Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Black Prism (Lightbringer, #1) by Brent Weeks

I started reading The Black Prism because one of my English students recommended it to me. I’m a big fan of fantasy, and I had been in a book funk lately. Anything I tried, I just couldn’t get into. However, I started to read this book. I put it down, and kept thinking about it, and that was when I knew, I had a series to read. Finally!

The story itself in a way is standard fantasy. There are rich and poor people, a coming war, feuding, magic users vs non-magic users. What sets it apart partly is the magic system. It was very interesting, though at first a bit hard to comprehend. It’s common nowadays to not actually explain stuff, but just have the reader gradually find them out. It did make it hard to understand in the beginning. I often wish people would just have a foreword to explain these things. It makes it a bit hard to get into the story, because you spend your brainpower trying to work out a complicated fantasy magic system. Once I got it though, I do like how it works.

The main reason why I really got into the story was one of the main characters, Kip. An overweight, kind of a loser, barely teen boy with a mouth on him. Usually, the main characters are special. He is kind of special, but he’s also really terrible at most things. I’ve never been a teen boy, but I find it immensely funny how he keeps having inappropriate thoughts in the worst moments possible. I also love how he’s not skinny. Most of my life, I’ve been overweight. He is a lot like me in that he hates his fat, but it’s not really something he can help. So while Kip is special, like most main characters nowadays, he still has qualities that make him more relatable.

My other favourite character is Gavin. Now, my student looked at me kind of funny when I said this, so I may come to not like him so much in the future, but for now, I do. From the first moment, he is kind of a mystery. There are hints that some things are going on in the background that we don’t know about. There had been one big reveal in the book, and I really loved it, since I never saw it coming. However, there are still some unanswered questions. It keeps the reader really engaged, because you just want to find out the answers.

My one problem with the book was the battle scenes. Honestly, after a while, they were dragging on, and I was having a hard time following in my head. It could just be me, because I’ve had a similar problem with other writers. I’m just not a big fan of battles.

Overall, I really liked the book. I recommend it to fans of fantasies with good magic systems, or with big battles. I’m definitely reading on, and already snuck a peek at the next book, even though I should be doing other stuff. It’s on my Kindle now though, so I’m definitely reading more today. I only gave it 4 stars, because 5 stars go to books like Harry Potter. The kind where I never want to let go.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Golden Compass (2007) * * *

I saw the movie several years ago on TV. I couldn't really remember it now, but I did like it, and have wanted to read the book several times ever since. I've been running about a lot nowadays, and I love listening to audiobooks. I have had the audiobooks for quite some time, and this was the perfect opportunity to listen to them, so I did. Once I was done with the first book, a rewatch of the movie was in order.

This movie didn't do well in the box office. Some blame it on the religious theme of the story, others on it not being a very good movie. I quite liked it, though now that I know what they worked from, I can see the problems. For a discussion on the story itself, please read my book review.

The story didn't change much. They did merge a few characters, as it sometimes happens. What was strange was the introduction of the councillors and the Magisterial Emissary. It is remarked in the books that the Magisterium dictates a lot of things, and is half supporting Mrs Coulter, but it is her eagerness for power, which drives the negative events, not the Magisterium, as it appears in the movie. Or so it was my understanding as I read the book. I did wonder why they made it out so, but I couldn't see any justification for it. Maybe more will be revealed int he following books.
Another change as opposed to the book was the revelation of Lyra's parents. In the book, Lyra learns about it under very different circumstances, and much sooner. I think they placed it so in the movie, because it had a bigger impact on Lyra that way, but it didn't seem to matter for the story all that much.
The third big change was the order of the last couple of events, and especially leaving out the last big event. Lyra coming across the children and the bears is the opposite in the book. The only reason I can see for the change is that in the movie the party at Mrs Coulter's house is left out. It is there that Lyra learns of Lord Asriel's imprisonment among the bears, and that's why after the children she goes there. While in the movie she knows nothing about that turn of events, so she would have no motivation to head that way, and therefore has to just happen on that storyline while heading to her original goal.
The fourth big change is that they left out death, that seems to be an important part of the story. From Lyra exploring the catacombs in the beginning, to the end, death is a part of the story. In the movie, it was taken out. Sure, characters die, but not children. We know from the books that the poor boy Lyra finds dies, and yes, I did shed a tear, but that's not clear in the movie. That particular horror is left out, making the tone milder. In a way, the children who die make what is really happening - without giving too much away -, all the worse. That people would do that without a thought, just to keep children from growing up to thinking freely.

