Archive for August, 2014

Well, I am back and, after an August of intense Reading, I have got a lot of catching up to do. August’s Reading has been a variable experiences, having read some fantastic books such as Tuf Voyaging, The Thousand Names and Steelheart and other novels which could be categorized as dissapointments, such as Clash of Lions or Masks itself. I shall upload my different reviews in the coming days.

Mask

Masks, written by E.C. Blake, brings us the story of Mara, a young girl who lives on a medieval totalitarian society in which the citizens are forced to carry magical masks whenever they go outside their homes. These masks have been enchanted to warn the Watchmen whenever the bearer is thinking treason, allowing them to detain anyone who could potentially go against their supreme leader, the Autarch. Mara, the only daughter of the Master Mask Maker, has leaded a very comfortable life, hardly ever questioning the system. But when her masking ceremony fails and she is arrested and carried to the mines to work as a slave with the other UnMasked her believe system will be shattered and she will be forced to open her eyes and really see the suffering that the Autarch has brought to his people.

I am personally torn about this book. On one hand the author manages to create an entrapping and mesmerizing society which shall entrap the reader’s attention due to the amount of detail put in the system itself but, on the other hand, this amazing effect is lost due to the superficiality and the lack of life we start appreciating on Mara as the novel develops.

Mara is a passive protagonist, and those are two terms that, quite frankly, should never go together. She is carried by the narrative from one point to another without taking an active role during the whole story. For example, as she escapes she gets discovered by a man who, from the very first moment they meet, tells her he is taking her to the mines, where she belongs. In this situation we are expecting some kind of resistance, right? After all she just killed a man and even if her magic has run off temporarily, she could run or try to put up a fight. But no, she just sits there, not even tied, and lets the man carry her to the mines.

Mara, just like Tungdil was on The Dwarves, is a plain character with little development throughout the story, but while Tungdil’s personality was that of the perfect hero’s, Mara’s resembles the personality of an NPC: Passive and mostly useless. Of the two sides of the spectrum I personally prefer Tungdil, and I dislike perfect heroes.

The magic system deserves a positive mention in this review. If you enjoyed the Warbreaker’s magic system, a magic which is considered almost a natural resource and is based in the color scale, you will love Masks’ system. In this novel the magic is extracted from the ground as if it was a metaphor of the oil industry: it is running out but people are more dependent to it than ever before. The magic in this book is also based on colors, creating a magic system in which your future is decided in accordance of the color you see. Children can see all of them and, as they get older, the colors start to disappear to the point in which they can see only one.

Though this Caste System has been utilized in other fantasy and dystopian novels, the magic in Masks is so important throughout the lives of the different characters instead of just being limited to the “choosing moment” as I like to call it, as happens in so many other novels, that the reader really feels that magic plays a fundamental role on the society he is witnessing.

The story development, sadly, is highly predictable. Narrative twists, character’s real intentions and even the ending can be guessed way before they come to happen. My opinion is that this may be a result of the fact that the events of the novel feel forced by the author. Allow me to explain myself: So, in the novel they talk about the mining camps, right? Then it is sensible to think that the main character will end up in one of those camps, and she does, independently of how many times she is rescued before she arrives, even though, as I said before, the means of her arrival are flawed at best (seriously, it bothers me a lot that she didn’t try to run, you should have seen me on the bus as I was reading this part). She arrives there because is expected and needed for the narrative but the way she does isn’t natural, it is forced.

And what about the setting? As I said before, the society has been masterfully created, achieving a result which stands up for its sheer originality and its realism. It is especially frightful when the mining camps are described, the amount of detail Mr. Blake managed to put into that location and the behavior of the characters which inhabited it make it a terrifying experience not only for Mara, but also for the reader, who can find in it numerous references to the concentration camps used in World War II. There is a particular scene where another inmate threatens Mara to asphyxiate her with the pillow if she keeps screaming at night, which really allows the reader to understand the inhuman experience all those characters are going through. E.C. Blake doesn’t try to make anything look sweeter; he captures the brutal realities of a totalitarian regime so rigorously that just for that I would say reading this book was worth it.

If you liked Divergent or other similar books, you probably will like Masks, for the bases of the story are quite similar. Though the main character was a huge let down, the world that surrounds her made this book an entertaining summer reading.

FINAL SCORE: 5/10

quick announcement

Posted: August 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

It is August, meaning, it is Reading month, those magical thirty days per year in which I just spend my time ctaching up on books I haven’t read through the year.
Since in the last two weeks I have read already several books and I have not way of keeping up without cutting on the Reading (And no self-respected reader would ever do such a monstruous act) I have decided I will upload those reviews at the end of August.

Have a great end of summer, my friends,

oh, and drink spanish beer. It is the best kind.

