Category Archive for 'Books'

Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’ve never read a zombie apocalypse novel, World War Z is the one to read.

The above statement can be considered a little biased since this is the first zombie apocalypse book I’ve read. It’s also maybe a little unfair considering there hasn’t been a huge amount of zombie literature prior to the new millennium (likely the reason why this is the first zombie apocalypse book I’ve read). If the list on Wikipedia is accurate and up-to-date, it appears zombie literature has increased since the new millennium began. There weren’t a lot of contenders for “Best Zombie Apocalypse Novel” prior to the publication of World War Z (Note: I’m not including the various Resident Evil novels because the series didn’t start out from a novel, but are based on the first video game of the same name; Resident Evil also consists of a series of movies. It’s also a little unfair to compare one small book to a whole series about a zombie apocalypse, especially a series as popular as Resident Evil.)

In contrast, there has been a significant amount of zombie films prior to the new millennium. (See “List of zombie films”.) Probably the most influential movies on that list are Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, both written and directed by George A. Romero. Of the two movies, Dawn of the Dead more directly shows the apocalyptic effects of a zombie outbreak. Would it be fair to judge Brooks’ novel against a movie? Perhaps. In fact, Brooks was inspired by George A. Romero’s works (as indicated in Brooks’ “Acknowledgments”: “a final thank-you to… and, of course, the genius and terror of George A. Romero”)

World War Z is written from the perspective that the zombie apocalypse has already happened. That we survived the apocalypse is certain from the very beginning of the book. How did we survive though? What were the key factors that brought about the survival of humanity? Most importantly, what are the feelings of those who survived? In order to answer these questions, Brooks decided that the best way to achieve this was to have each of the various survivors narrate their stories. The format of the novel is not a straight narrative from only one or a few persons. The format of the novel is a compilation of stories, with a little introduction from the person who compiled the stories. The identity of the compiler is never revealed. It’s only revealed that the compiler worked for the “United Nations Postwar Commission Report”, perhaps as an investigator. This is intentional though. Since the novel is written from the perspective that the zombie apocalypse already happened and that the most important stories are those of the survivors, there is no need for the reader to know more about the compiler of the stories. As written in the chapter, “Introduction”:

This is their book, not mine, and I have tried to maintain as invisible a presence as possible… I have attempted to reserve judgment, or commentary of any kind, and if there is a human factor that should be removed, let it be my own.

Since the compiler could not have the bulk of the survivors stories in the report’s final edition, a separate book was published where he did not have to remove the “human factor” in the survivors’ narratives.

The compilation of the narratives was then divided into sections, which are essentially the chapters in the novel. Thus, the novel starts with “Introduction” followed by “Warnings” and ending with “Good-byes”. “Introduction” gives the reader a bit of background into the compiler of the narratives as mentioned above, but also serves to give the reader a bit of background to the world after the zombie apocalypse. The chapters “Warnings” through to “Good-byes” give the reader the flow of the overall narrative of the story. We first read about the beginnings, then the mass panic followed by narratives detailing how people resisted becoming one of the infected, and then how the apocalypse ended and humanity survived.

As for writing style, each survivors’ narrative is presented like a journal article with an introductory blurb placed before the narrative. The blurb introduces the survivor as well as gives some background to the narrative which follows it. The narratives are first person accounts of what the survivor experienced during the zombie apocalypse.

The format and writing style of World War Z may put off some readers, but frankly it works. It works well. In fact, each account reminds me of various human rights journal articles or accounts from people who have lived in some of the countries currently under strife. If you wanted to write a story and make the reader believe the events already happened, this is the format and style to take. Some may think it’d be hard to read a novel with too many narratives, but I found it quite easy to read from one narrative to the next. At the end of each narrative, I found myself wondering what the next account would be about.

This format for the novel also presents the reader with not just one story, but many smaller ones. You’ll read about a doctor in China, a soldier in Vermont, a computer geek in Japan, and various others. Each narrative isn’t random, however. Each narrative helps to explain the overall story and there are interconnecting threads between various narratives. Each individual story helps make up the whole.

While reading World War Z, I felt as if one had taken key pieces out of every other zombie story ever told as well as key pieces out of every apocalypse story every told. Brooks has thought through a lot of scenarios that someone may have to face in the event of an apocalypse or global war. He’s also thought about how various social groups might react. I felt that Brooks either did a lot of research or just knew much about different world cultures. For example, he describes the Japanese kami as well as the disparity between China’s city-folk and village-folk. Also, I thought Brooks described the political scenarios quite accurately.

Some may pick fault with Brooks for not having an explanation in the novel for the zombie outbreak, but I think this may be realistic. It takes a while to determine the origins of a disease. Some may recall when A.I.D.S. was first discovered. People were infected with a disease, but doctors didn’t know exactly why the people were being infected. “In the early days, the CDC did not have an official name for the disease, often referring to it by way of the diseases that were associated with it…” (See “HIV/AIDS”.) Later, it was called A.I.D.S. World War Z is less about providing an explanation for zombies, but more about the human spirit to survive.

To sum up World War Z, I’d say it has heart, brains, and brawn – all of which are required for humanity to survive.

(Note: Some readers may be wondering, so I thought I’d address this now. Yes, I read this book before watching the movie version. In fact, this book has been lying on my bookshelf for a good while before the movie was announced. When it comes to movies based on books, I prefer to read the book first because I like to know what the original creator of the story intended. After, I will review a movie based on other factors than for a book. This is simply because movies and books while both intending on telling a story do so in different ways. They are different mediums, and therefore have different techniques and methods for telling a story and for being artistic. That being said, I did watch World War Z and the jury is still out. There’s supposed to be a sequel later, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens in it.)

My site: feyMorgaina.

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Book Review: Fires of Azeroth by C.J. Cherryh

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Fires of Azeroth by C.J. Cherryh is the third book in The Morgaine Saga omnibus. In this story, Morgaine and Vanye travel to a world where Qhal and Man co-exist peacefully. However, Morgaine and Vanye are pursued by their enemies from the previous story and it’s only a matter of time before their enemies bring disaster to this peaceful world where Morgaine and Vanye have taken refuge. Morgaine has not forgotten her mission though. However, this peaceful world has a few secrets of its own.

While Fires of Azeroth isn’t the ultimate conclusion to Morgaine’s mission, it concludes Vanye’s story. Indeed, The Morgaine Saga is much more about Vanye’s personal quest and development than about Morgaine’s mission. If anything, Morgaine’s mission allows Vanye’s character to grow. The fact that Morgaine’s mission has not yet been completed might be the reason why nearly ten years later C.J. Cherryh wrote a fourth novel, Exile’s Gate, for the series.

