Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review: Fevre Dream

Abner Marsh an ugly, wart faced fat Steamboat captain is lickin his wounds after a major winter storm destroys all of his boats except for a little steamboat that wouldn't sustain Ferve River Packets (delivery company) very well. Marsh's dreams sunk with his ships when the storm hit; the dream of racing the 'Eclipse', the fastest boat on the river. Suddenly a stranger named Joshua York meets him in St. Louis and offers him money, money for half his company. Marsh doesn't bite though as he is an honest as he is fat and ugly. He tells York how it is and refuses to cheat him. However, Joshua York doesn't just offer him money, he also offers Marsh his dream back, the grandest steamboat that will have sailed on the Mississippi River and fast enough to beat the Eclipse. Marsh accepts and his boat the 'Fevre Dream' is built and it is even grander than what Marsh could have imagined. However, when Joshua York refuses to come out during the day and makes unscheduled stops that takes up valuable delivering time, Marsh's crew are muttering among themselves and Marsh has questions of his own.

GRRM does an excellent job in character building and you can really imagine an ugly, fat steamboat captain. Having used a real life setting made life easier for GRRM but that doesn't discount the amount of work that was invested in getting accurate historical details. He doesn't just describe the setting well but also of the lesser characters and the steamboats they use. Not very scary when it comes to horror books but that made me enjoy the book more. I was sad when it was coming to an end as there was no other way to end the story in my minds eye. I can see a sequel to this book but GRRM will need to finish A Song of Ice and Fire first, and perhaps Martin's best book outside of that series.  

"Interview With A Vampire meets Buffy: The Vampire Slayer"

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

What would happen if world war 3 were to happen today? Mostly likely it would mean a nuclear war and an end to most of mankind, and that is what exactly happened in ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’.  The dead left behind a wasteland, mutants and men, ancestors of those who caused the Flame Deluge. After the nuclear holocaust, plagues and madness soon followed.  Madness in the form of simplification happened. Survivors angry at those that caused the destruction of the world turned on the scientists and teachers of the world. So furious was their bloodlust that even literacy was erased from the world. Or so it seemed. Leibowitz managed to save some books.

Walter Miller Jr, does not follow the traditional formula of following a specific character and their journeys. Instead the book is divided into 3 different parts. “Fiat Homo”, Let there be man. “Fiat Lux”, Let there be light. “Fiat Voluntas Tua”, Let thy will be done.  Each part is separated by 600 years, and because of this, we get a very wide scope of how the world rebuilds itself after the Flame Deluge and Simplification of man.

Each part takes us on a journey of human evolution through the eyes of certain characters all with a common factor: they belonged to the Order of Leibowitz.

The monks order is to preserve, maintain and unlock the secrets of these books that Leibowitz died for, so that one day mankind can receive them when they are fit to again. Canticle begins 600 years after the Flame Deluge and follows a young monk called Brother Francis, newly accepted as a monk he meets a wanderer who in turn leads him to a hidden bunker. The bunk contains notes signed by one I.E.  Leibowitz. Soon rumours fly that the wanderer was Leibowitz himself!

I had heard quite a few recommendations for this book, so I had picked it up from the library. I found that it started very well but it was nothing like I had read before. I found that the book had to be read with concentration, not because it was a hard read or because it was boring, but because it made you think. You would compare the similarities of our world and Miller’s world. I thought about how it would have been like and thought about how I would deal with those situations. You get attached to some of the characters but unlike an untimely death in other books, I know that no matter what, the next part of the book would not contain that character and that was sometimes disheartening.

This book is very much about philosophy, ethics, human nature, politics and perseverance. What Miller does is an excellent job of retelling how the world rebuilds itself and how we are our own worst enemies. The book is split into three, but those three are united by underlying themes and occurrences. You often forget how many years have passed between pages as Miller stimulates your mind by asking ‘what if’, he does so subtly and hides it under a veil of humour. Perhaps this book is wrong to be in the sci-fi/fantasy genre because it rarely touches those elements, but again perhaps those are the audiences who would appreciate Millers work more. I can say that I did enjoy this book and perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had a better understanding what the book was about. You now do. Step outside the box and step inside the Order of Leibowitz. And hurry before our Flame Deluge begins!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fool's Errand by Robin Hobb

For those of you unfortunate enough not to have heard of Robin Hobb, she is a fantastic writer of Fantasy. Her most noted books are the 'Farseer' Trilogy which encompasses 'Assassin's Apprentice' 'Royal Assassin' and 'Assassin's Quest'. In these books, we follow a boy with no name who is left at a castle and is claimed to be the bastard child of Prince Chivalry Farseer. The boy is thus named Fitzchivalry Farseer, but without even getting a glimpse of his father, Chivalry renounced his claim to the throne and left Buckkeep.

Robin Hobb has created a unique magic system in this world. There are two kinds of magics, the 'Wit' and the 'Skill'. 

The Wit is an innate ability in humans that allows them to roughly communicate with animals, but if an animal also has the Wit there is a possibility to "bond" with that animal. Bonding allows both human and animal takes on each others mannerisms and allows the other to use the best of their abilities, i.e. night vision. With distance being no limitation the human and bonded animal can communicate to each other psychically.

The Skill is also an innate ability but it is strongest among the Farseer line. It is an ability to be able to communicate between humans psychically (only among those with the skill) and the Skill wielder can manipulate other people's emotions. At the most extreme, they can take over someone else's body.

The differences between the two (besides what is mentioned above) is that The Wit is considered a type of witch-craft and the general population do not like it very much. Whereas the Skill is considered to be of royal bloodline and therefore not witch-craft.

(Skip this next part if you do not wish to spoil the Farseer books. There are no spoilers for Fool's Errand)

Fool's Errand is the first book of the Tawny Man Trilogy. It can also be considered the 4th book of the Farseer because we still follow Fitz as the main character, instead it is 15 years later; Fitz is an middle-aged man and Nighteyes getting along in wolf years. 

I found this book instantly grabbing my attention, and because I rarely read first person narratives I found it really refreshing. Hobb quickly re-introduces us to all her characters and how they differ from the earlier books. I had forgotten everything since the last time I picked up Farseer was about 2 years ago. The storyline in this book is about Prince Dutiful. He has gone missing, whether he has run away from the castle (been done before) or has been captured no one knows. Chade and the Fool convince Fitz into helping them find Dutiful. At the same time the people who have the Wit are being persecuted again, killed, cut into pieces and burnt over water (order not necessary) is what will await anyone caught practising the Wit.

What Hobb does really well in this book and her earlier works is that she strives to make the reader like her characters and for the reader to hate her villains. She leaves nothing out when re-introductions the characters and therefore I think it is not necessary to read Farseer to enjoy his Trilogy but I think the enjoyment will increase tenfold when Farseer is read first.

I couldn't put it down and read it in about a week. She ended the book very well, you know it is a semi-cliff hanger because it is the first of a trilogy, yet you could leave it at the 1st book and still be very content. I very much recommend this book.