Monday, 28 March 2016

#36 Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle is a story of  a historical alternative reality in which Germany won World War II, it also has slight sci-fi themes embedded. It follows several different characters and their lives after the war. This is set in the USA fifteen years after the end of the war with both Germany and Japan now occupying the country. The west coast is occupied by Japan, the east coast is occupied by Germany and there is a strip not controlled by either nation referred to as the neutral zone. This causes a lot of racial and political tension throughout the book. One element that was particularly interesting to read was that Germany still controlled concentration camps and had moved them into America. 

The three main characters in this book are white Americans who lived in America before the war. The main protagonist is Frank Frink, a man on the brink of being fired. He works for a company that puts together collectible artifacts tying into that is Robert Childan who owns the collectibles shop, he sells to Japanese buyers who are only interested in artifacts directly related to the USA, Then there is Juliana, she lives in the neutral zone or free states as its also known as, as a character she constantly battles with her moral opinion on how the country is run and who and what to believe. 

When Juliana comes into contact with the book 'The Grasshopper Lies Heavy' a controversial story about the alternative history to the alternate history that we are already reading about which details how America won the war. Whats interesting is that each character comes into contact with this book at certain points but the stance and how they intrepid it is completely different. 

I really enjoyed the alternate reality elements of this story and felt that overall the plot and premise was very strong and compelling. The conspiracy and mystery aspect is executed perfectly, extremely detailed and constantly keeps the reader guessing as well as coming up with their own theories. 

The writing style is a bit bizarre, the sentences read very choppy and sometimes this massively interrupts the flow. It made me put the book down on several occasions and i feel if it was a bit more fluid i could have finished it in fewer sittings.

Throughout the story some of the characters become aware that there is two realities one in which Germany won and the other in which America won. This was a very strange thing to read about and felt at times disjointed from the main story. The ending felt incomplete to me, the last 20 or so pages just fell flat for me, i was considering giving it 5 stars before then but leaving the reader without an answer or closure is a huge no no for me so i had to downgrade its star rating. I gave it 4 as credit where its due it was one hell of a read! 

All in all i believe this will be adapted much better to screen than it comes across in literary form. I became very emotionally involved with the story but my main criticism is that it really lacked any kind of character development and the ending was practically non existent. 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

#34 The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman 

The Magicians is a story about Quentin Coldwater, a young man from Brooklyn who has dreams of attending an Ivy League college but when an opportunity arises to attend Brakebills, an elite school for magic then Quentin embarks on 4 years of study to learn magic. He is obsessed with a series he read as a child about a fantasy world (not unlike Narnia) called Fillory, this makes up a large part of the story. The book spans quite a few years (the pacing is done amazingly well) so you get to see Quentin learn magic over a few years an ultimately you get to see what he uses his magic for upon graduating.

Quentin and his friends at Brakebills who are referred to as 'The Physical Kids', they comprise of Alice, Eliot, Josh, Janet and Penny. I really enjoyed these characters but particularly Alice and especially her relationship with Quentin. At times this was so intense it felt like they were real and you knew them, they experience so many highs and lows and every step of the way was wonderfully written. 

Quentin as a protagonist is selfish, self centered and carries a huge sense of self entitlement, he doesnt even have that many redeeming qualities but this is what makes him such a great and controversial character. You see him change from a boy to a man (he Neville Longbottoms hard during the years). I also thought Eliot and Josh were great side line characters although you dont get too much in this book about them, its all about Alice and Quentin. I really hope that the next book has more about them in it. 

Where do i even begin with this? The premise of this book is everything i typically dont like yet i loved it. The world building is second to none. The characters are diverse and relateable. The book is so action packed even for 550 pages, it keeps you guessing and drives you to carry on with the trilogy. It reads like Harry Potter condensed into one book with a little bit of Narnia thrown in to shake things up. You really get to see what the students endure each year, not dissimilar to HP. 

The most intense part of the story for me is when Q plays a practical joke on one of his professors and the shit really hits the fan. I dont want to say too much in the hopes of keeping this as spoiler free as possible but its possibly the best part of the book for me. 

People who enjoyed HP but who are looking for a more mature version with adult content such as strong language, violence and sex then this is definitely the story for you. I gave it 4 stars based on the world building and plot. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

#33 An Ember in the Ashes

 An Ember in the Ashes By Sabaa Tahir

Original read: March 2016 (2 stars)
Reread: September 2019 (4 stars)

An Ember in the Ashes is a debut novel within the fantasy genre. It follows 2 protagonists Elias and Laia (pretentious character names that have too many vowels!) they are from opposite ends of the spectrum, Elias is a trained fighter and Laia is a scholar, the lowest class with society. When Laia's brother Darin (another stupid name) is taken and arrested for treason Laia embarks on a journey to find 'The Resistance' in order to break her brother out of jail, ultimately she must spy in order to build trust within The Resistance. Elais' story was slightly more interesting, in the beginning he is days away from graduation after years and years of training and he wishes to sneak away and leave the academy that hes part of, the penalty for abandoning if caught is death. 

This story is said to be inspired by ancient Rome which in theory i was really excited about and i did enjoy the world building but it didn't encompass anything Roman really. Upon rereading i did enjoy it a lot more and found the audiobook much more engaging than reading it physically. The beginning was a bit slow and it did take a while to get into but the tension was built slowly and by halfway through i was pretty obsessed and finished it within 2 and a bit days. 

Laia is tiny bit bland in the beginning, her decision making is very questionable but her character growth is well done and she does redeem herself by the end. Elais was the main thing that kept me reading, his back story was interesting and i enjoyed how conflicted he was throughout. When i first read this in 2016 i wasnt really into fantasy and read a lot of contemporary at that point but 3 years later and i pretty much exclusively read fantasy with a few thrillers thrown in the mix. I reread this as its my friend Kirstys fav so shout out to Kirsty for getting me to give this one another go! I now fully get the hype!

For me Helene was a stand out character, she was strong, independent and bad ass. She was everything a leading lady should be and in comparison Laia really fell down. Laia's role as a rebel was probably my least favorite aspect of the novel. Not only was she absolutely dreadful at it, but the rebels seemed shocked to find Laia hurt on a number of occasions. Things like this was worthy of an eyebrow raise because Laia was attempting to spy on the most dangerous person in the story, The Commandant, knowing that their previous spies were tortured and killed. So why are Laia's bruises a surprise?

All in all Sabaa's writing was indeed phenomenal, really well done for a debut and the ending has left me wanting more. World building is a really important fact for me, but there is another one that is more important in my opinion: Characters. I’ve said many times now that the characters can be the most influential factor on my enjoyment for a book. I’ve fallen in love with some books because of this, and the same applies to some books I’ve hated. The characters were well written even if Laia was a bit annoying Elias really made up for it! 

“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength."