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October book reviews October 17, 2009

Posted by thejinx in books.
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One of these days, I will start reviewing books as I read them, rather than several weeks later.  In the meantime…

The Hero of Ages, Brandon Sanderson – The third installment in the Mistborn trilogy, this concludes the story of Vin the Mistborn and company in her struggles against an increasingly hostile atmosphere, the fracturing political stability in her new empire, and herself, culminating in an epic struggle between gods.

After the first two Mistborn books, I had high expectations for this conclusion.  Although I had grown to know the author’s style through the previous two books and, as a result, some aspects became a little more predictable, the surprises and tension were kept, and I was very pleased with the result.  As with the previous books, I could honestly go on for pages about everything Sanderson did right with this book.  Everything came together fantastically, tying together every aspect of the world and the previous books seamlessly.  As I had hoped, the ending was climactic and epic, the whole book was extremely difficult to put down, it was overall incredibly well written, and simply an absolute delight to read.  It was deep, it was exciting, it was emotional, and I absolutely must commend Sanderson’s ability to leave one final, amazing surprise at the very end – as indeed he did with the previous books.  And above all, it was a wonderful ending.

I’m not like a lot of people in that I love a good ending.  Series are great and all, but what really sticks with me is a strong ending.  The Hero of Ages was an incredible ending to an amazing trilogy.  It was happy and sad, concluding everything while looking forward to the future, and simply left me feeling very satisfied.  These books have immediately become some of my favourite books of all time and I cannot recommend them enough.  Read Mistborn, and then read The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages.  That’s all I can say.

Little Brother, Cory Doctorow – A modern-day 1984 – as described by someone who has not actually read 1984 – this tells the story of Marcus Yallow, a tech geek high school student in San Francisco who subverts the attempts at surveillance by his school until a terrorist attack puts him in the wrong place at the wrong time and the Department of Homeland Security irrationally brands him a terrorist.  As basic Constitutional freedoms are suspended and invasive surveillance on ordinary citizens increases, Marcus becomes an underground freedom fighter, using his connections and his resources to bring like-minded people together and thwart Homeland Security’s illegal surveillance measures.

I had seen a number of ads for Little Brother on e-mails from Tor.com and had been intrigued for a while, so I was looking forward to reading this one by the time I got down my list of ebooks to read to it.  I can certainly say I wasn’t disappointed, as I ended up being hooked on this book and started and finished it within one day.  The way the plot developed, coupled with character interactions and a refreshingly natural narration and dialogue simply made it hard to put down.  It was edgy, it was exciting, it was fun, and of course, it was poignant.  What I hope to be outrageous fictional situations were portrayed with disturbing believability, and reminded me why politics really make me uncomfortable sometimes.

In all, I really enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it.  You can download the book for free from Mr. Doctorow’s website.  While you’re at it, I also recommend reading all the prefaces regarding copyright and freedom of speech.  They’re good reads.

Through Wolf’s Eyes, Jane Lindskold – An expedition to discover the fate of the entourage of a wayward prince finds a sole survivor, a young woman who has been living with wolves for most of her life, and who is believed to be the heir to the kingdom.  As she’s brought back and slowly taught to integrate into civilized society, the battle for ascension between her and other contenders heightens, and becomes even more complex as the neighbouring kingdom, a longstanding rival, stakes its claim for the throne, resulting in war.

I must say that I admire the depth of the political balance in this book – not just that I can, but that I do – but I found the writing itself a bit lacking.  It took a couple chapters to get into it at all, which nearly lost me right at the beginning, and the rest of it I found rather simplistic.  Character thoughts, reactions, and particularly interactions felt more like a young adult novel than one as complex as it was trying to be.  Further, the characters had the feel of being dictated, rather than developed.  It was smooth enough so that none of the characters did things that seemed out of character, but they just felt more like actors, like they were filling necessary roles, than that they were real people.  In all, it wasn’t bad, and I don’t regret reading it like other books I’ve read, but it’s not at the top of my list.

The Disunited States of America, Harry Turtledove – In a future in which travel between alternate realities is possible – in which changes in historical events make a very different present – two travelers become stranded in an America where the Constitution was never ratified, resulting in fractured city-states and a Georgia where politically mandated racism is alive and well.

I thought this was an interesting idea, though again, the writing failed to impress.  It tried a little too hard at times to be clever and tongue-in-cheek, and some character reactions seemed awkward or understated.  In the case of the latter, when war breaks out between Georgia and neighbouring Ohio and the lead character ends up marching on the front lines, I thought his reactions to a confrontation which he doesn’t agree with and the things he sees and does as a result to be quite glossed over, as though he was a common rookie soldier, rather than a pacifist civilian dragged into the atrocities of war.  In the case of the former, the same character’s disdainful reference to “grown-ups” irked me.  Teenagers don’t call people “grown-ups;” teenagers want to be or believe they are adults.  Ignoring that showed a clear disconnect between the author and the type of characters he was writing.

Again, this wasn’t a bad book, but it was really nothing special, and nothing I would particularly recommend.

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming – The first James Bond novel, this tells of the secret agent’s baccarat game against a Soviet spy desperate to turn around his failing fortunes.

There’s not much more to this novel, and there certainly wasn’t as much action as most Bond movies would have you believe.  The writing I found a little awkward at times – places described in second person before switching abruptly back into Bond’s POV – though it was good enough to keep my interest.  The story was really quite slow and not much happened, though I was surprised at how sexist it was.  Not just Bond’s attitude towards women – that of course could be accepted as a character flaw – but the way the lead female was portrayed enforced the stereotype.  While I found some enjoyable tension in the baccarat game itself, the climax of the story came early, and the “surprise” ending was predictable and trite.  Perhaps Fleming’s writing improved in subsequent novels; I probably wouldn’t have been interested in a movie adaptation if I’d read this before seeing any Bond movies.

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