Overall, The Morgaine Saga is an interesting read. There is more sense of completion having read all the books in the omnibus than just the first novel. The only criticism I have is that Morgaine’s universe feels quite empty. I realize this may be because she is travelling through the Gates in order to close or destroy them, but I keep wondering why she ends up on worlds that have very little or no advanced technology besides the Gates and items related to the Gates. Cherryh does a decent job of character-building in this series, but I think that there could be more world-building. I also wonder what’s happening back at the Union Science Bureau.

In any case, I’m not sure if I’m going to read Exile’s Gate. I wanted to read this omnibus since it was Cherryh’s early writing. The other novels written in the same time period are Brothers of Earth and Hunter of Worlds. I, however, am wanting to get back to her Alliance-Union Universe with the novel Merchanter’s Luck.

For my review of Gate of Ivrel, see “Book Blog”.
For my review of Well of Shiuan, see “Book Blog”.

Review: Gormenghast

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Gormenghast
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gormenghast is the sequel to Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan. Titus Groan is the 77th Earl of Gormenghast. In Gormenghast, we follow Titus’ upbringing starting from the age of seven. Titus was age two at the end of Titus Groan; thus, some time has elapsed between novels. Gormenghast starts out by accounting for those who died in the previous novel and those who are still living. At this point, everyone in the novel is still unaware as to who the mastermind is behind the tragedies in the previous novel. Life continues on in Gormenghast, but with this eerie feeling that something tragic might happen again.

I read Titus Groan back in 2008. I started Gormenghast afterwards simply because I was curious about what would happen to Titus Groan. It took me quite a while to finish Gormenghast simply because I kept getting bored early on. Even after finishing the novel, I’m still not entirely sure how important some of the passages were. Indeed, some of the characters aren’t even integral to the conclusion of the story. Yet despite this criticism, there’s something to be said for Peake’s writing. It’s brilliant. When you’re not bored by wondering why you’re reading about this character and what’s his importance, you can get quite lost in Peake’s writing. Obviously, it’s easier to do when you’re reading about a character you’re interested in (i.e., Titus Groan) or when reading about the main plot (“got to catch that villain”). As I wrote previously, “I think I am still wrapping my head around the gothic eeriness of Mervyn Peake鈥檚 story.” (See “Book Nook”) Towards the end of the novel, you get a good sense of Titus Groan. He is a tragic character in a way. Although he’s lived through tragedies, it’s clear they have an impact on him emotionally.

The final novel in this trilogy is Titus Alone. At first I thought I would read the whole trilogy, but I’m not sure about the final novel. Gormenghast did seem to drag a little in some places, and that makes me hesitant to read the third novel. I think it will just depend on how much I want to find out what happens next to Titus Groan.

For my review of Titus Groan, see “Recently Read and Currently Reading”.

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Review: Star Wars Allegiance

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Star Wars  Allegiance
Star Wars Allegiance by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Allegiance tells the story of a young Mara Jade and the desertion of five stormtroopers. Mara Jade is serving Emperor Palpatine as the Emperor’s Hand, comparable to James Bond’s role as a secret service agent. Mara Jade is still young though – only eighteen. She is idealistic and somewhat naive (especially in regards to the Emperor).

Daric LaRone is one of the five stormtroopers who desert. He has started to question whether the Empire actually cares about its citizens. Four other stormtroopers desert with him after LaRone’s altercation with an ISB (Imperial Security Bureau) officer. Like Mara Jade, the five stormtroopers are idealistic.

This story takes place after the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, but before The Empire Strikes Back. During this story, Luke does not yet know that Darth Vader is his father. Luke also does not know that Leia is his sister (on whom he seems to have a crush, at least from Han Solo’s perspective). Luke has not yet visited Yoda, but is carrying his lightsaber at his side (this is important since as far as most people know, the Jedi were wiped out; the only person known to wield a lightsaber is Darth Vader, as well as the Emperor’s Hand, according to rumours). Han Solo has not fully committed to the Rebel Alliance, although he’s agreed to help out with their mission in this story. Leia is still working with the Rebel Alliance and in this novel is attempting to recruit another world to their cause. Leia’s home world, Aldaraan, has been destroyed.

The location in this story is Shelsha sector, Luke and Han are sent there to investigate raids on the Rebel Alliance’s shipments (covert shipments, of course) while Leia is sent to Shelsha sector to meet with its governor in hopes of persuading him to join the Rebel cause. Mara Jade is sent to Shelsha sector to investigate its governor, while the five stormtroopers happen to be in that sector after deserting. LaRone and the other four stormtroopers are trying to stay hidden, but find they can’t help getting involved when citizens are attacked by swoop gangs and raiders. Darth Vader is obsessively trying to find Luke, and ends up in Shelsha sector as well. Considering the scenarios, it isn’t surprising to the reader that some of the main characters eventually meet up with each other.

Like his previous Star Wars novels, Zahn skillfully weaves together multiple plotlines. He never gets bogged down with explaining the different plotlines, and consequently keeps a fast pace to the story.

One key reason to read this Star Wars novel is to get a glimpse of Mara Jade while she was serving the Emperor. She’s smart and sassy, but somehow very loyal to the Emperor. When Zahn created the character of Mara Jade, it could have been easy for him to simply write her as a female Jedi, in contrast to Luke; or as a female Sith, in contrast to Darth Vader. Interestingly, she isn’t either of those. Mara Jade’s role is significantly different than Darth Vader’s. While Vader is busy force-choking his enemies, Mara Jade is cleverly finding ways to implicate her targets. In contrast to Luke, Mara Jade sees killing her opponent as a potential necessity. Luke would rather not kill anyone – ever. Recall who actually does kill the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi. In this comparison, Mara Jade is hardly naive – Luke is. Mara Jade is only naive when it comes to the Emperor, which can be explained easily when the Emperor is considered to be Mara Jade’s surrogate father. (Though, when Mara Jade and Luke finally meet, the score might be more even. At that point, it’s Mara Jade the Smuggler, who is probably more of a female Han Solo.)

Star Wars: Allegiance is an exciting read. It’s another Timothy Zahn story worthy of the name Star Wars.

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Book Blog

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Book blog time again.

I still need to get into the habit of writing a book review right after I read a book.

I finally got around to finish reading China: Its History and Culture by W. Scott Morton and Charlton M. Lewis. It’s a good overview of the history of China. I picked up this book for two reasons. One was for the overview of key events in China’s history. The second reason was because I wanted to know how the history affected Chinese culture. For each era (or dynasty, in most of the cases), this book does a good job of presenting key historic events and discussing aspects of the culture. The only drawback to this book is that the second half of the book is devoted to events in the 20 century leading up to the new millennium. This might have been unavoidable though since we know more about recent historic events than we do about events in the distant past. Overall though, this book gives the reader a good idea of how China came to be the country it is today. After finishing this book, the reader should have a good sense of the character of China.

As for fiction, below is a list of books I read recently:

Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton
Well of Shiuan (as part of The Morgaine Saga omnibus) by C.J. Cherryh
Spell of the Witch World by Andre Norton (consists of three short stories – “Dragon Scale Silver”, “Dream Smith”, “Amber Out of Quayth”)

Circus of the Damned is Hamilton’s third novel in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Once again, Anita Blake has to stave off a supernatural threat. Like her first two Anita Blake novels, this story moves at a good pace. Hamilton keeps the story moving and there’s loads of action and excitement. Of course, Anita solves the case by the end of the novel, but does she solve any of her own issues? Not quite. Circus of the Damned is another enjoyable read for those who love the urban fantasy genre. As part of a series, it will be interesting to see how the character Anita Blake develops.

Well of Shiuan by C.J. Cherryh is the sequel to Gate of Ivrel. In Well of Shiuan, the two main characters, Morgaine and Vanye, travel to a world facing annihilation (by flooding). It turns out to be directly caused by events in the past, in which Morgaine was involved. Determined to finish her mission to close all the Gates, Morgaine continues to deal with the consequences of her past actions. Meanwhile, Vanye has to learn that he can’t save everyone and that each person has his/her own destiny.

Spell of the Witch World is classic Andre Norton. If you’re a fan of classic fantasy (that is, swords and sorcery), Andre Norton is highly recommended. Somehow Norton is able to engage the reader in even the simplest of stories. “Dragon Scale Silver” is about a sister who, after having a premonition of her brother heading into danger, decides to rescue him herself. “Dream Smith” is a cute tale about a deformed blacksmith who crafts a dream world for him and the frail young woman with whom he is enamoured. Lastly, “Amber Out of Quayth” tells the story of how a woman escapes the prison of her arranged marriage.

Book Blog and Some Short Stories

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

It’s the new year and time I should update my book blog. The last review I wrote was on Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. (See “Review: Battle Royale”.) I highly recommend this book as long as you aren’t squeamish about violence.

I read two more stories from The Dark Descent:

“The Swords” by Robert Aickman
“Seven American Nights” by Gene Wolfe

“The Swords” by Robert Aickman was amusing. It was about a man’s “first experience”. In this story, not only is the man’s first experience a bit of a disappointment, it’s slightly traumatizing to him. Disturbing and horrifying would be the description for those with fragile emotional states. For me though, I found the story weirdly amusing (in that morbid sort of way), especially since the story suggests that the man has a taste for necrophilia.

“Seven American Nights” by Gene Wolfe was well-written, but I found it boring. I found myself constantly waiting for something horrific to happen. It might have helped if I found the character more likeable or interesting. Some elements of the story were interesting such as the deterioration of America. Clearly, this was meant to be a post-apocalyptic setting. I am drawn to post-apocalyptic stories, which explains why the setting of this story stands out to me.

I read H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” some time ago and found I liked his writing style. I’ve had The Best of H.P. Lovecraft sitting around for a while, and finally got around to reading it. I’ve read the first six stories as of this blog.

“The Rats in the Walls” was interesting. It felt a little like an adventure story, sort of like Indiana Jones. The ending is horrific (sort of like Raiders of the Lost Ark). I would label this story as psychological horror. In psychological horror, it seems to me that it’s the protagonist’s state of mind that leads to his/her tragedy.

“The Picture in the House” is not my favourite so far. The horrifying picture suggests the fate of the character once having stepped inside the house. However, the ending is left unclear. We don’t really know what happens to the protagonist. Because of this, I’m unsure as to whether or not Lovecraft actually finished this story or intended to write more. It reads like it’s only one scene in a much larger story.

I rather enjoyed reading “The Outsider”. For me, it quickly became clear who is the protagonist. I’m also a sucker for stories about the “underdog” or characters who have to struggle against the majority. That aside, the interesting aspect of this story is that it puts the reader inside the mind of the monster.

“Pickman’s Model” is a story to make you shudder. I really hope I never meet anyone like Pickman. Pickman is a brilliant artist or so one would think. His paintings with monsters in them look real. Perhaps you can guess why? This story is similar to the story of the brilliant doctor. He’s admirable, at least until you discover his studying methods.

“In the Vault” is a short tale about revenge beyond the grave. This story didn’t quite scare me, but rather made me laugh. Okay, I have a morbid sense of humour. Seriously though, the undertaker had it coming.

“The Silver Key” reads more like fantasy than horror. In this story, we are introduced to Randolph Carter, although this is not the first Lovecraft story featuring Randolph Carter. I confess I’m not quite sure what the point of this story is, except that I understand why Randolph Carter is considered to be Lovecraft’s alter ego. In this story, you get the sense that in writing about Carter’s doubts, fears, and insecurities, Lovecraft was writing about his. I will probably return to this story at a later date since Randolph Carter seems to be loosely tied to the Cthulhu mythos.

Since I was in the mood for short stories, I decided to dig into The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke. I picked up this book a while back after I had read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I was thinking recently that of the single novel stories, Battle Royale and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are my two favourites from the past few years. The Wheel of Time is a favourite story too, but it’s the whole series I like and I can’t pick one novel out of the series.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke is a wonderful collection of short stories by Clarke. If you didn’t like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, you probably won’t like this collection of stories. This collection of stories consists of more magic and fairies. If you don’t like stories about magic and fairies, than you won’t like these stories. I, however, consider magic (and fairies to some extent) to be integral to the fantasy genre. Susanna Clarke’s stories are a wonderful addition to that genre.

The title story, “The Ladies of Grace Adieu”, was amusing. As this story was first published in 1996, this is where Clarke first developed the characters of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The story is quite simply a warning that male magicians should not underestimate the power of female magicians. Those who are familiar with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke’s masterpiece of magical fiction) will recall how female magicians were frowned upon. The story also disproves Mr. Norrell’s claims that the Raven King does not exist.

The other stories are all quite entertaining. “On Lickerish Hill” seems to be a variation of “Rumpelstiltskin”. It is a re-telling of Tom Tit Tot fairy story. “Mrs Mabb” is a story about a woman who, upon her return from visiting a sick friend, has lost her fianc茅 to a fairy. “The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse” is a lesson for those who would annoy someone with magical abilities and is also a warning that if one were to engage in magic, one should be very careful about it. In “Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower”, while trying to outwit a fairy from marrying one of the innocent young ladies, Mr. Simonelli brings about trouble for himself. “Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby” presents a glimpse of the fairy world. “Antickes and Frets” is a short story about the last days of Mary, Queen of Scots. Lastly, in “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner”, we learn how the fairy John Uskglass was defeated by a mere human.

