Tag Archives: Book review

Book Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

(spoiler free review focusing more on the general flavor of things and my own overall experience, like all my other reviews)

I was excited to start reading ‘Red Seas under Red Skies (book two of ’The Gentlemen Bastards’ series) for two reasons. The first being that it was a sequel to one of my favorite novels of all time, ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’. The second one had to do with the fact that I was having reading blues which I have talked about in my previous post. I was about fifty pages into the book and loving it and was confident I would finally finish a book effortlessly. I did end up finishing it, but it required a lot of effort.

The novel starts off superbly. Locke and Jean are in a gambling tower, where advancing to every floor above requires you to prove your proficiency against opponents in gambling games. The difficulty of the games gets harder as you proceed upwards, for you face more experienced players but so do the rewards of winning; the whole concept being akin to a video game. Their aim? To pretend to advance to the top and gain the trust of the people within the establishment, while what they are looking for is not just winning money through advancing in the gambling games but rob the whole place itself. How interesting! But the initial excitement tends to die out after a while. Multiple sub plots are being introduced and the story begins to advance extremely slowly. The book enters new waters, quite literally. For Locke and Jean somehow find themselves doing a crash course in how to be a pirate (or appropriately how to pretend like one).

There are a few problems I found with the book. For one despite a great start, it starts to become too long winded. You are clueless as to what direction the story is taking. In the first book, we were introduced to our beloved characters and their backgrounds, we knew what the stakes were, who the villains were and what Locke and Jean ended up eventually aiming for, i.e., revenge. It is hard to say what this one is about. It did not even feel like it was setting up the stage for future books. We see a lot of characters being introduced and I think it is unlikely we will see any of them again. I felt unsure who to root for. This book felt more like a standalone story, albeit one that loses pace with time.

There are too many interludes which are essentially reminiscences, all in the beginning of the book. It broke the rhythm of the story for me. Maybe they could have being spread more throughout the book. Perhaps Scott was aware enough that the interludes were getting to be too many, that he appropriately titles the final one as ‘The last reminiscence’. Almost sounding like, hang in there reader I know I am testing your patience but bear with me.

I found a lot of ship and ocean jargon (Locke and Jean are pirates in this one like I mentioned before) being hurled at me constantly, not something I liked. It would require me to use a dictionary to understand in depth what was being referred to (ex: parts of a ship, ways of managing it etc.). I mostly skimmed those parts, but there are too many of those. It generally surprises me when authors take a very specific topic (in this case ships and navigation) and use terminologies the reader is unlikely to have encountered before. I for one don’t mind a small word list at the end of the book, along with their meanings to help with this. It may seem odd, but I have seen it done before and it works (ex: in the book ‘Eragon’, if I recall correctly).

The last hundred pages of the book is where things start to get really heated up. This reminded me of the first book which had a great ending and the pace being fantastic towards the end. This is classic Scott Lynch fashion. There is a major twist towards the end, one that will tug at your heart strings. But enough with teasing spoilers.

While this book is not great it is still a decent read. The first one remains my top fiction books of all time. I have also invested time and energy, so I will still definitely pick up the third novel of the series. The plan is that he will write seven novels for the series and I am a sucker for epic fantasy series spanning multiple novels. Generally, with long series we tend to figure out what the overall plot is about. Ex: Hogwarts life and adventures aside, Harry Potter is in the end a fight against a Dark Lord. Even after finishing book two, I don’t see a broader plot (only hints). All that said, this remains a brilliant series with tremendous potential. Last, I checked Scott had done a George RR Martin by making everybody wait a millennium for the fourth novel of the series, which at this point is not out yet. But I still have the third one to read so I am not too worried about that. I hope this one delivers.

 

Overall Book Rating: 3.5/5

Why Harry Potter has an edge over A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones)

 

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I loved the Harry Potter (HP) books and movies. I have just started reading the books in ‘A song of Ice and Fire’ (ASOIAF) series but I have watched every episode of the TV show Game of Thrones and am very familiar with the world created by George RR Martin – in short I am entitled to an opinion. True that the worlds are so different that’s its quite unfair to do so. But such comparisons have crept up. In some ways they were unavoidable because of the cultural phenomenonHarry-Potter-Logo-Wallpaper-HD-3 both have become in the last 15 years. My comparisons are more of a response to people who proclaim ASOIAF is better with funny arguments and I will try and debunk each of them.

