Avempartha (2011) by Michael J. Sullivan

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Avempartha is the second book in the Riyria Revelations, making up the second half of Theft of Swords. The lovable rogues Hadrian and Royce are back and have, despite their rules, taken another quest to help the poor and save the innocent. A destitute young girl has been asking for Riyria all over town and the pair of thieves find her and agree to take the job. It seems some kind of beast has been terrorising the young girls village and she has come to enlist their help. As per the first book the pair fight over it for all of two seconds and then agree to take the job for ten silver. Considering that the meal and clothes they bought her cost 65 silver, this is simply a charity case.

Many of the characters from the first book, The Crown Conspiracy, reappear despite this story taking place two years and many hundreds of miles away from the first one. It seems the Nyphron church has an interest in slaying the beast as well and have organised a tournament like challenge, inviting all of the best warriors in the land, noble and common alike, to the small village to fight for glory.

The beast is called a gilarabrywn, and is actually a creature of magic, a leftover from the war a thousand years earlier with the elves. The beast is very similar to a dragon but cannot be slain by conventional means. There is a sword, hidden in a nearby elven tower (Avempartha), which has the gilarabrywn’s true name written on it and is the only way to slay the beast. Enter Royce. The thieves have been hired by the young girl to enter the tower, find the sword and give it to her father. The father wants to kill the beast because it killed his entire family, excepting the girl, and he wants revenge.

This is strong sequel to the Crown Conspiriacy, and doesn’t suffer from the first book’s initial lack of focus. It is well written and the plot is enjoyable and moves along at a brisk pace. If you like fantasy but dont have the time for a true epic then this is a good middle ground.

4 Stars

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The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy

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The Road is a masterpiece. There is no doubt. It is a perfect post apocalyptic tale which heaps death and destruction and ruin on the human race without ever really telling what happened. The survivors wander the bleak landscape, scrounging for food and shelter and safety. The Road focuses on two characters, the Man and the Boy. McCarthy names all of the characters in the book like this (the Thief, the Veteran…), because in this ash covered wasteland a name is only something that can be used against you.

The Man and the Boy are walking along a damaged and desolate highway, heading south, towards the ocean, towards possible salvation. The Road is full of despair and depravity with cannibals a constant threat and everyone a possible enemy. The Man has a revolver but only two bullets and he constantly reminds the Boy that suicide is the only option if they are caught. There are several occasions where the pair seem to be done for and the man is ready and waiting to kill his son and then himself. These moments are tense and heartbreaking and yet somehow, McCarthy weaves just enough blind hope into the tale that the reader is drawn into the tale, further and further until it’s dramatic end.

The Man is desperately afraid of a huge cannibal army that is roaming the area and all of his efforts to save himself and the Boy are desperate. They find food and shelter, only to move on for fear that the army is nearby. They come across atrocious acts, including a baby cooking on a spit and that only fuels the fear that the Man has. Interestingly it is possible that the cannibal army is only a figment of the Man’s imagination, a fever dream brought on by a lack of food and a plenitude of fear. The Man ‘sees’ the cannibal army marching past and the description is vivid and frightening, but it is also the only time that any colour is really mentioned in the entire tale. The Boy starts to talk and the Man shushes him so the cannibals don’t hear but then the boy asks if the Man sees them. The lack of colour elsewhere in the book and the strange conversation is surreal leading to the idea that it is all a dream. There are certainly cannibals and murderers all about but the cannibal army might just be a figment of his sick and weary mind.

It is the hope in this book that makes it so gut wrenching. If it was all bleak despair and dead babies and cannibal armies then the book would still be disturbing but much less heartbreaking. The small amounts of hopeless hope that the Boy shows the Man make the tale all the more powerful. The Man knows that it is useless. The Man knows they are done for. And yet he fights on for the Boy’s sake. He fights on against impossible odds to reach the ocean and possible salvation.