I was sorely missing The Wheel of Time and was wanting to get back to that series. However, I’m also in the middle of switching from hard copy books to ebooks. I have The Gathering Storm (book 12 of The Wheel of Time) on digital, but I still have a pile of hard copy books to get through. I decided to read New Spring by Robert Jordan, then continue with the rest of the series on digital.

I know some did not like New Spring as much as the main series, but I rather enjoyed it. It was interesting to read about Moiraine and Suian as Accepted in Tar Valon. It also provides a lot of background for the various Aes Sedai that Rand et al. have to deal with in the main series. I also find it amusing that Suian ever became the Amyrlin Seat, impulsive as she is. Then again, Suian in the later books in the series is quite like Suian in New Spring. It’s also amusing to see how Moiraine, despite her noble blood, defers to Suian as Suian is a stronger leader. Both female characters have presence, but Suian commands respect. There’s not as much about Lan in this book as one would expect. The story does ultimately tell you about how Moiraine and Lan meet up, and that first meeting is quite humourous for the reader (probably not so much for Moiraine). I think because Lan’s story is tied into the whole of The Wheel of Time, the rest of Lan’s story will be told through the main series. At least, I hope they remember to finish up Lan’s story by the time the main story is concluded.

After reading New Spring, I started The Gathering Storm. I’m currently on chapter 3.

I’m a little further along in War and Peace now. I left off back in July 2010. I’m now on book 3, part 3.