1. ASOIAF is a complex world, HP is not.
2. HP Characters are black and white, while ASOIAF are gray.
3. HP is too comfy and feel good…and never gets gory like ASOIAF.
4. HP is predictive. But with ASOIAF You don’t know what to expect next.
5. The HP books are just a great escape. That’s why everyone likes them.

1. ASOIAF is a complex world, HP is not.

The first is true but HP world is fantastically complex. Where else before did we see so much magic in a world. Where newspapers spring to life; where a sorting hat decides where students go; where wizards have their own sport! Hogwarts was the creation of a genius. There is magic…so much magic. The story has so many arcs to it: friendship, coming of age, struggle, fighting against the dark forces, mysteries, riddles, ghosts…there really is SO MUCH and yet nothing feels out of place. There are stories like ASOIAF and the Stormlight Archive that seem because of the narration as more complex than HP – perhaps they are – but I attribute that to the number of elements involved. HP is not just complex, it’s bloody complex.

2. HP Characters are black and white, while ASOIAF are gray.

One common complaint is that the characters are not very gray. ASOIAF has made characters gray. HP starts when eleven year old Harry and his friends enter Hogwarts. Just how gray do you expect eleven year olds to be? They ended up breaking half the rules themselves (in spite of Hermione) and they each have conflicted emotions as the series progresses. Ex : Hermione stuns somebody so Ron could enter the Quidditch team. There is friction between their friendships at times. Everything is not hunky-dory.
What did you want them to do – go cut somebody with a knife over dinner in the great hall? Would that make it realistic? I don’t think so.
While we are still talking about the kids, Draco Malfoy is the classic gray character among the school mates. He is always bad-ass and yet when those moments came when he could have made himself a monster (before Dumbledore’s death for example), he quivered. He had some sanity deep down.
What about Snape?  And Dumbledore himself turned out to be a quirky character no?
It’s a classic good versus bad tale. That’s just the way it is. That doesn’t make the characters black and white. There is a difference. All characters have their own degrees of flaws. Just don’t assume that the definition of gray means to slit somebody’s throat every now and then.

3. HP is too soft and never gets gory like ASOIAF.

Yes it is feel good but don’t you want to feel good ? The feel good is very genuine and not forced by people trying to look cute. You like them because of the friendships, the adventures , magic, puzzles and Hogwarts! HP is primarily targeted toward a younger audience (observe here that it was equally well received by parents and grand parents alike). That is the genre it is in. ASOIAF sticks to what it is and never tries to mellow things down which is good for the spirit of the series and perhaps you like this feature. It is a good basis for liking one series but not for belittling the other. It is like going to a vegetarian restaurant and expecting a good chicken meal!

4. HP is predictive. But in ASOIAF you don’t know what to expect next.

Yep we don’t know when the next book in the ASOIAF is coming out do we 😉 On a serious note, what rubbish. It had become an obsession to predict how HP would end in the final book. Hundreds of critics gave their opinions and predictions using hints and their own intuition. But how many could predict Snape’s true story ? Or Dumbledore’s past ?
Or frankly who even expected Dumbledore to die in book 6? Or Sirius in book 5 ? Or that Ron’s rat was actually wormtail ? Or Crouch’s secret ? To call it predictable is insulting how intelligent the books actually are.

5. The HP books are just a great escape, that’s why everyone likes them.

Firstly I dislike the word escape for any fantasy, ASOIAF or HP. Both are fantasy works. They are meant to take you to different worlds. But why are there no other better escapes in other works? If the story was shallow, a smart reader would not feel they were escapes…he would feel foolish. If it is a great escape, it is a bloody good one.

So what does work for the HP series? Here is what I think:

1. JK is a better storyteller than Martin.

There is consistency in the HP series. Last I heard A Dance with the Dragons was heavily criticized for not moving the plot too forward. Martin’s style is to be descriptive but sometimes he tends to be over romantic about either the sex or the killing at the cost of the story.
There was no such catastrophic mistakes in HP books…ever. Even if it got a bit slow (book 6) there was still so much happening and so many loose ends being tied and it was more racy than ASOIAF. Seriously so much build about Winter and it hasn’t even come.

