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Posts Tagged ‘books’

  1. The Way of Kings

    September 19, 2011 by superlative

    I recently finished reading The Way of Kings, book one of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, so I thought I’d write a short review of it.

    I first came across Brandon Sanderson when I read his Mistborn Trilogy. I’d never heard of him before, but the books were marked with a ‘Staff recommend’ sticker in Waterstones and so I thought I’d give them a go. I absolutely LOVED them and think they’re a great series of books, and I’m really looking forward to the fourth book he has written set in the Mistborn universe that is due out later this year. I’ve also since learnt that Sanderson is quite famous for his work on completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, but I’ve never read any Jordan so that doesn’t mean a lot to me (it might to you, if you’re a fantasy buff).

    The Way of Kings is quite a mammoth book to pick up if you haven’t read any Sanderson before. It was originally published in two halves because it is so huge, but the edition I was bought combines the two into a hefty 1008 pages. Even at that length though I didn’t find it heavy going, and I think that’s due to the way it is structured (divided up into distinct parts and interludes) and the three separate story arcs that run through it. There are three protagonists, and each chapter is told from the viewpoint of one of them. I suppose that is partly why the book is so long, because there are three stories to be told, but it certainly stops you getting bored with any one arc, and at times it makes you desperate to read on when something exciting happens but the next chapter switches to a different character.

    One of the things Sanderson does well and has received acclaim for is what some people call ‘secondary creation’: the art of creating a detailed world with a rich history to set your story in. In both The Way of Kings and the Mistborn books, this also involves creating novel systems of magic, both of which really are unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere. They take a bit of getting used to when you pick his books up, but once you have accepted them and learnt the terminology they aren’t distracting and make for some very exciting action scenes.

    The Way of Kings is very grand in scale at times, with large battles and a good deal of politicking between rival houses of noblemen, but also manages to focus down onto some believable, sympathetic and troubled characters. In that regard you get the best of both worlds, as it has an epic feel intertwined with the personal and emotional journeys of three individuals.

    If I had to make a criticism of the book, I’d say that it is quite frustrating and cannot be read as a standalone novel. It really is the first of a series, and you’re left desperate to pick up the second book straight after the first to find out what happens. Unfortunately it hasn’t been published yet, and I’m not sure how long I’ll have to wait before I get my hands on it.

    My other key criticism is of the combined edition I read, which contains by far the largest number of typographical and grammatical errors I’ve ever seen in a published novel. It’s almost as if it has never been proof-read, which seems bizarre given it must have come out after the publication of the two individual volumes. Gollancz, the publishers, should be ashamed of themselves, because although the errors aren’t a barrier to understanding what’s going on, they are distracting and disruptive to the flow of the narrative.

    I haven’t said very much about what happens in the story, but that’s because I didn’t want this to turn into a summary, and so much happens in the book that it would be hard to stop it doing so. You can read the product description on Amazon if you want to get a flavour of the content. I recommend The Way of Kings very highly if you enjoy fantasy novels though, and particularly if you enjoyed his Mistborn books. Of the two, I’d say the Mistborn novels are stronger, but The Way of Kings is only the first in the series and I’ll be very keen to see where he takes it next.

  2. Water for Elephants

    March 22, 2011 by superlative

    Over the last week I have read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. It was another recommendation from a friend, as I was looking for something a bit more modern to read on my Kindle that wasn’t set in the 1800s. I actually paid for this book too, which I think is only the second time I’ve paid for something on Kindle; all the other stuff I have read has been free.

    Water for Elephants is a great book and I heartily recommend it. It has recently been made into a film that I think is going to be released in the next couple of months, starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, and I was actually quite pleased to be able to read it before they start publicising the film so I can say “oh yes, I’ve read the book of that” if people talk about it.

    The novel is set in 1930s America, and is the story of a young man, Jacob, who after suffering some personal hardships impulsively leaves town one night and jumps onto a passing train. The train turns out to belong to a travelling circus, and having nowhere else to go and having almost finished a degree in veterinary medicine, Jacob becomes part of the circus and is put in charge of caring for the animals. While there he meets Marlena, the beautiful star of the equestrian act,  her brutal husband August (you can probably see where this is going), and Rosie, a lovable but seemingly untrainable elephant.

    It is a great and passionate novel, and the setting of the circus gives it a unique feel and atmosphere. It’s a life of sparkle and sadness, dazzle and desperation. You can tell the author spent a lot of time researching it, and many of the more minor events come from real-life experiences of circusfolk that she read about.

    It is really good, and only took me a week to read, so if you’ve got a bit of time or want something to read on holiday, I’d really recommend it.

  3. Kindle update #2

    March 14, 2011 by superlative

    Following on from my previous post about what I have read on my Kindle, I can now add to the list:

    • Jane Eyre
    • Wuthering Heights
    • Silas Marner

    I have also read Nineteen Eighty-Four in paperback, and I’m quite impressed that I have read eight books in the last 4-5 months. That’s more than I normally read, and I’m really pleased that having my Kindle as a new toy has made me spend more time reading than I have done for ages. It has also made me read lots of titles that I would never have picked up normally, so it has been a really good purchse so far.