The rest of my “currently reading” list can be found on my Goodreads profile. If you have Goodreads, feel free to follow me on there.

~~~C
Your local bookworm

Review: Battle Royale

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Battle Royale
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Warning: Potential spoilers. No character names are given, but some scenes are summarized – you can easily skip these paragraphs. I also mention whether or not the two main protagonists survive. By the way, my thoughts on spoilers in general – if the book is well-written and interesting I’d read it anyway. Plus, I read this book again after already knowing what happens at the end. LOL. It’s still a good read. :-D)

I first read Battle Royale by Koushun Takami back in 2006 and just loved the story. Battle Royale is a Japanese novel translated into English. The translated English is well-written, with a few typing errors here and there. Occasionally, a word seems to be missing. I don’t consider this to be due to badly written English, but more likely a typing error as there are examples of well-written English throughout the novel. (In my opinion, the translated English in this novel is better than the English in some of the more recently popular fiction. An achievement I’d say, considering the translation is done by a Japanese person while the other novels I’m referring to are written by native English speakers. This shows that just because you speak the language, it doesn’t mean you can write it well.) Battle Royale was originally criticized in Japan as “violent exploitation”, but it eventually became a bestseller. A hit movie soon followed.

The premise of Battle Royale is simple, and is comparable to Lord of the Flies. In a dystopian version of Japan, a class of junior high school students are taken to an evacuated island as part of the “Program” where they are required to kill each other until only one survivor is left. With this premise in mind while reading Battle Royale, you have to expect this story will consist of gore, violence, and yes, people dying. However, if you shallowly dismiss this story as just gore, violence, and meaningless death, you will miss out on the beauty of this story. Ultimately, people will die in this story, but what’s interesting in this novel is how the characters deal with the possibility of an early death. The story explores how the students react to being forced to participate in the program. The novel has two main protagonists and the story is told mainly through those protagonists. Occasionally though, Takami writes a point of view from another character (since the story is about a class of junior high school students, the story has a cast of 43 characters – 42 students, plus the character of Kinpatsu Sakamochi, who is running the “Program”), so that you get a chance to understand some of the other characters in the novel before they take their final bow. Takami also uses a lot of flashbacks to help establish the backgrounds for most of the characters and also to give the reader a sense of what “normal life” is in this dystopian version of Japan.

Battle Royale is an action thriller story with emotional depth. It’s a fast-paced read that has many heart-wrenching scenes, and you’d have to be shallow or cold-hearted to not feel some tears well up. Remember too that the characters are students, all about the ages of 14-16. Reading this story should remind people of how they were at those ages. Some people were insecure while others were more secure. Some were more reserved while others were more outgoing. Some were popular, some were the class clowns, some were just not noticed by their class mates (unless they were being picked on). All of this plays into this story on top of the question “Could you kill your classmates?”

Deaths occur early in this story, the first being one of the more shocking. The first time I read that scene, I thought “Did I just read that?! Really? Please, no…” Of course, this was setting up the motivations for the two main protagonists (one a girl and the other a boy), and I probably saw it coming, but it was still… heart-breaking. (Spoiler warning: To avoid potential spoilers, skip this and the next five paragraphs.) I should note that the first two students that died were not killed by other students. They were killed by Sakamochi as examples to the other students.

Another early heart-wrenching scene involves a couple who decide to kill themselves instead of participating in the killing. The boy and girl reflect on how lucky they are that they got to see each other before they die. After some time talking and embracing, the two jump off a cliff together after hearing someone approaching nearby. Unknown to the couple, the student they heard was not going to kill them, but was wanting to find a way out of the “Program”.

Then there’s the two girls who are best friends. They decide that the other students must be scared too and don’t really want to kill their classmates. Thus, they decide to go up on a mountain peak and call all the students to them announcing that they aren’t playing the game. Unfortunately, the one student who happens to be a psychopath (he lacks emotions due to an accident his mother had while he was still in her womb; as a result of the accident his brain was damaged, and he can not feel emotions) and who decided to participate in the “Program” (by flipping a coin; since he has no emotions, he decided what to do by flipping a coin) finds these two best friends and guns them down. Before they die though, the two girls have a bonding moment when they realize that despite all their differences (differences that made them admire each other), the one thing they had in common was that they had a crush on the same boy.

In another scene, a girl is confronted by the boy she has been dating whom she actually loves. He doesn’t believe she loves him because of her past (she used to engage in prostitution, but gave it up when she started dating him) and he says he will kill her, but she manages to convince him that she does love him. Unfortunately, her past catches up with her as her “friend” kills her love and then her.

A few other heart-breaking moments occur later on in the story as there was some gradual build-up for the characters involved. One of the characters is determined to find the two people who mean the most to him – one is his best friend and the other is the girl he loves. He manages to catch up to his best friend just after she’s been shot and he stays with her until she dies. This is a beautifully written scene. The last thing the girl says to him is “You’ve become quite a stud.” He replies with, “And… you’re the most stylin’ girl in the world.” This character also manages to catch up with the girl he loves. Unfortunately, she is frightened and not sure who to trust so he is shot for his efforts (he has already sustained other wounds by this point). However, he tells her there’s a way to escape and then she realizes her mistake. He tells her to go “now” and says “I’m just glad I got to see you.” Confused, she asks “What do you mean?” and he confesses that he loves her. Realizing this, she breaks down and cries because she was a fool for not realizing sooner that he loved her, but instead spent time focusing on a hopeless crush.

Then, you have the death of one of the students who did participate in the killing. However, you end up feeling some pity for her. After all, she was an innocent girl all those years ago when she was raped. Unfortunately, her ability to manipulate people’s emotions isn’t a match against someone who doesn’t have any. Faced with her death, she recalls telling another student “I just decided to take instead of being taken” and then, she wonders “When did I… become like that?”

Those were just a few of the more memorable, heart-wrenching, yet beautiful scenes in the novel (some other scenes that I remember well are too complicated to summarize here). The contrast between gory violence and raw emotion is the beauty of this story. Some critics of this novel say that the gory violence is needless. I disagree. The violence is integral to this story and the gore is realistic (you can compare the descriptions in this novel to the live video of Neda Agha-Soltan‘s death and to the picture of Khalid Said after he was beaten to death). Faced with a realistic portrayal of violence and the results of that violence (that is, the gore), raw emotions are felt. Violent death is horrifying as is violence against people you care for and love. In describing as realistically as possible the violence in this story, Takami gives the reader a sense of what it could really feel like. If reading it is this emotionally upsetting, then watching someone you love die violently is unquantifiably upsetting; more than likely, it’s traumatizing. Indeed, people can go into severe shock after witnessing a brutal killing. The gory violence is very necessary to this story. It’s what makes the deaths have a real emotional impact.

Battle Royale not only asks the reader “Could you kill…?” but also asks what would you do after witnessing such brutality and violence. Could you overcome what you’ve seen? Could you then try to prevent this from happening again to others? (Spoiler warning: To avoid potential spoilers, skip the rest of this paragraph.)This is what the main protagonists decide they want to do. In order to do this though, the main protagonists must remain calm in order to remain rational. Succumbing to intense grief early on will not help them survive. Knowing this, the main characters engage in light conversation at times while still being fully aware of their dire situation. It is only at the end when the main protagonists can finally allow themselves to fully feel their grief.

Battle Royale is a very human story. It looks at the human behaviour when we are put in the direst of situations. What’s very human about this story is that in the midst of tragedy and death and in the fight for your own survival, a sense of love, compassion, and empathy for others can be found. Years ago, I watched a documentary that touched upon this theme. The documentary, Scared Sacred, described the travels of the director who visited various disaster sites. In visiting these sites, the director wanted to know if some hope remained. In the midst and even aftermath of disaster, is there some sense of hope? In the documentary, a Buddhist concept was referenced – “breathe in suffering, breathe out compassion”. Strangely enough, that seems to fit Battle Royale. (Spoiler warning: To avoid potential spoilers, skip this sentence.)The main protagonists breathed in all the suffering that was going on around them, then managed to breathe out compassion and survive. This is the beauty of the story.

The emotional elements mixed with the fast-paced action is what makes Battle Royale a page-turner. It’s hard to put down. Be prepared to put aside anything else (including sleep!) until you finish reading this novel. Battle Royale is a memorable story with characters worth remembering.

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Review: Fourwar

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Fourwar
Fourwar by Nathaniel Simpson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Being a close friend of the author, I first read this novel when it was in an early draft. At the time, I was focused on checking it for minor typos; thus, it was kind of hard to let myself get absorbed in the story. I remember some elements of the story that made it highly amusing. I think there is potential for world/universe-building here and for more stories. That being said, I plan on reading this story again since it’s in its finalized version, and then spending some time on a proper review (and maybe come up with some more story ideas to throw the author’s way; I’m working on writing my first novel now and would like to write one with Nathaniel). I gave this novel 3 out of 5 stars for now pending a proper review (the rating might go up; I gave this novel at least a 3 also to avoid accusations of being a biased reviewer because I personally know the author; hence my needing to do a proper review) and also as a way to let people know they just might want to read this story. :-)

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Book Blog

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and almost a year since I wrote a blog about books that I’ve read – the last blog of this sort was in August of last year. The reason for this is simply because I couldn’t decide if I should keep writing a ‘book blog’ or only keep track of things on GoodReads. I should probably write reviews of books right after I read them, but usually I’m always excited to start reading something new. Plus, I find that I have more to comment about a book when comparing it to other books I’ve read. Thus, I’ve decided to continue doing a ‘book blog’. If I happen to write a review of just one book on GoodReads, I’ll still send that review to this blog. If you’ve been reading my blog over the past year, you will have noticed a blog article titled “Review” along with the book’s name.

The last few graphic novels I read were:

Spike: Shadow Puppets (see my review)
Angel: Auld Lang Syne
Angel: Blood and Trenches
Angel

As for novels, here’s what I’ve read the past seven months.

Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh
Moon of 3 Rings by Andre Norton
The Last Command by Timothy Zahn
Unnatural History (first book in the Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus) by Jonathan Green
Stormqueen! (part of The Ages of Chaos omnibus) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Hawkmistress! (part of The Ages of Chaos omnibus) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Two to Conquer (part of Darkover: First Contact omnibus) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum
Star Gate by Andre Norton
Gate of Ivrel (book one of The Morgaine Saga) by C. J. Cherryh
H么tel Transylvania (book one in the Saint-Germain series) by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Since I have created an account on Goodreads, I’m maintaining my “To Read” list on there.

I wrote a short review of Downbelow Station after reading it. At the time, I was still mulling the story over in my head trying to determine how much I enjoyed it.

First, I should explain that Downbelow Station is part of Cherryh’s Alliance-Union Universe. This story describes the end of the “Company War” – the war between Earth Company and Union – and for the most part takes place at Pell Station (nicknamed “Downbelow Station”), which is run by the Konstantins. It is during this time when the Alliance is formed. The Alliance consists of merchanter families. Merchanter ships are basically trading and cargo ships; and each ship is run by a different family.

One of the characters in Downbelow Station is pivotal in securing an Alliance among the merchanter families. With the formation of the Alliance, an end to the Company War is quickly brought about.

Downbelow Station is an interesting read, not so much for the characters, but for the universe that it introduces to you. The story itself also poses some serious moral questions. Cherryh’s universe isn’t empty (like, for example, the remade Battlestar Galactica) – there are inhabitants on Pell’s World, which Pell Station orbits. How these inhabitants are treated is an issue presented in the novel. The issue of genetic engineering is also presented in this novel. Union uses genetic engineering, and it is clear in the novel that this is one of the issues between Earth Company and Union. (There is a much longer history of how Union is formed, but I won’t get into that here.) “Adjustment” is used on one of the characters in the novel since the character requests it. Adjustment is a process by which a person’s personality can be modified; and it is only used in extreme cases. In the novel, it is clear that the person who receives the request for adjustment is uncomfortable with using it for a case he doesn’t consider “extreme”.

The pacing of Downbelow Station is slow at first. It picks up towards the end. You also don’t get a feel for most of the major characters until close to the end. One character is interesting in the beginning simply because you are wondering why that person would want to be “adjusted”. You find out at the end. Strangely enough, I empathized more with the aliens, the inhabitants of Pell’s World, more than the human characters. Perhaps this is my penchant for rooting for the underdog, but I think it’s because the alien characters were better written.

Downbelow Station is a must-read if you are interested in the science fiction genre. It’s also an important introduction to the Alliance-Union Universe. I find myself interested in Cherryh’s Alliance-Union Universe, so I will likely read a few more novels in this series. Cyteen is the other book that’s recommended in this series. It’s a much bigger book than Downbelow Station, but an important read as it provides more insight on Union and takes place in Union space.

Moon of 3 Rings is classic Andre Norton. I enjoy Norton’s writing and this novel doesn’t disappoint in that aspect. (I’m starting to think that newer authors don’t know how to do classic story-telling. It’s a pity, some things should never die out. Nothing wrong with new ways of telling stories, mind you, but new doesn’t equate to better, just different.) I decided to read Moon of 3 Rings because Brother to Shadows was recommended to me, and I thought these two novels were part of the same series, but it turns out Brother to Shadows is a standalone novel. In any case, Moon of 3 Rings was another enjoyable read by Norton. It tells the story of Krip and Maelen. Krip works on a Free Trader ship. (You will notice that Cherryh’s Merchanters are very similar to Free Traders. She does in fact list Andre Norton as an influence in her writing.) While looking for things to buy on one planet, Krip unwittingly gets caught up in a plot to seize power over that planet. In order to save him, Maelen gives Krip a new body. 馃榾 There are, of course, reasons why she does this. First, she feels a small debt to him for he intervened on her behalf during a quarrel with another. Second, in saving Krip she hopes to save another. How Krip reacts to being put in a new body and what he does after is amusing. Norton has excellent pacing in her novels, which is what makes them fairly easy to read. I have yet to read an Andre Norton novel I didn’t enjoy.

With The Last Command, I finally finished “the Thrawn trilogy”. I have to admit that Timothy Zahn wrote a good trilogy worthy of the name “Star Wars”. He even threw in one minor twist I did not see coming. About the trilogy overall, I have to agree with others that Zahn managed to add new and interesting characters to the original Star Wars cast of characters. The next Star Wars novel I plan on reading will be Allegiance, which features Mara Jade, and is also written by Timothy Zahn.

I had posted a short, first impressions review of Unnatural History by Jonathan Green via GoodReads. I’m still not sure if I’ll go back to that series any time soon.

Stormqueen! and Hawkmistress! were reviewed in the blog article just prior to this one. I have been enjoying the Darkover novels and Bradley’s writing. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about the later novels written by other authors. Darkover might not feel the same. I still have four more Darkover novels to read that Bradley wrote herself, and one that was co-written. The rest of the novels published after Rediscovery (1993) were all co-written. Ah, I’ll see what happens after I’ve read Rediscovery. If I miss Darkover that much, I might just read the later novels.

