Firstarter (Stephen King 1980)

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Yes, it’s another Stephen King novel. I’ve had Firestarter about as long as The Dead Zone which I reviewed and I’ve only just finished it. The novel essentially revolves around a girl named Charlie McGee and her father Andy. The characters are on the run from a mysterious government organisation known as The Shop due to having supernatural powers. Andy as an ability known as “the push” which allows him to influence people’s mind while Charlie has pyrokinesis, the power to start fires with her mind. The story veers between the past and the present, showing not just the two on the run but also their origins and how they came to be on the run in the first place.

In terms of story I originally found the in media res style opening took a bit of getting used to at first. The story throws you in it and introduced you to a lot of stuff without explaining why it is happening. Yet it also had the effect of introducing the reader straight away into a tense situation and the decision to have such an opening increasing the drama of the story in many ways. The decision made the story more intense and exciting when compared to how it would had it started telling the story chronologically. In fact the gradual drip feed of information about their past, particularly about Charlie’s mother, served to add to the mystery and thrill of the story.

Character wise Charlie seems to spend a lot of the story scared and confused, understandable considering she is only a young girl. Even so she spends a lot of the story needing to be rescued by Andy. However a compelling aspect of this is that her power can easily kill people and she feels bad about using it. However there are times throughout the novel that Andy wants her to use it, which creates a moral dilemma. Namely, is it right to subject a child to those kind of horrors even if it is saving you from life inside a facility being experimented on? By contrast Andy feels like a bit of a jerk to me at times since he wants her to essentially kill people even though she is still young. Yet at the same time you feel his plight since if they get caught they will be subject to something much worse.

One thing that made me uncomfortable was the assassin Rainbird, who is brought in by the Shop during the course of the novel to help in their hunt and quickly becomes the central antagonist of the book the the point where he even takes over from the rest of the Shop as the main villain towards the end. His borderline pedophilic obsession with Charlie left me feeling unsettled in all the scenes in which he appeared. Not in the good way either, this villain made me feel sick in the stomach. Nothing concrete was there but the subtext within his scenes was over abundant in my perspective. This creepy obsession with Charlie, a young girl, made me wish for his death soon. This made him overshadow the over villains to the point where there was no other way but for him to usurp the other villains for his character arc to be complete. In reality though I think he should have been killed off much sooner so the story could have moved on to a villain who wasn’t quite as sick in the head.

The pacing of the story was okay but there were slow elements. In particular the part where Charlie and Andy are captured by The Shop felt slow compared to the rest of the book and the climax seemed to lack a certain air about it. The Shop suddenly became crazy incompetent so that Rainbird could take over as the villain, with its key members quickly falling under the thrall of Andy’s “push”, which I found disappointing. After a brief escape and some drama the ending sort of peters out before skipping to a rather boring and generic epilogue. Something sort of left around the climax and for some reason I became a lot less invested in the story once the end rolled around.

Overall the story was mostly okay. Despite being sick in the head to the point where he made me uncomfortable, Rainbird was a good villain. This was in part because of Stephen King’s excellent writing. The story as a whole just felt a bit slow in paces and perhaps if the key villain of the story was someone within The Shop I might have felt more satisfied with the ending. The parts about Charlie’s power was intriguing and the fact that she doesn’t want to use it even more so since this is something which she sticks to right up until the climax. It was a good story in places, I just felt some bits were missing.

SCORE: 3.5/5

IN A WORD: AVERAGE

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Reaper’s Gale (Steven Erikson 2007)

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It’s time again to review another instalment in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series, the seventh book Reaper’s Gale. The book continues on the storyline in Letheras and is a direct sequel in some respects to both Midnight Tides and The Bonehunters, continuing from plotlines introduced in both novels. Rhulad Sengar has evolved into a mad tyrant in the years since taking the throne in Midnight Tides. Champions from various cultures arrive with the Tiste Edur fleet from The Bonehunters to challenge him including recurring characters Icarium, and Karsa Orlong. Meanwhile Fear Sengar, the emperor’s brother, seeks the soul of Scabandari Bloodeye in hopes that with his help they may be able to push back the Edur fleet and save the emperor. However he also travels with Silchas Ruin, brother of Anomander Rake, who travels with his own agenda.