    Nineteen Eighty-Four was a really good book (I’m going to include it in this post even though it wasn’t on Kindle, because I’m a rebel and I make my own rules). It wasn’t really what I was expecting, based on the very vague ideas I had of there being a Big Brother in it and something about a box of rats. I enjoyed it very much, and found it more engaging and believable than Brave New World. The only problem I had with it was that many of the ideas and names of things in it (like Big Brother and Room 101 in particular) have been so cheapened by their use in popular culture that they had less impact for me than they would have done when it was written.

    I quite liked that the protagonist wasn’t a dynamic sort of hero, and in many ways Winston reminded me of Pereira in Pereira Declares by Antonio Tabucchi, an Italian book I read at university. I quite liked Julia, despite her being a bit intentionally vacuous, and I enjoyed the depth and complexity of the world created by George Orwell.

    I went back to my Kindle after Nineteen Eighty-Four and read Jane Eyre, which has knocked Sherlock Holmes off the top of the list of books I’ve most enjoyed on the Kindle so far. Again I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I found it an exciting and compelling book, much more so than I had anticipated given its age. It is hard to dislike the character of Jane Eyre, with her relentless determination and almost self-destructive adherence to her moral values. I also liked the way it is written as an autobiography, and the feeling of the entire arc of Jane’s life that you get from it.

    Wuthering Heights, in comparison, I found a bit disappointing. Cathy and Heathcliff get referenced frequently today as these tragic, tempestuous lovers, and so that was what I was expecting the book to be about. In reality I found their relationship to be a relatively minor part of it, even if most of the events are affected by it. I didn’t expect Cathy to pop her clogs so early on (in quite annoying circumstances – her cause of death is quite wussy and dissatisfying), and then basically the whole of the rest of the book boils down to Heathcliff being horrible to everybody, all the time, just because he’ s a horrible person. It was OK, but as I said, I was disappointed.

    Yesterday I finished Silas Marner, by George Eliot. I’d never even heard of it (although I’ve heard of George Eliot, I’m not thick), but I read it on a recommendation from a friend. I was surprised how good it was, and how in quite a short book you can become so attached to an unsociable old weaver in a little English village.

    Most of the books that I have read on my Kindle have been set in the 19th century, and that has given them quite a similar feel. That is due mostly to me reading books that are free, which tend to be classics, and while that’s fine I have an appetite for something a bit lighter and more modern next. So my intention when I get home is to purchase Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, again on a recommendation from someone. It should be completely different to what I’ve read so far, and it has some excellent reviews. I shall let you know what I think.

  4. Kindle update

    January 5, 2011 by superlative

    So far on the lovely Kindle that I treated myself to in November, I have read:

    • War of the Worlds
    • Dracula
    • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
    • Brave New World

    War of the Worlds was good, particularly when you read it knowing that it was the first Martian invasion-type story written. It was also nice for me as a modern reader to read about an alien invasion set in a past version of Britain, as that gave it a very different feel to the stories you see now, although of course it was set in the present day when H. G. Wells wrote it. I did think that it ended extremely suddenly though, and so that was a bit disappointing.

    Dracula was also good, and again it was interesting knowing that it was the origin of all the subsequent Dracula stories and much of the vampire lore that we’re now so familiar with. The main disappointment for me was Professor Van Helsing, who wasn’t at all as I had expected, but I suppose that’s because my image of him has been poisoned by later versions of the Van Helsing vampire-fighting character. I found his personality and his awkward use of English extremely annoying, as was the general sappiness of some of the other individuals in the book (I’m looking at you, Mina). And the same as with the War of the Worlds, I felt the story ended a little abruptly. I still enjoyed it overall and am glad that I read it.

    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was a recommendation from a friend, and is probably the novel I’ve most enjoyed so far from these four. I liked the short story style of each of the cases, and the fun you have in your mind trying to figure out the mystery yourself before Sherlock Holmes reveals all the details. All of these last three novels were set just before 1900 though, and so I was getting a bit fatigued by turn of the century England by the end of this one.

    So to make a change I shot forward a few hundred years into the utopian dystopia of Brave New World. I have been wanting to read this for a while, and I really enjoyed it, particularly the first half. I was getting a little bit bored towards the end though, and as more and more of Huxley’s vision of the future was described I went off it a little bit. I realise it was written in the 1930s, but for me his world was so extreme and implausible that it failed for me as a warning against unbridled consumerism. It simply didn’t fit with my understanding of human nature and what people would and wouldn’t be prepared to give up, and so it drifted away from social commentary and became just a neat little fantasy that could never escape from the confines of the book. I’m again pleased that I read it though.

    I’ll probably read 1984 next, but shock horror I shall be reading it on actual paper as Chris owns a copy of it and it’s not free on the Kindle.

    My verdict on the Kindle in general though is that it is lovely to read on and works really well. And the added excited feeling of having a neat little gadget in my hand is a bonus that goes alongside the reading of books I’d probably never have bought in hard copy.