Station Eleven

Book Review: Station Eleven. 3/5 Stars.Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Summary: What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still so much beauty.

One Snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.

Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.

If civilization was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a while. It has glowing reviews and the premise is spot on for what i love to read. I was so happy to finally pick it up and get reading. As happens far too often with books the general population seem to rave over, though… i was left a little disappointed.

There was plenty i loved about the book. I love the setting–20 years after an apocalyptic virus wipes out most of humanity. So often books deal with the very immediate fall out and/or 100 or more years after an apocalypse. It was interesting to see this 20-year stage. Long enough that there are children and young adults who remember nothing of “before”, there are adults who remember very little and have adapted easily, and there is an older generation who had jobs and families and remember everything of a life “before”. It’s the stage where things have changed, but the ‘old’ world is still very much remembered.

I loved (most of) the characters. My favourites were Miranda, Clark, and Frank. I loved Frank from the moment we met him, when his brother shows up on his doorstep with seven overflowing trollies of food and a stricken expression and Frank’s only comment is, “I see you went shopping.” Clark was slower to make an impression on me, as he is quite a side character for most of the book, but the more he showed up and the more i learnt about him, the more i liked him. Miranda was wonderful from the get-go. A strong, but wonderfully lovely character. She was kind and thoughtful, but never at the expense of herself. Her mantra–“I repent nothing”–are words i might start saying to myself more often.

I have two main issues with the book, and they are both simply personal preference. The first is the dual focus between the time lines–one 20 years post-apocalypse, one stretching back many years in the life of famous actor Arthur Leander. And the crux of my issue with this is that… i gave exactly zero hoots about Arthur Leander. The book is, on the whole, a character-driven narrative, and generally they just aren’t my favourite kinds of stories. I didn’t care about Arthur. I didn’t care about his life, his career, his multiple marriages and divorces. That his life served as a tenuous and improbable link between various characters in the post-apocalyptic time line was irrelevant to me. His life and its inclusion in the story felt simply like a device for that link and little more.

The second main issue i had was that… not a lot really happens? This typically goes hand-in-hand with character-driven stories–the focus is on the people and their feelings and experiences and growth, rather than on any circumstances or events. And like, okay, an apocalypse happens, but for the post-apocalyptic time line, there is not much tension or eventfulness. What there is, unsurprisingly, revolves around an individual–it is this character and his links to the past, to Arthur, and the other characters, that are the focus. And for me, that’s not enough. The story just never feels like it really gets going, but that’s because–for me–there just isn’t enough story.

The other niggle i can’t really shake is that the book is coming from quite an entitled place. The characters are rich actors, successful business people, theatre goers, classical musicians, and Shakespearean thespians. It didn’t sit quite right with me, and honestly didn’t enamour me to their post-apocalyptic plight. But honestly, with a name like St. John Mandel, a privileged upbringing on a remote Canadian island, and studying at a dance theatre… it shouldn’t be surprising that she’s writing what she knows.

I enjoyed the concept and ideas in the book, and found the emotive use of language quite lovely–the book is infinitely quotable. But nice one-liners and being meaningful in isolation doesn’t a brilliant book make–it takes more to impress me. What i enjoyed here i enjoyed a lot, but i won’t be rushing out to read more of this author’s books.


The Twelve

Book Review: The Twelve. 5/5 Stars.Title: The Twelve

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: Death row prisoners with nightmare pasts no future. Until they were selected for a secret experiment. To create something more than human. Now they are the future–unless a handful of survivors can destroy them.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I read The Passage, the first book in this trilogy, over the new year in 2016/17. I (somehow) saved The Twelve for the 2017/18 new year period. I’ve loved both books so much, i’m not sure i’ll be able to wait a year to read the third and final.

I hadn’t expected to love this book at much as the first, honestly. I’d heard from a lot of people who were disappointed with the sequels, and i’d prepared myself for the worst. I told myself i’d be happy if it was at least 3 out of 5 stars. I think not assuming it would be as good as the first helped me love this one for its own merits, and not compare it to the first. It also definitely helped that i had no thoughts or ideas on how the story would progress. Just like when reading the first book, I wasn’t wondering what was going to happen or letting myself assume anything–i just let myself get swept up in the story.

But okay, where to start? Where the first book had me sobbing at the very start, and then again at the very end… this book had me welling up and blinking back the tears at the end of every other chapter. For the first half of the book Cronin spends time in several new narratives, in varying time lines, introducing new sets of characters. They all have depth and history and they are very quick to warm to, to root for. We follow their journeys and their stories for a spell, we get invested. But a narrative in the past of an apocalyptic novel has can only end in one way. Even knowing what has to be coming, i was on the edge of my seat for these characters i’d quickly come to love, hoping–futilely–things would turn out okay for them.

Despite the sombre end to these narratives, they hold the key to a lot of the story. It is in their characters and their stories that the main plot’s details are focused. Nothing is superfluous in this book. No character, no action, no back story’s back story. It all means something, it all leads somewhere. The details that went into plotting and completing that must have been immense, and just like the writing of The Passage, Cronin makes it seem effortless.

Talking of the writing, have some of the quotes i made a note of:

And yet the world went on. The sun still shone. To the west, the mountains shrugged their indifferent rocky bulk at man’s departure.

The only thing worse than the burps were the farts that came after, room-clearing jets of oniony gas that even the farter himself could not enjoy.

It’s so sad. But beautiful, too. So many stories are like that.

There were more–plenty more–but it was so hard to stop reading in order to write them down.

The characters I think i liked even more in this book. Here they were each given their own room to develop and reflect, and after the events in The Passage, and the several years since, they are all scarred and changed in their own ways. It was the women i was drawn to most. The old characters–Amy and Sara–and the new–Lore and Lila. The one closest to my heart, though, is Alicia. She was awesome from the start in The Passage, and what she went through and became by the end of that book was incredible. Here she is only even more so. I’ve read some reviews abhorring what she went through in this book, and I wholeheartedly understand that. It didn’t sit right with me either for a time. But ultimately it didn’t define her, it didn’t weaken or cower her–it gave her more to fight for. And fuck, but do i love her when she’s fighting. In the end it’s all only made me love her more.

I can admit that the book is not perfect. There are a couple of wrinkles that give me pause. Mostly centred on an age difference between two sets of characters. One brief in its occurrence, and one i think could have been easily dealt with with a touch more build up and foreshadowing and/or a slight reduction in the age gap. The other is much more complex, in that Amy has the body of a young girl and the life experience of over one hundred years. For a man in his 20s to want either aspect of her is… troubling. I do fear how that will play out in the final book.

Despite the minor troubles, i don’t hesitate in giving this book 5 out of 5 stars. It’s a book in which i got lost, barely noticed time passing, and knew whatever was going to happen was going to be brilliant. I loved it, and i can only hope i at least enjoy the final book in the series half as much.

Bird Box

birdboxTitle: Bird Box

Author: Josh Malerman

Summary: Most people dismissed the reports on the news. But they became too frequent; they became too real. And soon it was happening to people we knew.

Then the Internet died. The televisions and radios went silent. The phones stopped ringing.

And we couldn’t look outside anymore.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I remember reading the synopsis for this book and being fascinated. What on earth could stop people being able to look outside? What happened if they did? I didn’t even speculate on answers to those questions, and jumped into this book without expectations, ready to find out.

The multiple narratives are great. We follow our main character, Malorie, during three stages of her life. In the present day she leaves the safety of her home with two children, blindfolded, to take a boat 20 miles down river. One flashback narrative is told in reverse, how Malorie trained the children to use their hearing, how she struggled being a new mother alone in a post-apocalyptic world, and how she risked her life gathering tools and provisions shortly after giving birth. A second flashback narrative documents the disaster, how Malorie arrived at the house and lived with her new housemates before giving birth. The two flashback narrative converge, completing the story’s history, just as Malorie is reaching the final stage of her journey down the river.

