Archive for May, 2014

My acting teacher once told my class “we live in a period in which is fashionable to acclaim the villain”. I believe that is true, since it started with Wicked several years ago (Years already? Good god) we have seen various examples such as Breaking bad, the internet musical Twisted or the upcoming Malefic movie starring Angeline Jolie (soon there will be a movie about the hunter who kills bambi’s mom. A poor, unfortunate soul who just wants to feed his ten children and make them coats. Let’s see how you feel about hating him now).

Now, in modern times, there is definitely one Villain/antihero who is raising above all others, and that is Loki. The Gospel of Loki has nothing to do with the watered down marvel version of the Trickster god; this is the real thing, the Nordic god straight out of the pages of Nordic mythology, as savage and merciless as the original one.

GoL

Strong points: writing style, Loki, narrative twists.

Weak points: story development.

The Gospel of Loki, written by Joanne M. Harris, is a retelling of the Nordic mythology, specifically of the events that led to Ragnarok, from the point of view of Loki, the Trickster God. From the consolidation of Odin as the King of the gods to the arrival of Chaos, going through Loki’s recruitment, his adoption as Odin’s brother and the breach between them, the story unfolds towards its tragic ending as the father of lies offers us his version of what really happened.

If I had to choose only one quality that made this book worth reading I would have a really hard time, but I would probably end up deciding it is the writing style. The work that Ms. Harris has produced can only be graded as astonishing. Following a first person narrative format the writer has managed to embody the character in such a way that it is absolutely believable that Loki is telling the story himself. Sometimes I feel that most of the time an author chooses to use first person narrative, he or she tends to “drop character” when it comes to provide description of events or explanations, producing then two narrative voices in one character (the “personal” one and the information provider). The Gospel of Loki manages an impressive feat: every little detail, every character, every action is presented from Loki’s point of view the whole time, producing a captivating universe full of subjectivism which manages to entrap the reader.

Loki himself is a rich and charismatic character full of lights and shadows who captivates the reader almost from the very first page. This is not a tale of how a good but misunderstood person is pushed by his peers to commit unethical actions in order to change the world for the better, as it happens in Wicked or Twisted. Loki isn’t particularly good or ethical; he is presented to us as a chaotic character, moved by his passions, his narcissism and his selfishness, effectively dodging all possible clichés and bringing us a fresh character full of mysteries and possibilities, surprising us at every step and keeping the audience on guard.

It has been a long time since I could put surprising story twists as a strong point in a book review, but this book manages a series of breath taking twists which leave the reader gasping for air. There is something wonderful on being surprised by a story nowadays and Ms. Harris manages it perfectly with her unique narrative skills.

Sadly the novel has a major weak point: a chaotic story development makes it difficult to understand what is happening. It feels as if the author couldn’t decide what events set Loki on movement, so every time the gods of Asgard turn against him Loki seems to decide for the very first time to betray them. This complicates the character development because every time Loki seems to take a step backward and then another one forward, which results in a lack of differences between pre-event Loki and post-event Loki. This results in over-repetition, which can be quite irritating and quite confusing.

Despite its disorganized development, The Gospel of Loki is a good book which will provide the reader with hours of enjoyment and a narrative to remember. I would recommend this novel to any person who enjoys a good fantasy book or who is interested in Nordic mythology. If you give it a try it won’t disappoint you.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

Disclaimer: I have read an advance reviewer copy, some details may change in the final commercial copy

I want to thanks Angry Robot and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

I have been wondering lately what makes a story good. In the Spanish film industry we are living right now a unique moment that no one saw coming, for the first time in Spanish history a Spanish movie has made more money than any American film has ever done (except for Avatar). This movie, 8 apellidos vascos (which in English has been translated as Spanish Affair), is a comedy about the cultural differences between the south and the north of Spain. It isn’t something entirely new and, while it is true is really funny, it is not one of those movies one would expect to do almost 50 million Euros in Spain alone (not even Titanic did that). So, is it the story itself? The actors (the Amazing Carmen machi, Dani Robira and the talented Clara Lago)? Or is it maybe the economic crisis and the social tension between the north and the south? I don’t know, I feel I need more beers in order to find the answer.

Peacemaker-CR

Strong points: the setting.

Weak points: Clichés, some events feel forced.

Peacemaker, written by Marianne de Pierres, tells us the story of Virgin Jackson, a ranger in the last natural landscape on earth. Now, her beloved Park has become a murder scene during her watch and is up to her and her new partner, the enigmatic Marshal Nate Sixkiller, to find the killer before the obsessive detective Chance manages to frame Virgin herself for the murder and to discover why Aquila, Virgin’s eagle-shaped imaginary friend from her childhood, has reappeared the same night said crime was committed.