In the movie adaptation there is a scene towards the end where the pair have reached the ocean and they sit down to admire the sea. There is a sign on the beach which, if you look closely, say that this is in fact not the ocean, but Conneaut Lake Park. This has been generally thought to be a goof but I like it. Maybe they didn’t reach the ocean. Maybe they came to a huge lake and were fooled. It only adds to the sense of utter despair.

5 Stars

Gone Tommorow (2009) by Lee Child

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Jack Reacher is a God.

There is no other way to say it. You would think that reading about a character who has the brains to solve any mystery, and the brawn to beat up any opponent, and the balls to get any job done would be boring. Characters should be flawed in some way, broken and yet somehow able to overcome their short comings to save the day. Not Reacher. If he is flawed, then his distance from societal norms and conventions is his only flaw and it doesnt really stop him from doing absolutely anything he wants. No, Jack Reacher is a God, and that should make him boring to read about. When you pick up a Reacher novel, you know, beyond a doubt, that Reacher will kill the hell out of the baddies, shag the sexy lady and generally save the day without breaking much of a sweat. And yet, somehow, this only makes it more fun.

Gone Tomorrow is the thirteenth book in the Jack Reacher series and It was the first one I ever read. Having now read all of the books in the series, I decided to go back to the ‘start’ and see what hooked me. Frankly, I can see why. Reacher is riding a train when he sees a woman exhibiting all eleven signs on the suicide bomber check list. Not wanting to be blown up he confronts her, trying to talk her down. From there things spiral out of control, and only Reacher can save the day.

Reacher meets with a senator, a russian heiress and a ton of cops while trying to figure out the mystery, while the threat of imprisonment or death hangs over him the entire time. That isn’t enough to stop Reacher from finding the answers he wants, however, and by the end i’m sure you will agree. Reacher is a God.

5 Stars

The Crown Conspiriacy (2011) by Micheal J. Sullivan

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The Crown Conspiracy centres on two lovable rogues, Royce and Hadrian, as they are framed for Regicide and fight to clear their names and stop the next king from falling to the same fate. It is a robust re-imagining of standard fantasy tropes like elves and dwarves and thieves and knights which will catch your attention and draw you in. The Crown Conspiracy is the first book in a six part series called the Riyria Revelations. The publisher has marketed the books as containing mysteries which are hinted at in the first book and not revealed until the last, as if this is something special, rather than what fantasy readers expect and require from a good fantasy series. But one can hardly judge a book by its marketing campaign…  I mean, they even published it in 3 books instead of 6. How is less books a good marketing idea? A Song of Ice and Fire has been split into even more books, presumably for more money, so I don’t understand.

Royce is a master thief, nimble and agile with a flair for ‘doing the right thing’ that is sure to cause trouble. Hadrian is a master swordsman who can and will best anyone with any weapon at hand. The pair make up a formidable team for hire, and are freelancers, unconnected to any of the major thieves guilds, calling themselves Riyria. Their willingness to take basically any job which pays well is part of the reason that they are framed and as such the pair make for lovable protagonists.

The first few chapters were hard to get into. The characters seemed forced and the situations silly. This feeling passes after the first theft and the rest of the book was a breeze. The start is always the hardest and Sullivan manages to drag the story back into a readable shape after the frankly trite and wooden beginning. With a little character development and a lot of witty banter the book starts to take shape.

Many fantasy novels let you know who the bad guy is from the start and they are seen as the goal to be fought towards. The Crown Conspiracy is more of a mystery novel set in a fantasy world. The thieves don’t know who framed them but they are going to find out. It is a well conceived twist with implications sure to echo through the entire series.

All told I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

4 stars

Full Disclosure (2012) by Dee Henderson

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I tried. I really tried. I hadn’t thought that there was a book out there that I couldn’t get through. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve not finished books before but it was out of boredom or reading too many different books at once or any number of reasons. But with Full Disclosure I simply couldn’t get through it. I gave it three solid sessions on the audio book but I had to give up.

I started a long drive and twenty minutes in my audiobook finished. I realised I hadn’t loaded anything new onto my phone so I searched through audible to see what I could find. Full Disclosure was the only thing I hadn’t read.

