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Posts Tagged ‘review’

  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. Iron Man 2 and The Reader

    May 10, 2010 by superlative

    I have seen and enjoyed two films recently. Some people might say they are quite different, but I think they have a lot in common: one is about a 40-year old superhero in a robot suit; the other is about a young boy’s relationship with a semi-paedophile former Nazi. You can see why I might get the two confused in my mind, so just because it’s easier I shall review them in one post.

    Iron Man 2
    Some people would call this a flagrant and needless attempt to extract more money from the Iron Man franchise after an initially successful film. Indeed, when watching the sequel I did find an awful lot of similarities with the first film that made me think “was there really any point in making this?”
    Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is once again challenged by someone using a hijacked version of his own design and must battle it out and prove his suit is better than the other guy’s. There is a vague plot slung around the whole thing, and in this second film Scarlett Johansson prances about in a skin-tight outfit to distract you from the obvious similarities with the first one.
    Originality aside though, I did enjoy it, and it was a perfectly acceptable means of being entertained for a couple of hours. The fight scenes are quite cool, the special effects are polished, and Gwyneth Paltrow is reasonably amusing as the unfortunately-named Pepper Potts. Oh and that funny arm-robot that’s a bit like a scutter is back too.
    It’s not amazing cinema, but it’s better than being stabbed in the face. I even quite liked Robert Downey Jr in it, despite him not being my favourite actor, as he plays the smug richboy character of Tony Stark quite accurately.
    My verdict: B- (not a disaster, but could do better )

    The Reader

    The Reader, on the other hand, was really really good, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone. It’s not very often that I find myself transfixed by a film, and then left pondering it for ages afterwards.
    I’ll try not to give too much away, but it is essentially the story of a 15-year old German boy who embarks on an affair with an older woman. They lose contact, and years later while at Law School, he finds that his former lover is a defendant in a trial brought against Nazi war criminals.
    The story is well-written and the acting is superb. I found Kate Winslet’s character Hanna believable, and quite disturbingly touching when you realise what she is accused of. I think that the conflict the audience feels towards her is a testament to the cleverness of the story and her quality as an actress, and the answers that the film doesn’t give you allow you room to ponder and interpret it as you wish. In a way you’re drawn into the mindset of the male character, who experiences the same mixture of emotions as he tries to reconcile the woman he thought he knew with the woman he encounters later in life.
    Quite rightly, Kate Winslet won an Oscar for it, and I also enjoyed the performance of David Kross, her gratuitously naked young lover. And before you say “doesn’t that make you a bit of a paedo?”, the actor wasn’t actually 15 when he made it, he was about 18, so that makes it alright if I had a bit of a look.
    My verdict: A (polished and intriguing)

  4. Changeling – excellent film, stupid title

    November 18, 2009 by superlative

    I watched a film called Changeling last night, on rental from LoveFilm, and I have to say that it was GREAT. It was so much better than I was expecting, and in actual fact it was nothing like the film that I thought it was.

    The one-line description on LoveFilm read: “A mother’s prayer for her kidnapped son to return home is answered, though it doesn’t take long for her to suspect the boy who comes back is not hers.” Based on that, and on the fact that it is called Changeling, I got it into my head that the boy who returns to her is not only not her son, but is actually not a boy at all, and is probably an alien or a demon or something like that. So I was expecting a thriller or a horror.
    I could not have been more wrong, and I’m blaming it largely on the title which is thoroughly inappropriate for the film. Yes the boy is not hers, but the film isn’t about that specifically, it’s about the mother’s struggle to convince a powerful and belligerent police force that he’s not her son, and to find out what has really happened to him.
    I’m not going to say much more because I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s a great story, even if that short description of it makes it sound like it’ll be boring. Angelina Jolie is excellent in it, and I actually didn’t realise it was her until about halfway through. I always quite like that from an actor – where the first thing you think isn’t “Oh that’s Angelina Jolie”, because you’re solely concerned with the character they’re playing and not the fact that they’re famous. Reese Witherspoon and Hilary Swank both wanted the role apparently, but didn’t get it.
    It’s even more gripping to watch when you know that it’s based on a true story, with very few of the details changed. The plot doesn’t actually need much spicing up for the big screen, it’s all there already, and knowing that it’s true is fairly horrifying. It was nominated for three Oscars, and even though it failed to win any I’m surprised I didn’t know more about it.
    I thoroughly recommend it if you haven’t seen it. Yes it’s written by the man who wrote Babylon 5, and yes it’s called Changeling, but ignore those two things – they’re a distraction and they don’t tell you anything about what this film is going to be like. It’s very rare that I finish a film and think “Wow, that was really good”, but I found Changeling really exceptional.