If there is anything that makes Peacemaker a worthwhile reading it is, undoubtedly, its setting. Marianne de Pierre has managed to create a wonderful world which mixes science fiction and urban fantasy creating something unique: a society which mixes technology and shamanistic magic in a way that feels natural and is rapidly accepted by the reader. It is also worth it to note that the urban landscape where the novel takes place is varied and full of life, being similar to a real city in its complexity and social rules instead of the overly used clichés we find out in fictional cities such as “the zone where no one under any circumstances should enter which you know the hero will have to enter” or the “uppity zone where everyone is a heartless bastard”. Ms de Pierres manages to create a megacity which feels real and which serves as home to a group of unforgettable inhabitants.

Sadly, the story-telling fares worse. The novel goes from cliché to cliché and by halfway through the book it has lost its original flavor. The relationship between the characters is one big cliché, dividing the male group in two categories: those who are in love with Virgin and those who have a paternal relationship with Virgin. This makes the novel a highly predictable love pentagon (really?) between Virgin and her cohorts of male suitors, which works fine with her due to the fact that every one of her four admirers have a unique skill that gets her through the story: Sixkiller shoots things, Totes hacks things, Heart charms things and Hamish drives things (and runs them over). The events don’t escape this effect either and are soon a predestined chain of events which doesn’t manage to finish catching the reader’s attention, even the ending, unexpected as it is, seems borrowed from other books that come before it.

As a result of the story walking an over-used path, some of the events feel forced in order to create a result. The whole relationship Sixkiller-Virgin goes in a cycle distrust-trust-distrust-trust without any apparent motive as do their feelings, one moment they are colleagues and the next they are giving the other person “The Look”. Sometimes they feel more like puppets than actual characters, just fulfilling the necessary functions to reach a decided result.

While this may not be Angry Robot’s best book by a long shot (Age Atomic and The Lives of Tao hold that title for now and they are difficult to top) Peacemaker is not a bad book either if all you are looking for is to relax and enjoy your free time. After all, what makes a good story? Is it the story itself? Or is it the moment when you read it?

FINAL SCORE: 5/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

If you have read my early reviews (look at me, talking as if I had been doing this for years) you may know that, despite being a little too simplistic and predictable for my tastes, I loved Alanna: The First Adventure. Following the best of my traditions, I was a little bit distrustful about the second installment of the series because I had heard it was even more simplistic than the last, that’s the reason why it took so long for me to read it. I can assure you, dear readers that I have seen the face of this second installment and the Song of the Lioness quartet is still as enjoyable as the first day we met. (and I am still blaming Tamora Pierce for eating up all my free time with her book)

This review contains spoilers of Alanna the First Adventure.

IHG

Strong Points: The characters, the setting, the writing style..

Weak points: too simplistic sometimes.

In the hand of the Goddess, written by Tamora Pierce, the story starts one year after Alanna and Jonathan defeated the Ysandir in the dark city. Under the guise of Alan, the girl is now the squire of the prince and her Ordeal, the process the initiates must pass to become knights, is drawing near. This soon will become the least of Alanna’s worries for greater problems threaten the kingdom’s stability: from the outside a great army of turanians has been prepared to attack Tortall and every knight and squire is being sent to meet this threat; but there is a second internal threat only known to Alanna, the ambitious Roger of Conté is getting ready to strike against his cousin Jonathan, and take Tortal’s throne once and for all.

Alanna surprises us again for her depths and her internal conflicts, showing us that she happens to be a strangely complex character for a youngster’s novel. She is not a perfect model that some writer thought could serve as an example for children to live their life in a certain way, she is human being, a celebration to living your life however you seem fit but always accepting the responsibility that comes with that decision. As every human being she is burdened by indecisions, lack of self-esteem and doubts about herself and everything that surrounds her and that makes Alanna a rich and interesting character full of life that the readers will enjoy and with whom they will sympathy.

But when it comes to characters the greatest surprise is the way that some of them have acquired certain depth compared with the first book. Sir Myles has become even more likeable than before showing us certain complexity which goes beyond the paternal figure we have already seen or, better said, it goes deeper into the role. Tamora Pierce shows us a kind man who has learned of his limitations and the limitations of others, but also a clever man who knows how to play with the image he gives to the world. Jonathan and George Cooper go beyond their respective roles as friends to become two young men torn between the love they bear to Alanna as a woman and the friendship their beard to Alan the squire, in particular Jonathan becomes a personification of the storm of feeling that a teenager may feel when he is stroked by love (we have all been there, god knows we have all been there) and that makes his character a lot deeper, being in constant conflict with himself and Alanna.

The world that Tamora Pierce has managed to create with the Song of the Lioness is simple, but at the same time wonderful and full of magic. The society the author has built is like a well-oiled machine, it moves perfectly, there are not contradictions between the books and no weird rules destined to make the world more complex just for the heck of it. The kingdom of Tortall happens to adapt perfectly to the tone of the novel and, besides that apparent simplicity, it manages to pull the readers inside the pages making them become involve with the novel.