The thing that is stand out for me, is how freaking creepy this book is. For the most part, the characters are locked up inside the house, which creates a claustrophobic atmosphere with tensions often running high; i was just waiting for something to kick off. The worst(/best) parts, though, were when the characters ventured outside. Blindfolded for protection against what they must not lay eyes on, the loss of such a main sense was palpable in the writing. I felt as anxious and on edge as the characters just reading. Most often i read in bed at night before sleep, and most nights i couldn’t read more than two or three chapters, because it would freak me out too much. (I loved it.)

It wasn’t until today, when i started reading during daylight hours, that i could plough through the book and got the second half finished in a matter of hours. Because that’s the other thing about this book: it kept me reading. I needed to know what happened. It’s the nature of the three time lines–i knew certain things of the future, but not how they came to pass, and i was desperate to find out.

The book isn’t perfect. The characters are somewhat lacking in depth; you have the main few who we’re supposed to like, a couple who are obviously supposed to be questionable, and the rest are pretty much filler without much individual personality. The writing is simple, but far from bad; it makes it an easy read, but (as above) still manages to create quite an atmosphere. None of these were so bad as to be off putting, just ways the book could be improved.

There was one question that i couldn’t help but ponder quite early: Where were all the blind people? In a world where seeing things proved deadly, surely there would be a higher proportion of blind folk still around, perfectly fine? Thankfully, this is addressed… but i wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you!

I loved the ending. I thrive on open endings, and this delivers that in the best ways, while simultaneously wrapping the narrative up nicely. If you’re reading to find out exactly why people can’t look outside, don’t expect a definitive answer. I’m still wavering between all the options, because i don’t want to have to settle on one. Aliens? New species? Parallel universe? Mass hysteria? I want them all!

The Passage

the-passageTitle: The Passage

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world. She is. Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He’s wrong. FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is.

Unaware of each other’s existence but bound together in ways none of them could have imagined, they are about to embark on a journey. An epic journey that will take them through a world transformed by man’s darkest dreams, to the very heart of what it means to be human. And beyond.

Because something is coming. A tidal wave of darkness ready to engulf the world. And Amy is the only person who can stop it.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: It’s sort of a thing, now, that i read an epic apocalyptic distopian over the Christmas and new year period; this one was recommended to me by Claire over at Bitches with Books. The synopsis intrigued me, and though i was wary on the vampire front, i clung to their concept in I Am Legend and bought the damn book. So, going in i had very few expectations of this book. It blew me away.

I was literally sobbing by the end of the first chapter and i though, “Shit, this book is going to ruin me, isn’t it?” It did, and i loved every second of it.

Where to start? The book takes its time settling in. It introduces you to the characters mentioned in the synopsis, as well as a few others, before their paths cross. It doesn’t jump straight to the apocalypse, instead we follow its making as we meet our heroes, villains and those in between. This first part of the story is almost a book in itself. An extended prologue. It sets the groundwork for details and relationships and meaning that last literally all the way to the last page. At this point i was enjoying the book, but i wasn’t loving it.

Once the apocalypse comes, the narrative jumps almost 100 years in time, with a new location, a new cast of characters, and a new focus. I barely paused. I was fascinated by this new world and these new people. It was quite an experience leaving behind all the other characters, but i took the leap wholeheartedly, trusting that that first story i’d read would pay off, that the threads would meet. By halfway through the new story, i’m not sure i’d’ve been bothered if they hadn’t, but i was only more sure that they would.

I’m honestly finding it hard to articulate my feelings about this book, because it’s simply the entire book. I guess, with that, the key thing is the writing. I was immersed in it. It read as effortless, though i’d bet it was far from it. Nothing was spelled out, but everything was so clear. What some writers take paragraphs to explain, Cronin captures in a sentence or two. So many times i had to stop and marvel at the perfect simplicity in the writing. I even made note of a few my favourites:

“A blast of quiet that felt like noise.”