The plot of the novel is a lot stronger, with a lot of recurring characters returning, including Icarium, and Karsa as mentioned above. However we see a number of returning characters from Midnight Tides return such as Trull Sengar and the other members of the Sengar family. Characters such as Toc play a role, as does Quick Ben, the latter of whom as played major roles in the plot of the series since the first book. Like in many of the books in which he has appeared, the standout character is Karsa Orlong. Despite his ruthless nature and being far from a “nice” characters he continues to be a scene stealer in every part of the novel he appears in. Karsa does a lot of badass things throughout the novel and after getting to the end I think I can safely say he is one of the best characters in the series so far. Everyone else seems to pale compared to him.

Like the other books, it suffers a lot from having too many characters. The familiar plotlines make the plot somewhat easier to understand, especially since I’ve had time to process both the plots to Midnight Tides and The Bonehunters. However the plot is still complicated and I had trouble following the plotlines of characters who didn’t get too much attention within the chapters. I’ve said this before but I feel the constant switching between characters in the middle of the chapters does not make the book easy to understand. I would have a much better time with the book if instead it was organised into smaller chapters each following one character. This is in part a bias on my part because I am not a patient reader by any means. Thus I process shorter chapters easier than I do long ones.

There were some very awesome moments in the book. Quite a few dramatic deaths as well. However some of them, particularly the people who I considered to be major characters, seemed a bit pointless and contrived. Almost as if the author just didn’t want to continue writing for them any more. Despite this there was one good death which worked, and that was the inevitable demise of Rhulad Sengar at the hands of Karsa. I knew it was coming, Karsa was too much of a badass for this not to happen. Yet the fact that he somehow managed to bring about a permanent end to someone who has up to this point been unkillable was nothing short of impressive.

The main thing that surprised me was how much I enjoyed it compared to the previous two. The last outing in Letheras, Midnight Tides was a book which I originally found quite boring. However since I was used to the characters and the main plot started to to converge there a little I found the experience a lot more enjoyable. Overall the book was still average fair along with the rest of the series but had a lot more memorable moments than the previous two books. There are bits that will stick in my head, which is more than I can ask for with this complex series. Now that we’re in the latter half of the series I can only hope that the books than keep up the pace, and possibly improve.

SCORE: 3.5/5

IN A WORD: IMPROVED

 

2016 in Retrospect

This is going to be the last post before the new year so rather than do the standard fare I’m going to do a little retrospective type thing. This is especially appropriate since it is in fact nearing the blog’s first anniversary, which falls on the 11th January. I’m quite impressed that I have lasted a whole year on this and it almost feels like yesterday that I was starting this blog for the first time. It’s a strange thing to think about and I’ll admit I haven’t given the anniversary a whole lot of thought. To me this has been a hobby project of sorts. With over 100 posts since then I feel like I’ve made some good progress with this blog.

That aside I feel like I’ve done a lot of other things in 2016 as well. For the first time in over a year I went about writing prose, producing a story which I am still proud of to this day. I also wrote two film scripts, one of which got me a first degree in the BA Professional Writing. In terms of writing I feel like I’ve done a fair amount.

Of course I also got my degree in BA Professional Writing. I got a first class degree overall, something which I did not see coming in the slightest. I can say I’m quite proud of that. The degree as a whole was quite the experience and I’m glad that I did the three years. This final year was one of the best. With regards to my master’s degree, the MA Creative Writing which I am doing at another university I can see it hasn’t been quite as impressive so far but even so it is pushing me to new depths.

With these new depths I will of course be reading through a tonne of novels and books as per usual and so long as I am doing that I am optimistic that this blog still has a lot of life left in it. I tend to refrain from making resolutions for the new year since I find that can jinx things, but I would like to be able to complete my first professional novel by end of this year if possible and start submitting my work to agents and publishers. Overall this year has been one of the best, the host of celebrity death and Trump not withstanding. I’m hoping that next year will be even better.

Tehanu (Ursula K. Le Guin 1990)

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Yes, it’s time to finally review the fourth Earthsea novel, Tehanu. This is the final book in the four book collection I bought so it might be a while before I finally review the last two Earthsea books. Tehanu returns to the character Tenar, who took up residence in the same village as Ged’s former mentor Ogion. Rejecting magic she married a farmer named Flint and had two children, becoming known as Goha. Now, years after her husband’s death and her children having left home, Ogion dies and Ged returns to the village gravely injured. In the midst of all this she meets the mysterious child Therru, whom she adopts for herself, though there is more to her than meets the eye.