When I first started I really wanted to get my hands on the manuscript and attack it with a red pen marking ‘trite’ and ‘unreasonable’ and ‘this is unrealistic’ and ‘rewrite this part’ all over it. That feeling passed after about an hour when I realised that editing wouldn’t have been anything more than throwing good money after bad.

The first time I wondered what exactly was happening was when the main character, a cop, sits down with his captain and they spend what must have been twenty or thirty pages discussing the love interest in the story. I say discussing but what happens is the captain diatribes every single detail of the woman’s life to his employee. How he knows every facet of a cop from another precinct’s life I’m not sure. Why he thinks this is appropriate (even if they’re friends) I can’t understand. What was going through the authors head is completely a mystery.

The female character is a forty year old virgin who has had alot of relationships but…. I can’t even finish the sentence. What? This is odd. It’s not a comedy (like the movie based on the phenomenon) it’s serious. And the way it comes up is contrived and strange. The captain is telling about all of her past relationships and the guy doing the enquiring asks ‘so I guess the obvious question is, has she ever had sex?’ What? What!?!

So this guy, who the captain accuses of being a ladykiller and philanderer (before trying to sell all her virtues for the next hour or so), sits listening to details about this 40 year old cops love life and his first thought is ‘I wonder if this chick is a virgin?’ Ummm….  No.

Now I understand that this is a popular belief system around the world, that sex before marriage is a sin and therefore and unmarried woman would be a virgin even at forty but come on. Really? If we were created in God’s image then surely people are meant to have sex. It’s fun. It’s gratifying. It helps bring babies. I’m not condoning hundreds of partners or anything weird (although each to his own imho) but seriously if u are getting about in this outdated mode of living then you are falling victim to an insidious idea from the past. Sure be discerning. Sure,  be celebate till marriage. But if you’re forty and haven’t found the one then you probably should try a different tactic. And the guy who’s asking is an admitted philanderer. Why would he ever guess or hope that she was a virgin?

Another issue was that (despite my feelings on the whole 40 year old virgin thing) the author presents these people as well adjusted people with no problems. Their biggest issues are finding a spouse who can handle their smoothly running lives. Life is messy. Someone once said that all writing is the human heart in conflict. This had no conflict at all. Clearly defined ‘goodies’ and ‘badies’. No one is that together.

From here it got more ludicrous and I decided to give it up for good. I was three hours of torture in and it’s over 14 hrs of poorly voice acted trite. Please avoid this title for the love of God. A poor story with a barely hidden agenda and an annoying narrator. This is coopted uptight Christian literature at its worst. It was free on audible and now we know why.

Avoid!

0 stars (minus one for the poorly hidden agenda)

The Martian Chronicles (1950) by Ray Bradbury

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Another solid tale from the author of Farenheit 451. The Martian Chronicles… uhh chronicles… the course of 27 or so years on Mars, from the first ship from earth to carry passengers to Mars until the last. During the course of the novel there are many characters both human and Martian and Bradbury tells the story with flair and panache.

As usual I struggle when I’m not given a character who makes their way through the entire story. Bradbury changes character throughout the book making it more of a series of related short stories that progress in order. Despite the different style of story telling I did like the overall universe that Bradbury builds. It is beautiful and bleak and full of hope and despair.

The Martians seem to have psychic abilities which can manipulate the human mind and I’m still unsure whether anything that happens really happens. Which only makes the ultimate ending of the book more intriguing.

On another note the maths in this story sucks. Bradbury seems to imply that the space trip to Mars takes no more than a month which would mean that the ships would be more than 3 times faster than the fastest craft ever made. He also says that 10000 ships carrying 100000 people are making the trip at one point. That would mean each ship carries only 10 people. Poor resource management really. Given the fuel required to just launch a ship would require more people per ship. There are a few others but you get the point. It could have been avoided by Bradbury or an editor or whatever.

4 stars.