Update: It seems winter has finally come 🙂

2. Harry Potter blew everyone’s mind.

The world was something new, something fresh and so exciting and magical (agreed that while the concept of dark lords and wizards itself was not, the creation of an entire parallel universe and the incorporation of all these  concepts definitely was). One which you could touch and feel and almost live in.

3. It is feel good.

I remember being in a poor state of mind when I read Order of the Phoenix and it was so comforting and a great relief not because there is cute happiness all around but because the story was always moving forward, puzzles were exciting, the interaction between the characters was fun – these kept me gripped. I am not sure ASOIAF would have the same effect with its dragging and often morbid theme.

4. Harry Potter brought the magic back to books.

It quite simply changed the entire book world on it’s head. Hundreds of Thousands of copies booked even before the release date (mine included ). People from other languages learning English just to be able to read those books. It was not just a great book series that was widely acclaimed , it was an unprecedented phenomenon. It was not a small series, mind. It was not just a couple of books that did well. Each one of them did. Even after the hype.

5. Book for all Ages.

It is sad to classify it as a children’s book and that is what I feel when see Eragon, HP in the bookshelves of children. Fantasy is a better word. It appealed more in fact to the people in 20s and 30s not to mention the 40s and 50s…and yeah basically everyone! This is rare for any series. Any world with magic etc. can be shunned by a more adult audience but HP was loved. It was endearing but it was also very intriguing, adventurous and exciting!

6. Characters are Personal and their relationships are dynamic.

Any good story is about characters. I think every one of them, the students, the professors, the death eaters was so developed and all their lives well knitted together.

7. HP has so much of everything.

There is adventure, there is thrill, there is elements of intrigue expected of a fantasy, there is love, there is poetry, there is comedy and it also has it’s share of whodunnits. And each of these is spectacularly implemented.

Ending note

I hope my tone in this article is not mistaken. HP is not flawless and I really like ASOIAF. It is another step in being a more rounded reader. The world is pretty original and killing was actually quite common in the worlds similar to the ones in which it is set in (medieval times for example).
What I don’t like is the perversion that come with these books. Gore and deaths are one thing. They add a necessary dimension which makes them believable but the perversion in the books at times makes me want to quit them. If Tyrion dies, I pull the plug on this series.

 

Book Review: Kane and Abel

 

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I was surprised to find that I had not read a single Jeffrey Archer. Since I no longer save the best for the last I decided to dive into his most well-known supposedly earth-shattering novel : Kane and Abel. Archer’s story telling has a very classic characteristic to it; simple and yet gripping.

As he volleys between Kane and Abel (the two protagonists) my  bias towards either kept swinging. Both are very likable characters even if they could not have been from more different worlds. Kane comes from a world where he is born with the proverbial golden spoon while Abel is from a poverty stricken family. Yet they have a lot in common: Both have a drive to be outstanding, their own battles to fight and both always take them head on. Abel’s early life is marred by a lot of suffering, a lot more than Kane. But I found myself rooting for Kane (if I had to pick one). Perhaps the name change from Wladek to Abel was off putting too. What I liked is that we are told of their stories from their birth all the way till the end and it was interesting to see their dreams evolve and how they try to achieve them, never ceasing in effort. Neither of them rarely do anything repulsive yet they both commit mistakes, some peccadillos, others worse. Both of them could have ruined their life with what they were given – Kane with his richness and Abel with his suffering and yet they don’t. Neither has an easy life. I had to feel for Kane, nothing he does ever seems enough. Things are always expected of him and to his credit he does achieve them. For me he becomes a better man than his perhaps cold father. I loved the parallel between the two and I was waiting for their worlds to clash. Things really heat up in the second half.

Now to the writing itself. The narration in ‘Kane and Abel’ is strong and the plot is always ticking. What I found is that Archer blatantly violates the golden ‘rule’ of writing i.e, ‘Show, don’t tell’. The novel is basically a telling, a narration, but it is a good telling. On the downside I expected there to be more face-offs between the two given the title but there weren’t. I expected the book to be better than what it was.  When you hear so much about a book and read the book’s description that says it sold millions of copies etc. etc. you really go in with great expectations. If I had just picked ‘Kane and Abel’ without knowing anything about its history it would without doubt have been a memorable novel and it still is but I don’t see what the fuss is about. However I am extremely glad I read it.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5