In terms of characters Tenar has certainly matured. This is in part because of the large time skip between Tombs of Atuan and her current appearance. The fact that she has become a mother and experienced the pain of losing her husband, and to a lesser extent ‘losing’ her children to moving out, has become an integral part of her character. She is some respect a very feminist character due to her desire for independence and to continue living the simple life rather than becoming a powerful mage like everyone else wants her to be. To a lesser extend Ged’s development seems to mirror Tenar’s in that he too comes to desire a peaceful lifestyle after losing most of his powers in an offscreen fight of some description. This is an interesting development in part because it is one of the key aspects which brings the two characters together and makes what develops between them believable and real.

I liked the low key focus the novel seems to have. There doesn’t seem to be any world breaking events going on. Rather it focuses strictly on the characters as they try and rebuild their life. One of the best parts for me was the way the novel handled the growing romance between Tenar and Ged and the way Therru’s presence in the novel brought them together. In the end I can’t help but feel like Therru was the key aspect of the novel, the uniting mystery behind everything even if a lot of the focus was on Ged and Tenar and their desire to move away from the conflict in their lives. All in all I was quite intrigued to find out who Therru was and the answers behind her strangeness.

In some ways I like how the novel celebrates the simple life and the desire to move away from the hustle and bustle, such as that brought about while Ged was the Archmage. I liked this in part because I never liked Ged too much as the Archmage to beging with. For the first time in a while he was something more than a mentor character. This creates a contrast between this book and Tombs of Atuan since he and Tenar are now on equal footing. In fact, in some ways Tenar is now wiser and more mature than him in part because of her life experiences. An interesting and overall healthier dynamic than in Tombs of Atuan. Even thought I initially suspected that this would make the relationship hard to believe, especially the part about having loved each other ever since they met, the relationship worked well between them and I enjoyed reading it after that point.

As a whole the novel still moves at a slow pace and seems to have the lowest scale plot of the four books I’ve read so far. Even so I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable because of the way it focused on the simple life. Something about the book and its themes resonated with me even if it wasn’t the most exciting book in the world. I still think that this is one of the stronger instalments in the Earthsea series. If anything this shows that Le Guin can still write untraditional fantasy novels even years after the release of her first novel.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: UNIQUE

The Bonehunters (Steven Erikson 2006)

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The Bonehunters is the sixth book in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series which I have been reading. It’s been a good few months or so since I’ve read this book so you’ll have to forgive me if my memory of the plot is a bit fuzzy in places. After the previous installment, which took place in the past, this book returns to the present day and a lot of the familiar plotlines. The Crippled God now has a place in the pantheon, causing the rules of the game to be changed. Meanwhile the Malazan Fourteenth Army, lead by Tavore Paran, seek to bring about the end to the last remaining rebel force in the city of Y’Ghatan, lead by Leoman of the Flails. All the while fan favourites such as Karsa Orlong, Apsalar and Cutter return with agendas of their own.

One thing I liked about this book is how it brought the various plot lines from throughout the series together. A staggering number of different plots and story arcs seem to converge in this book, from that of Karsa Orlong to the plot surrounding the rebellion. Perhaps most importantly as well is the plot of the Crippled God entering the pantheon. A lot of complicated stuff goes in here and this is in part the reason why I don’t actually remember a lot of it. The book is a whopping 1200 pages, one of the longest in the series so far, and a lot goes on within it.

Despite this some good characters came back. Ganoes Paran, who is now master of the deck, makes a long awaited return and it feels like forever since he last had a major role in the series. Karsa Orlong goes around kicking ass like usual and overall most of the series’ major players converge into one place during this book. That being said, some seemed to have rather dull slow moving plots, typical of the Malazan novels as a whole. Adjunct Tavore and her associates seemed to have a plot like this, as did the recurring character Icarium. I have always viewed Tavore somewhat fondly so this was a bit disappointing, though with Icarium I have personally always found him a bit dull from the moment he was first introduced. I was likewise disappointed that Tavore never found that she had killed her sister back during House of Chains and I can’t help but feel that the character has been forgotten about. Her death could easily have been milked for drama but instead Tavore simply never learns the truth. This is something true with a lot of family relationships in the book. Ganoes and Tavore are brother and sister yet the matter is never mentioned too much.

The plot suffers from a lot of the same pacing problems as previous books, with the added problem of complexity stemming from the large number of interweaving plots coming together. I understand that the novels have to start doing this at some point since it is now over halfway through the series, with four books left to go before we reach the tenth and final book. Yet this complexity has gotten to the point where even as I read it I found it difficult to actually follow what was going on. I was following a lot of cool characters but as a whole I hadn’t the slightest clue what they were doing or why they were doing it. This may be in part due to my reading style but I feel as though the book wasn’t doing a lot to help out along the way either.