One of the things I like the most about fantasy and science fiction books are the different races which populate the different worlds in which the stories take place. There is something oddly reassuring about the thought that humans could be sharing this planet, or the universe, with other races, as the Terry Pratchett’s amazing Bromeliad Trilogy reflects. Except if those creatures happen to be Trollocs. (No, seriously, screw the Trollocs, we are not sharing anything with those guys). During my travels as a reader I have come to know and love different races which populate the Multiuniverse such as the Kenders, the dragons, the minotaurs and, of course, the Dwarves.

You may have noticed that it doesn’t matter how many races a book contains, the hero will usually be at least half-human. It has always struck me as a quite an optimistic view of our race, but most authors seem to have an enviable faith in humanity. So when I find a book which breaks free from the Human hero allowing other member of another race to take the position of the main character I usually become incredibly excited.

I found The Dwarves exactly one year ago on a library in London, where, using all my self-control I manage not to buy it (Believe me, it was like Frodo trying to resist the ring’s influence) because it probably wouldn’t have fitted on my luggage. Two weeks ago I came across it on Kindle store and, been unable to find a reason not to, I bought it and started reading it immediately.

D

Strong Points: The secondary characters, the descriptions

Weak points: The main character, the story development

The Dwarves, written by Markus Heitz, tells us the story of Tungdil, a lonely dwarf raised by humans (of course, freaking humans) who’s never been able to meet any other member of his race. But when the King of the dwarves finds himself almost on his deathbed and discovers that his appointed successor plans to declare war to the elves, he will send his warriors to bring Tungdil to his kingdom, presenting him as a long lost heir. Now, everything depends on young Tungdil’s skill to play his role because if he fails, if the elves and the dwarves go to war, an ancient evil who has been waiting for its chance will attack and will destroy them all.

Even if The Dwarves as a whole was a rather uneventful book, it still had some very good qualities which made me continue reading, and one of those qualities was, undoubtedly, its secondary characters. While Tungdil is just a quite simple Cliché collection, his companions are interesting beings with some really curious backstories and with their own goals and objectives, making the reader feel closer to them than to the main character himself. They are all painted in different shades of gray, with very distinct personalities and driven not only by their desire for goodness, but also by their own aims, some of them altruistic, such as Andokai’s or Boendal’s and some of them selfish, such as Rodario’s or Boindil’s. Furthermore, all of them experience a transformation through the story which develops their individual personalities and their conscience as a group, resulting on the reader either loving them or hating them, but never being indifferent to this little, uneven group of unforgettable characters.

The descriptions are also powerful and manage to entrap the reader in a way few authors can. The scenery changes as their travel progresses, but Mr. Heitz manages to entrap us in every single one of them, really investing time in helping the reader to understand what the characters are seeing and what are they really feeling as their journey takes them to places they never dreamt to visit. The description of Ogre’s Death, in particular, is quite spectacular, with such a description and such amount of detail that the author really manages to make the reader understand the perfection of the dwarves’ masonry as the image appears vividly on our mind. The characters’ descriptions are also vivid a very different between them, making the chacarters not only unique because of their personality, but also because of their physical appearance. It is surprrising in a good way to find an autor nowadays who allows himself to stop and to provide the reader wth detailed descriptions of the events of the book and Mr. Heitz does that perfectly

Sadly, the book needs to rely on those two qualities to get the reader through the story, because the main character and the story development itself is one big cliché which doesn’t uphold any mystery at all. Tungdil can’t really develop during the novel simply because from the very beginning he is superficial, more a role (the orphan who wishes to meet his people) than a real “person” finding himself in that situation. He is also wise, a gifted warrior and quite a charming fellow, quickly overcoming his minor imperfections so by the middle of the book he is completely perfect. Tungdil doesn’t step out of his role as the “perfect, honorable, savior” during the whole novel. Sometimes the book tries to bring up his doubts about seeing himself as a leader, but by the next paragraph they are completely forgotten and they never become important enough as to define the character.

Let’s be honest, the only reason why the story develops is because the characters happen to be the luckiest guys on the planet, literally. The book is written for them to win, and that is obvious from the very beginning, as every minor difficulty they come along in their journey is basically solved by sheer luck: suddenly someone (be it an army, a magician, an ancient ghost or a companion they believed long gone) burst into the scene and makes everything right or they group discovers someone among them has a skill that can help them (without this skill having been hinted before, of course, and then being forgotten as soon as they use it). Furthermore, the story’s plot twists and surprise are quite unsurprising, as they can be seen a hundred pages before they occur, add up an uneven pace and events which feel random and by the end you get the feeling of a lacking story development.

As I said before, the book felt rather uneventful and, quite frankly, quite forgettable, without anything to put it apart from the other books except the nature of his main character. Even though is hasn’t been the amazing story I expected, I will continue reading the series, out of an honest desire for it to improve.

FINAL SCORE: 5/10