While the characters and the setting are the strongest point of the novel, there is something else that keeps you reading until the end: Tamora Pierce’s impeccable writing style. Not only are her descriptions simply amazing, but the language used to write this book is fluid and easy to read. It doesn’t feel simple; it is not a language that you would consider for younger audience as soon as you start reading, but she uses is with such normality, without attempts of showing off or creating a complex composition, than the effect invites you to go on reading.

Probably the greatest fault of this novel is its simplicity, but I don’t mean simplicity as a lack of complexity, which sometimes in this book is alluring, I mean it as a lack of depth and development. The book tries to tell too many things in too few pages which results in starting narrative arcs which suddenly finish without having been explored. The character of Delia of Eldorne is sadly underplayed, taking into account that at the beginning it looks as if it is going to be a central piece of conflict; the turanian war and the turanian commander Hilam of Keir are also underexploited, leaving a sour taste in the readers mouth when everything is said and done. Finally, some internal conflicts are not used to its fullest potential and are limited to two or three pages and then forgotten as the author moves on.

While sometimes it leaves you wanting for more, In the Hand of the Goddess is an amazing book aimed to young readers which I whole heartedly recommend for those parents or elder family members who want their youngsters to start reading and to everyone who loves fantasy.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

There seems to be a trend right now which consists in reimagining classical works of fiction to create a whole new novel giving a completely different point of view or a whole new setting to the story. I have talked with some people about this, and while some seem bothered by this apparent lack of imagination I don’t think it is a negative trend as a whole. There are some of these reimagined worlds which, in my opinion, show a real display of imagination both in literature and in movies (then we have “Hamsel and Gretel witch hunters”, I am still trying to figure out what the heck was that). While not exactly a reimagining of The Time Machine, Hollow World is heavily influenced by the classic novel, especially at the beginning of the story, but goes beyond it to create a brand new story that, even if it isn’t the best book I have read this year, it is quite an enjoyable one.

Hw

Strong points: The characters, the setting of the novel.

Weak points: the developing of the story

Hollow World, written by Michael J. Sullivan, brings us the story of Ellis Rogers, an average citizen obsessed by the theory of time travel who has built a time machine in his garage. When he learns he has a fatal disease he decides to use his invention to travel two hundred years to the future, hopping a cure would have been found by then, but nothing has prepared for what he will find: The Hollow World.

The strongest point of the novel is, undoubtedly, its characters. They are complex beings which offer a faithful reflection of their circumstances and their surroundings; they are a long way from perfection, each of them burdened by the ghosts of his past and the consequences of his actions. Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man, born in the fifties, who has been heavily influenced by his parents rigid education and his view of society his whole life. He is a man whose mistakes have taken their toll and is tired of his present existence, and who sees the time machine not only as a mean to reach salvation from his terminal disease but also as a way to scape his torturous life. He is not a hero, most of the novel he is moved by his own selfish impulses and that gives us a fresh character, an interesting creation who is really an ordinary man forced to do extraordinary deeds. His counterpart, Pax, is not less interesting himself; an asexual futuristic clone in a society where everyone looks the same, Pax’s obsession to be unique is understandable and well written, managing to transmit us a genuine need which will make us sympathy with him. Finally, Ren is also a product of his time and his circumstances, a man who sees his entire life as a failure, blaming those who have surrounded him for it, and who now finds himself with the power to change the world and mold it as it should be; though at some points he becomes superficial, he is able to pick the interest of the readers and sometimes even cause pity.

The future imagined by Mr. Sullivan can only be defined as magical. The Hollow World is a complex creation, product of two thousand years of human evolution, tragedies and historical moments, all of which have been meticulously created and recorded by the author. This social evolution is so well built that it manages to convince us that the Hollow World is the logical conclusion to the chain of events which Mr. Sullivan describes. This result is a completely different society with its own fashion, code, political system and behavior which I found rich and refreshing. It is something completely new, and that is hard to come by.

Some events in the story feel forced and out of place, as if the author had used them in order to create the drama and the suspense he needed and then had forgotten about them. For example, when Ellis Rogers first meet the Hollow World inhabitants they are terrified of him, even saying that some surface dwellers were cannibals; at this point it seems as if the Hollow World will be similar to The Time Machine, telling us the story of a cannibalistic society who preys upon their peaceful neighbors. The thing is that the cannibalistic surface dwellers are not mentioned again in the whole novel and other characters even talk about the surface as if it wasn’t inhabited. Then we have Pax, who has a gift that allows him to emphasize with people, understanding their feelings and how they think, but then feels lonely and is surprised when people tell him he is unique. How can he be surprised when thousands of people think that way and love him for it? There are some other examples which I can’t go into without spoiling the novel. As a result of these events the story is sometimes confusing and lacks sense and continuity, leaving us the feeling that we have read a brainstorm of plot ideas rather than the final product.

The Hollow World has some faults that make it a little bit dense, but in the whole is an enjoyable book which I would recommend to those readers that enjoy science fiction and modern reimagining of classical tales.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

¡Hasta la próxima!