danny Glick by using a cross, but Father Callahan, who is having a crisis of faith, is unable to fend off Barlow with his cross during his confrontation with him.

A lot of the characters as a whole are similar to the ones seen in other King novels, with younger characters such as Mark Petrie and Danny Glick being reminiscent of younger characters from other novels, including It though he does get a slight exemption since this is only his second work. Susan, Ben’s love interest, likewise doesn’t seem all too different to King’s other love interest characters though, again, since she is probably the first such character to my knowledge she also gets let off to some extent. However her death was a good twist and one that made me realise that the story wasn’t going to get your traditional happy ending. Most of the other characters seemed to fall under the radar, as most of them existed for the purpose being victims of the vampire epidemic though they all felt like real characters for the duration they were on the page, which is one of Stephen King’s best skills. The one good thing of Stephen King is that he can get you to care about the characters, even if they are going to die in the same chapter in which they are introduced. Since all characters are well developed, it makes it hard to gauge who is going to survive until the end since several victim characters get focus in the beginning, while some seemingly minor characters become more prominent as they survive the book’s events.

Yet the most clever part of this book is without a doubt the end. It is hinted in the novel’s frame narrative, shown in a prologue, that the story didn’t end happy but nothing prepared me for what extent. The novel progresses in a Dracula fashion, with the group seeking to kill Barlow in order to end the vampire threat. Yet, in one of the most clever twists, Barlow’s death does nothing to stop the multitude of other vampires in the town. As a result Ben and the young Mark are forced to flee, abandoning the town to the leaderless vampires. It isn’t until the epilogue, which returns to the frame narrative, where the novel finally gets some closure when Ben and Mark return to Jerusalem’s lot and burn it to the ground. As clever as it was, I did wonder if it was necessary for them to abandon the town. Maybe they could have just set the bush fire just as they were leaving, since surely this would kill off the vampire population before they can spread to nearby settlements. Other than that, the novel ended well in my opinion.

The book is probably one of my favourite vampire stories and certainly a return to the genre’s roots. It is traditional yet at the same time it is told in such a way that it feels brand new despite this. This is the novel which makes vampires scary again, and though it isn’t my favourite Stephen King book, objectively speaking it is a great book without a shadow of a doubt. I don’t tend to read many vampire stories, but I can’t help but feel that vampires aren’t taken as seriously as they used to be. It makes me wish other vampire stories would take inspiration from this book, that way I might finally be able to take vampire stories seriously again.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: REFRESHING