In some ways the novel personifies both the best and the worst parts of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. There were lots of cool characters and once again the setting is as rich and detailed as ever. Sometimes I wonder if perhaps it is too detailed. So much to put in that it is simply impossible to write a book on it that isn’t going to be horribly complex. There is room for improvement, that much is certain. Yet despite this I feel like the plot is making definite progress. The complexity wasn’t for nothing. I can only hope that now that some of these plots have converged a little, things might start making a bit more sense in the future.

SCORE: 3.5/5

IN A WORD: COMPLICATED

The Farthest Shore (Ursula K. Le Guin 1972)

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First off, apologies for missing last Saturday’s update, things have been busy. Without further ado, let’s begin. The Farthest Shore is the third book in the Earthsea series. I have reviewed them quite a lot but this is in part due to the speed at which I’ve read them. The Farthest Shore continues the adventures of Ged, who is now Archmage. Once again this adventure is shown through the viewpoint of another character, Arren, who is the young Prince of Enlad. The novel follows their journey as they search for the cure to a mysterious evil that has spread over the land, which is causing magic to weaken and make people and animals turn sick or go mad. The journey takes them on a quest throughout the islands not too different to Ged’s own from the first book.

Like the other novels this is a coming of age story for Arren, the protagonist. In some ways this is a recurring theme amongst the first three Earthsea novels. The plot in some ways is more interesting than the previous novel The Tombs of Atuan since it shows us more of the Earthsea world as a whole. This gives us more depth into the setting, a lot more than what we were shown in The Tombs of Atuan. The prominence of dragons in the main plot was something I found interesting since they seemed to have an awe inspiring presence on the page, particularly since the dragons in the Earthsea series are usually quite intelligent, though the plot has rendered a number of them dumb and hostile.

With regards to characters I can’t help but feel that Ged has gotten a bit less interesting now that he is a bit older. The fact that he is no longer the main character in the story is also a factor in this. Unlike, Tenar, Arren is not an interesting enough character to carry the story on his own. Even though some aspects of Tenar as a character weren’t perfect, she carried the story well enough on her own, unlike Arren. As far as I was concerned Arren was nothing more than Ged’s sidekick who also happens to be a prince with some kind of destiny about him. On paper he sounds like an interesting character but in practice I felt like he played second fiddle to Ged despite his backstory and apparent main role in the plot.

Like before I felt like the novel spent a bit long wandering about, similar in some ways to A Wizard of Earthsea, before suddenly remembering that it has a plot to finish. Perhaps I’m used to books with a bit more action in but it just felt very slow towards the beginning all the way through to the middle of the book. I didn’t have any clue what was causing the illness until the dragon Orm Embar shows up and explains everything, making him a minor example of a flying deus ex machina. I say a minor example since for the most part it is the actions of Ged and Arren which end the overall conflict but the manner in which they are notified of the cause of the illness seemed a bit abrupt.

The villain Cob, in addition to having a lame sounding name, isn’t introduced until later on in the novel, even in passing. The connection to Ged seems a bit abrupt since he is not a villain from any of the previous novels and the supposed conflict between the two happened off the page. All in all he seemed rather underdeveloped as a character and seemed to exist for the sake of creating conflict. Even so, I have to admit that the novel gave him a suitable climax, I just wish his presence could have been foreshadowed a bit more directly in the chapters prior to when he is first name dropped.

Overall I feel like the novel had good points and bad point. It is by no means terrible but nothing struck me out as great. In terms of structure it is a bit of repeat of A Wizard of Earthsea, but about the growing up arc of a character much less interesting than Ged. The plot is likewise quite similar to A Wizard of Earthsea, and on paper the scale of the plot appears to make it sound more interesting. In execution however the plot’s potential seems to fall flat a little by repeating a lot of the peculiar conventions of previous novels. Even so the series has its own quirky little charm and I look forward to reading more.

SCORE: 3.5/5

IN A WORD: DULL

No post this week.

I’m busy with university work for my Master’s Degree. Due to disorganisation on the part of the establishment this assessment has been unusually stressful. As a result I am having difficulty focusing on the blog. I intend to complete the first draft of the assessment by the middle of next week so I should be able to make a post. I usually don’t post about delays (usually because they stem from me forgetting) but since this is a planned delay I figured I would notify you all. Everything should be back to normal next week so thanks for understanding.