  5. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen IQ

    June 30, 2009 by superlative

    I went to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen last night, with some trepidation as I had heard from several sources that it really isn’t very good. However, Chris is quite a Transformers geek and would happily be turned into a giant transforming robot if they offered the operation on the NHS, and so we went anyway.

    It wasn’t terrible. It was alright. The kind of alright that you pronounce ‘alriiiiiiiiiiight’, and often add ‘I suppose’ onto the end of.

    I felt that overall it was fairly entertaining, and the special effects are really very good. I kept forgetting that the robots are computer generated and aren’t actually there, because they’re textured so well.

    However, it wasn’t nearly as good as the first film, and for some reason they had decided really to dumb down the general feel and humour of it. It’s not as though the first film was massively high brow, but they really have gone for the lowest common denominator this time. It was basically the human characters’ fault, as some of them behaved in an almost slapstick fashion. The robots were generally more mature. But mostly they seemed to go for a lot of toilet and bodily function humour. Did we need to see the ugly ex-Section 7 agent in a thong? No. Did the little robot need to fart fire? No. Did Devastator need to have two bollocks made of wrecking balls? No. It was all needless and it debased the film and the franchise.

    And then on top of that there was the fact that large parts of it really bore no relation to the original stories and characters, or even to the first film. I realise that they change things when writing it for the screen, but I think they wandered too far, and made it hideously inconsistent.

    For some reason Bumblebee had transformed (no pun intended) into a needy, rather thick kind of pet. Forgotten was the fact that he’s actually an advanced organic robot from outer space who just happens to have a broken speech modulator. That doesn’t make him thick.

    There were two new characters called the Twins, who appeared to be the Jar Jar Binks of the Transformers world, in that they were an inane racial stereotype with an IQ of about 40 shared between the two of them, and they were pretty much as annoying.

    And they’d done something really bizarre to Megatron. Megatron, who usually kicks ass and is a ruthless, dominating leader, and who only ever really seemed to be afraid of Unicron (a planet-sized Transformer, for those of you who don’t know). But what had he become in this film? Some sort of meek servant of the Fallen, scurrying around and doing his bidding. The real Megatron would have waited until the Fallen’s back was turned and then opened him up like a melon.

    Lastly, there were the logical inconsistencies that you get with any weakly written script. The Fallen can only be defeated by a Prime, apparently. Therefore Megatron is scared of him. But Megatron kicked Optimus Prime to death in the first half hour of the film. And then when it actually comes to a fight between Optimus and the Fallen, it lasts for all of about five minutes before Optimus cries “Give me your face”, and tears the Fallen into little pieces. And then Megatron runs away. Hmm.

    So, as you can see, it wasn’t great. It was only OK.

    Highlights were a girl getting her faced smashed against a dashboard by a jealous sports car, and Soundwave who was WAY COOL (as he should be, he always has been) and who should have been featured much much more. The whole film would have been better without Megatron or the Fallen and with Soundwave running the show. But there you go.

    So, go see it if you want two and a bit hours of light entertainment and ITV-style humour, but if you’re a Transformers fan you might be disappointed.