The biggest change of all is the milder tone overall that the movie takes. Gone are the references to Christianity. The Magisterium is the big bad, the organisation, while in the book, it was the underlying doctrine, that is the actual problem. I can understand the reason for the change, even though I wasn't pleased by it. The milder tone was also achieved by the ending. Since in the book, Lyra does reach her final end-goal, and in the movie she doesn't. I can especially understand this change, since that still haunts me a bit, and I'm somewhat glad to not have seen it.

The best thing about the movie is really Nicole Kidman. She was picked and persuaded by Philip Pullman himself to play Mrs Coulter. Sure, her hair is blonde, but even the author admitted that he should have described his character as a blonde. Nicole Kidman is perfect for the role. Cold, ruthless, even when trying to care. I'm not a big fan of hers, I think in some things she was terrible. However, I will always see Mrs Coulter as she portrayed her.

The second books was never made into a movie. It can be the problems with the anti-religious tone, or the fact that a lot of people didn't like it. Truth be told, it did feel rushed. All the events were crammed into these 113 minutes, clearly not enough. However, back in 2007 TV shows still didn't have the budget they do now. 2008 did one good thing. TV became more important, as people cut back on going out. Shows became more popular, and therefore more money is poured into them now. This book would have clearly worked better as a TV show. That is what will hopefully happen, as BBC has promised to develop the trilogy as a TV show. I'm sure the books will the in good hands, as BBC adaptations are very high quality, especially in recent years.

Overall, watch this movie. It's pretty good on its own, and if you're unsure about reading the book, it will give you a general idea of it. The CGI is also terrific, and don't forget the real highlight of the movie, Nicole Kidman as Mrs Coulter.

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, #1) by Philip Pullman * * * * *

I listened to this book as an audiobook. I actually enjoyed it in this format very much. It was mainly read by the author, but it also had a full cast for the characters. Much better than when a male reader tries to imitate female voices. Though sometimes that can be very funny. It reminded me of the fairy tale cassettes I used to fall asleep to as a child.

The story itself is about a girl, Lyra. It's obvious from the first moment that she's one of those destined children so popular in fantasy fiction. She's also 11, which is a common age to start child characters off. Lyra is a smart and cunning child. One of those natural leaders that can be the next Martin Luther King Jr., or the next Stalin. Which one she will become depends entirely on her basic temperament and life experiences. She is also very adaptable, just like her daemon. Whatever environment she finds herself in, she becomes part of it. She does feel like a normal child though. Sometimes children in stories are like mini-adults, but she isn't. I do find it interesting that a man picks a little girl to write about, while a similar destined character, Harry Potter, was written by a woman.

Daemons are the very core of the story. At first, I didn't feel they were properly explained. I got that daemons were the souls of people, but how they could function only became clearer as the story progressed. Daemons were the true forms of souls. They revealed the hidden desires, personalities, thoughts of people. It would be nice to have a daemon in real life. According to a Buzzfeed test, mine would be a cat.

There are some other characters, that were very intriguing, and a joy to read about. My personal favourites were the witches. Interestingly enough, they're the non-Christian characters, though they also seem to have some sort of a religion. I loved how Serafina Pekkala talked about the life of witches, how their longevity was a blessing and a curse.

The armoured bears were also interesting. I was especially intrigued by Iofur Raknison. He is a bear, who wants to be a man to be baptised. In a way, he reminded me of many peoples that decided to convert to Christianity, shunning their own native cultures. It wasn't properly explained though, what his motivations were. Maybe a form of self-hate. Hating being a bear, because he thought being a man would be more. Or he wanted the absolution for the things that he had done that the Catholic Church offers to people. To be free of his sins. Of course, sins can only be forgiven by ourselves if we want to be free of them, and some sins are purely imaginary, like the whole Original Sin idea. Religion tells you, you are sick, and they have the cure. The only trouble is, most people aren't sick at all. If you do have true sins, like Iofur, the forgiveness of others has no real meaning. It can help people to find a way to forgive themselves, which is probably what Iofur is really seeking, but in the end, the matter has to be dealt with on the inside of every person.

