Archive for September, 2013

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’s 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.