Two to Conquer is a tough story, I think, for some people to swallow. In this story, you have two protagonists who are not very likable. I’m understating. In real life, you’d hate these two men. They both have violent natures, and both men treat women as objects, not persons of worth. However, this is not real life (or more correctly, this is not our world, our universe) – it’s Darkover. Darkover, where laran (telekinetic powers) is common. While reading this novel, I don’t think that Bradley is making excuses for rapists and abusers in our world, but rather she’s exploring an idea, a “what if?” Essentially, this novel is asking “What if the rapist/abuser could actually feel everything his/her victim is feeling regarding the abuse?” Bradley’s take is that a certain amount of empathy is required in order for someone to feel remorse for inflicting pain on another. In the case with聽laran, the remorse someone could feel would be devastating. If you have been reading Darkover like I have been, you will be familiar with the idea that laran needs to be awakened and trained in the person who’s gifted with it. Persons with untrained laran pose a danger and a risk to Darkovan society. This was the subject of the novel Stormqueen! (reviewed previously; see above for the link), though it was much easier for some people to swallow. In Two to Conquer, it becomes clear later that Bard had untrained laran and a form of laran that hadn’t awaken yet. He has a type of laran that allows him to control another person’s thoughts (this allows him to easily rape women). Only later does another type of laran awakens – telepathy.

In choosing the subject matter of Two to Conquer, Bradley has chosen a difficult story to write. However, she writes this story well. While mostly writing from Bard’s perspective, Bradley also wrote a bit from the rape victim’s perspective. In this case, the rape victim forgives Bard because she feels that had she not been conflicted with other goals (that of saving her virginity so that she could be Keeper; note that at the time period of this story, Darkovans believed that women had to be virgins in order to be Keepers; this was disproved later), she would have wanted to sleep with him anyway because she was attracted to him. Her explanation is simply that with his laran he tapped into her unconscious desire; and had she been more aware of her own desires, she may have made the choice to sleep with him anyway. As it happens, this girl that Bard rapes who later forgives him turns out to be highly gifted with laran anyway. She earns respect and authority through her ability, and consequently gained confidence in herself. Of course, not all rape victims in our world will be or need be so forgiving. Each rape case is different; and each rape victim needs to come to their own decisions and conclusions about how to deal. It’s not up to anyone else to tell a rape victim how s/he should be feeling.

Another plot in this novel is the formation of the “Compact”. In Darkover history, this is the time of “Varzil the Good”. In an attempt to bring peace to the warring Hundred Kingdoms, Varzil has come up with the Compact. Essentially, it’s a law that “bans all distance weapons, making it a matter of honor that one who seeks to kill must himself face equal risk of death.” (See “Darkover series” on Wikipedia.) In this time period, Darkovans were killing each other with what amounts to “weapons of mass destruction” created via laran. Bard, although he has hurt others in his personal life, actually agrees with Varzil about the Compact and hopes to get others to agree to it. Bard had previously fought as a soldier and witnessed others burned to death with laran-based weapons. Having witnessed that, he wishes no one to die in that same manner.

Two to Conquer is book two in the Darkover: First Contact omnibus. I give the omnibus 5 out of 5 stars on my GoodReads. I read Darkover Landfall a while back and really enjoyed it (see “Darkover novels and some reading material”). Both books in the omnibus are well-written (although Darkover Landfall is more fun and less serious in tone) and both provide the reader with some things to think about.

I enjoyed reading The Bourne Identity, so I thought, “why not read the sequel,”聽The Bourne Supremacy. I’m not one of those people who expect books to be exactly like the movie. It seems rather silly especially if the book was written before the movie was made. I long ago noticed that movies can be “based on” a book or “adapted” from a book. This means that one should not expect the movie to be exactly like the book. That being said, I enjoyed this novel. At times, I got confused as to what Bourne (or rather, Webb; since there was a fake Bourne in this novel) was up to, but the confusion would clear up a few more pages in. I enjoyed reading about Marie and how she would use the skills Bourne taught her. Unlike another reviewer on GoodReads, I’m pretty sure Marie’s trick for disguising herself would work in real life. That trick works because people were looking for a “tall, attractive redhead”. By making herself plain and wearing flat shoes, she no longer fits the description. In real life, I have noticed too that when I’ve been dressed up, people were more likely to remember me whereas when I’ve been dressed down or dressed plainly people were less likely to remember me. People who have seen me in only workout clothes (such as my taekwondo uniform) who then suddenly see me dressed up for dancing or whatnot usually don’t realize it’s me at first. Sure, if you look close enough you’d recognize a person you know, but Marie wasn’t exactly planning on walking right up to the people who were pursuing her. At a distance, her disguise worked.

This novel takes place primarily in China this time. Ludlum has done a wonderful job of capturing Chinese culture (I think he even threw in an “Aiyaaa!” LOL). The story isn’t too difficult to follow, even the little bit of politics involving China. Sure it might help if you know that China’s government at that time had basically exiled another political party to Taiwan, but seriously… how many people don’t know that Hong Kong belonged to the British until 1997? All you really needed to know about China for this novel was basically stuff that was said in the novel. Britain and China are trading partners. Something bad happens in China that makes it seem like the British were at fault and might ruin that trading agreement. End of agreement. War. Enough said.

As for David Webb, he’s basically been manipulated back into action to catch the fake Bourne, thereby preventing a big blow-up between Britain and China.

This story is distinctly different than the movie version, but still enjoyable. And hey, I still like the movie version as well.

The next two novels I read were read for comparison. I already mentioned that C. J. Cherryh is influenced by Andre Norton’s writing. I wanted to read Cherryh’s first published novel, Gate of Ivrel, but recalled that I had found Andre Norton’s Star Gate a while back. Both stories are about travel through a “gate”, although the kind of travelling is slightly different. In Cherryh’s first novel, Gate of Ivrel, you can see Norton’s influence -not just in the idea of gate travel, but also in Cherryh’s writing style, although Cherryh’s writing strikes me as more serious in tone somehow.

In Star Gate by Andre Norton (and if you’re thinking of the Stargate franchise… you had to wonder where they got the idea for the very first Stargate movie; I still like SG-1 and Atlantis all the same), Terrans/Star Lords had already affected and influenced Gorthian society. However, feeling that they adversely affected the Gorthians, the Star Lords leave. Kincar is of mixed Gorthian and Star Lord blood. Due to some power struggle, his Gorthian grandfather hands him some Star Lord objects and tells Kincar to leave before he is killed. Kincar escapes and meets up with some Star Lords who happen to be leaving Gorth through a gate. Having passed through the gate, Kincar and the Star Lords (his new friends) find themselves on a different Gorth, a Gorth that came to be based on different decisions that were made in the past. To the Star Lords’ dismay, they find that the Star Lords on this Gorth were cruel to the Gorthians. The Star Lords that have just arrived decide to rectify matters for this Gorth and Kincar finds himself a key player in achieving this goal.

Unlike in the Stargate franchise, the gate in Star Gate is not part of a system of gates, but rather it is technology that the Terrans have. Terrans are able to create gates wherever they are so long as they have the means to do so. Norton does not explain how gates are made/formed. This is soft science fiction, and in any case, the main plot of the story is what Kincar and the Star Lords do after they get through the gate.

Again, Norton has written a novel that is enjoyable to read. Excellent writing, good pacing, and of course a quandary for the main character. I should also note that Norton does a wonderful job writing the bird-like Mord creatures. I kind of want one, but it’s a fictional creature. Phooey.

With Cherryh’s Gate of Ivrel, we come across the idea of a system of gates. Since I was exploring different science fiction/fantasy authors, I had already decided to read Cherryh’s first novel. Gate of Ivrel is the first book of The Morgaine Saga omnibus edition. The Morgaine Saga is also loosely connected to Cherryh’s Alliance-Union Universe (mentioned above in connection with Downbelow Station). Morgaine is a one of a five-person team sent by Union to close or to destroy the gates. The gates in this novel are able to send a person to a different time as well as place. In Gate of Ivrel, it’s also indicated that they can do more than that as Morgaine steps through a gate and stays locked in it for about a hundred years. The plot of this story is simple. Morgaine is heading to the gate of Ivrel to close it or, if need be, destroy it. One hundred years ago she failed and the people of Andur-Kursh paid for that failure. Of course, there are obstacles in the way; and to get through them, Morgaine needs help. Vanye is an exile from Clan Nhi for killing his half-brother in self-defence. Of course, no one believes it was in self-defence and he is exiled by his father. Vanye is the one who accidentally releases Morgaine from the gate (not the same gate as at Ivrel) and being an exile in need shares food and a fireside with her. Morgaine has “lord right” from years ago and since Vanye accepted her hospitality, she can in turn claim a year of service from him. She does, of course, and Vanye has no choice but to accompany her on her mission.

For a first novel, Gate of Ivrel is pretty good. This novel was better paced than Downbelow Station and it was well-written. One minor issue I had was Cherryh’s habit of starting new paragraphs with “and” when she could easily leave it off. I didn’t notice this in Downbelow Station, so I’m guessing she caught this early on in her career and corrected that habit. Overall, this story was enjoyable. I did notice that I empathized with these characters more than the characters of Downbelow Station. This may be simply that, in this novel, Cherryh was focused on character-building while in Downbelow Station she was focused on world-building. The next story in The Morgaine Saga is Well of Shiuan.

The last novel to review today is H么tel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. In this novel, Yarbro has taken a historical person, Count of Saint Germain, and written him as a heroic vampire. H么tel Transylvania is also a real place. As Yarbro writes in her notes at the end of the novel, “Built in the reign of Loius XIII, H么tel Transylvania stands today at 9 Quai Malaquais in le Faubourg Saint-Germain. Its name was taken from Prinz Franz Leopold Ragoczy, who stayed there from 1713 to 1717, due in part to his role in the War of the Spanish Succession.” Along with her research on the Count of Saint Germain and H么tel Transylvania, Yarbro also did some research on vampires. (I really wish other authors would have done the same – *cough* Stephenie Meyer *cough* – sorry, I’m not into sparkling vampires.) H么tel Transylvania is the first book in a series about Le Comte de Saint-Germain.

For a long while, I avoided most vampire fiction because they all seemed overly romantic in nature to the point of being trite (I don’t like standard romance novels to begin with so I’m not going to be interested in vampire romance). One long-standing popular vampire series is Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, which I just didn’t find interesting. I couldn’t even pay attention to Interview with a Vampire because I found it terribly boring. Now, I had read Dracula by Bram Stoker when I was a teenager, and that novel I found interesting. For one thing, that novel didn’t present vampires as romantic in nature. For another, that novel was more action thriller. That being said, I liked the idea for Buffy when that movie came out. It was a shame that the movie was not done half as well as the later TV series. Although romance comes into play in the Buffy TV series, it’s not the main story-line. Romance stories to me seem to be missing the point of life. A young woman’s purpose in life isn’t to sit around waiting for the perfect mate to come woo her and make her swoon. (Sorry, guys, I’m not that easy to impress.) There’s a lot more to life than just finding a mate. This point is driven home with the Buffy series. Sure, Buffy at 16, and even 17, just wants her perfect prom night, but ultimately she decides to deal with more important matters – save the world (again!). If anything, I’d say the Buffy series is great for showing young women why it’s not a good idea to focus on romance all the time. Every time Buffy focused on romance, she was miserable. I think she was rather happier when she was killing the “baddies”. Hey, she had a purpose in life and she was good at something – that gave her confidence.

In any case, no Anne Rice novels for me. Since Buffy, I’ve picked up the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, which is pretty good in my opinion. Yarbro’s Saint-Germain series was recommended to me by my boyfriend (of all people), but to be fair, he says he was impressed with the research Yarbro did for the novel(s). I’d have to agree with him. H么tel Transylvania is a fairly easy read. I found I like Yarbro’s idea of putting letters at the end of each chapter. The style of writing for the letters is similar to classic storytelling, which I like. H么tel Transylvania is pegged as romance by some, but I found what was interesting about the novel was the contrast between the Count of Saint Germain and the villains of the story. The villains in this story happen to be Satanists, who are basically searching for their next virgin sacrifice. Although Yarbro does not write about it in her notes at the end, I’m pretty sure she must have done some research previously about Satanic cults. Having spent some time studying occult philosophy myself (not all occult is bad, and Satanism just makes it easy for people to go to extremes, though I do not know of any Satanists personally), I know the difference between Satanic practices versus other occult practices. I can say that based on what I’ve researched before, Yarbro got the gist of the Satanic rituals correct. Virgin sacrifice means more power. Yup. Upside-down pentagram. Yup. (Note that not all upside-down pentagrams are bad either. In occult philosophy, an upside-down pentagram represents the elements over spirit. Even in some harmless rituals, you might want to emphasize the elements over spirit.)

Back to Saint-Germain, who happens to be a good vampire (“Faith, don’t stake him! He’s good.”) and the Satanists, who are very, extremely bad. You might note that in writing about this novel, I’m doing my best to write in a light-hearted tone. This is because, honestly, this novel with its description of a fictional Satanic ritual, is going to be hard to take for some readers. This novel comes off as light-hearted in some places (when Madelaine is conversing with Saint-Germain, for example; seriously, Saint-Germain seems so fun to be around – it’s the perfect cover, how can he be a vampire? he’s not emo enough!), but when it comes to the Satanic ritual scene, it’s pretty dark. Basically, a minor character is kidnapped, tied up, molested, humiliated, degraded, then raped repeatedly. If Bradley’s Two to Conquer upset some readers, H么tel Transylvania will infuriate those same readers. I wouldn’t recommend this novel to them. However, I will say that it’s the mark of a good author to be able to write some tough scenes. I’m not saying it should be done all the time, but if it is done, the writing should be done well. I will also say that if rape is part of the plot of a story it shouldn’t be avoided. Sure, it’s a tough subject, but ignoring the subject isn’t going to make it go away. It’s not as if Yarbro is writing about this young woman being raped and then implying it’s a good thing. It’s obviously a very horrible thing. The Satanists are cruel, sadistic, power-hungry men. Saint-Germain, even though he is a vampire, is a kind, gentle, and caring man. In choosing to pit Saint-Germain against Satanists in the first novel, Yarbro sets up Saint-Germain as not just a good character, but as a model of humanity. Of course, he can only do so much without risking exposure for himself; and that seems to be his one continuing dilemma.

Overall, I did not mind this story. Yarbro does a wonderful job of creating the Saint-Germain character. I like that she did some research for the novel (no sparkling vampires! haha). Although the main plot is that Saint-Germain falls in love and must rescue his love interest from the Satanists, I didn’t find it too trite. For one thing, the story isn’t focused on Madelaine all the time (so the reader doesn’t necessarily have to read about Madelaine pining away for Saint-Germain). Some chapters are concerned with aspects of Saint-Germain’s life.

Aside from novels, I’ve read a few short stories in the horror genre and some stories by Lovecraft. The Dark Descent is an anthology of horror stories. From that collection, I read “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Dread” by Clive Barker, “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe, and “The Signal-Man” by Charles Dickens. Of those four, I liked Poe’s and Dickens’ story best. The “Young Goodman Brown” story just makes me laugh because it’s a case of “if you are looking for evil, you’re sure to find it even if it’s not there.” Similarly, I almost laughed at the end of “Dread” because it was the character’s own fears that made him do the things he did, which led to the occurrence of his ultimate “dread”. I’m guessing I liked Poe’s and Dickens’ stories better for horror as they aren’t easily explained away. Both stories seem to be cases of apparitions, and I will confess I don’t ever want to see a ghost. I think I just feel that the characters in Hawthorne’s and Barker’s stories have more control over what could happen to them. If only they did this… If only they didnt’ do this… It makes sense in a way to me because Lovecraft has stated that “the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”. In Poe’s and Dickens’ stories, there is a bigger unknown element than in Hawthorne’s and Barker’s stories. What happens in “Young Goodman Brown” and in “Dread” is in some ways and somewhat predictable. It’s hard to fear what can be predicted. Even if what can be predicted doesn’t happen, in this case, it’s fine because the alternative to the prediction isn’t scary or anything to be feared.

I read Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” a while ago in the anthology above. I’m slowly making my way through The Best of H.P. Lovecraft, and will probably read “The Call of Cthulhu” again since it’s in this collection as well.

I read a bit more of War and Peace. I’m now on book three, halfway through, and only 661 more pages. LOL. The translation I’m reading is the Maude translation, and it’s pretty good. I’m finding it easy enough to read. I’m starting to like the character of Pierre more than I did at the beginning of the novel.

Okay, phew! This was long blog. Enjoy and happy reading. I hope I’ve given my readers something to think about again or at least pointed out something else interesting to read. :-)

~~~C
Your local bookworm