The story is about the importance of self, of thinking, free will. The evil people in the story are basically all those religious organisations that try to tell people how and what to think. I'm not completely sure yet what dust is exactly, but I have a few theories. I'm sure the story will be more and more about religion, having listened to Philip Pullman in interviews, but I'm curious as to where he will take the story. I do have the whole series as audiobooks, and lots of time to listen to them as I come and go.

This book can be read two ways. As a child, seeing the adventure, the evil characters, and cheering Lyra on. Or as an adult, observing the underlying themes, thinking about how freethinking has been hampered, progress, imagination stiffened by religion. I know, probably lots of religious parents are scared to give the book to their children, because of the very thing that I've written. However, if their religion is true, should it not withstand the test of reading fiction?

I do recommend this book. It's great fun, though brace yourselves for the ending. In a way, on its own, it was a bit like The Hunger Games' brand of dystopia. Also makes you think. Who ever said that books that made you think about religion had to be boring?

Read my review of the movie as well! I do compare it with the book.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins * * * *

I've been meaning to read this book for a while. I started to do the Popsugar challenge, and this fit in with the murder mystery novel. 

The circumstances under which I started reading were a bit funny. I was on a train to London, heading from one Swan hotel to another. I happen to work in a Swan hotel. If you read the book, you get the hotel bit.

The story itself unfolds in the account of three women. While it jumps around a bit in time, it doesn't feel confusing. The killer isn't impossible to figure out, you get all the clues. I knew who it was around 60%. It's not so bad, I often know around 20%. 

The main character is Rachel, who is a bit of a train wreck. Her life is at a standstill, and she's unable to move on. The funny thing is that getting mixed up in the whole mystery is not a bad thing, possibly one of the best things ever to happen to her. Though from where she is, the only way is up.
Megan is another character we follow. Her life isn't all that great either, though in part it seems like it's of her own making. We can excuse some of her behaviour by the things that happened to her, but a different person would have handled it differently. However, after the initial catalyst some of her actions feel unexplained, like something is still missing. Not vital to the story, but the character.
Anna is the third woman. She's different from the other two, and appears the happiest. However, one must remember that not all that glitters is gold.
Apart from the mystery, that is very much the theme of the book. You see people from the outside, and think their life is perfect, and they’re happy. Then you read their diary, and discover that isn’t even remotely so.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It didn't have much actual action, but I was curious as to how it was going to play out. If you like action though, this isn’t really for you, since the story is actually a lot of walking around and talking to each other.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Shannara Chronicles (2016) * * * * *

Let me start out by saying that I haven't read the books. So if you're expecting some sort of comparison, not in this review. Though the books have been on my list for about a decade, maybe I'll finally read them.

MTV makes TV shows. It was odd at first, after all, first it was music, then reality shows, and now, TV shows. I was sceptical at first. That is, before I saw Teen Wolf. I kept hearing about it, so one day I decided to give the first season a shot. About 10 hours later, I couldn't stop watching it. Now with The Shannara Chronicles I was hoping for more of the same. Let me tell you, it didn't disappoint. When is the next episode again?

So I'm writing this 3 episodes into the series. Let's start with the visuals. Every good fantasy has to wow us with the visuals, that's sort of a given. It certainly does. One thing I didn't know about the world was that it's actually set on a future Earth. The pictures in the show never make us forget this. Sometimes boldly, like the remains of what I think is the radio astronomy observatory in New Mexico, to a toy in the bottom of a river. There is something poetic about these reminders of us. Then there are the new buildings. The elven palace is just as beautiful as it should be. They sure didn't spare any expense here.

The cast is a mix of relative newcomers and old dogs. While looking at the work of some of the main characters shows that they haven't done too much, they blend in well with the likes of John Rhys-Davies, who plays the king. There is definitely talent there.

The story itself is exciting. Straight from the beginning we are plunged into events that move the story along. No lengthy sitting around wondering about what's going on, but straight into action. I'm someone who likes that sort of thing, so it swept me along right from the first moment. When is the next episode again?

So if you love fantasy, action, magic, this is the show you want to watch. It's probably not going to be the one that tries to resolve the philosophical questions of our age, but who cares! Jump on the horse, and ride along with these characters, because it's shaping up to be one great adventure! Again, next episode MTV?