“An absence of torment so abrupt it was like pleasure.”

“…to his right, an abyss of blackness, a plunge into nothing. Even to look at it was to be swept away…”

“Courage is easy, when the alternative is getting killed. It’s hope that’s hard.”

I was just in awe of the writing, half the time. The other half i was swept up in the story. The story that encompassed so much, but seemed never to become muddled or confuse me. It was simple enough to follow, but interesting enough to keep me constantly thinking. I am a reader who is always looking ahead; i think about what facts and clues and hints i’ve been given, and where they might lead, what twists and turns are up ahead. With this book, though, i didn’t–i didn’t want to. I wanted to be caught up in the story, and i was. I didn’t try to guess what was coming, i just kept reading until i got there.

A big part of the story i keep coming back to is the relationships–all the different kinds. Family, friends, romance, loyalties, responsibilities… this books has all sorts of relationships, and none of them hog the spot light. None of them are forced or over done or saccharine or meaningless. In a lot of ways, they are all quiet. They are all part of the story, rather than being a story in themselves. There weren’t two characters who were ~destined~ to be together from the start. The focus was never on anyone’s–or any one–relationship. They all simply develop over time, when you aren’t quite looking, until the differences in how people interact and what they mean to each other just make a new sense.

I feel like this review is all over the place and that i’m not making any sort of sense; i’m rubbish at explaining why i loved something–it’s not always able to be articulated (case in point: i wanted to use the made up word “articulatable”).

This book just hits all my likes: apocalyptic, dystopian, sci-fi/horror mix, strong female characters. It’s excellent writing, well constructed and followed through on every point to the final page. I sobbed at the start and i sobbed at the end. The ups and downs in the books were not a punch in the gut of my emotions–they crept up on me, then engulfed me.

I never imagined a book of this length could be this good. The longer a book is, the more chance there is of there being something i don’t like. I was not prepared for this. I was not prepared to love everything about this book. But here i am, ruined and in love. And with the sequel already ordered.


The Scorch Trials

mrstTitle: The Scorch Trials

Author: James Dashner

Summary: Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he would get his life back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to…

Burned and baked, the earth is a wasteland, its people driven mad by an infection known as the Flare.

Instead of freedom, Thomas must face another trial. He must cross the Scorch to once again save himself and his friends.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1/5

Review: I read The Maze Runner about a year ago, and it left with a lot to say. While i loved the story, setting and mystery of the book, the writing was atrocious. The writing in this sequel did not improve, and unfortunately the story, setting and mystery only went down hill. So much so, i couldn’t bring myself to finish the book.

I gave up a little over halfway through, when i realised there was nothing about the plot that was fascinating enough to keep me reading–to keep me reading a book written this badly. I disliked it so much, i don’t even think i can bring myself to write much about it. I’ll take it one aspect at a time:

The plot: This started well, with the safety the kids think they’ve found turning on them. Things changed quickly and so dramatically it was easy to stay interested, to want to keep reading. This lasted through their time in their limited dorm-type space, through the tunnel of molten head-eating machines and up to their exit into “the Scorch”. After that, things started to go downhill. A few days of the boys slogging through the heat, getting nowhere fast, nothing happening… it was dull, to say the least. When they finally made it to the city, to buildings, to other life forms, i thought things might pick up. But after that, it just seemed like action for the sake of action, rather than anything the was driving the plot. IDGAF about underground tunnels and cranks too far gone–i want to know more about WICKED and what the hell they’re doing to these kids. It was at that point i had to give up.

The characters: Minho was still my favourite. I think because he seems the most real. His emotions seem close to the surface, but he’s also pragmatic and wants to get shit done. Despite there being a smaller number of characters, we still don’t get to know many. In fact Thomas, our (still lack-luster) lead, comments a few times that he can’t even name a lot of them. Way to be a dick, Tommy. I guess that way you don’t have to emotionally develop when they die. Talking of Thomas, i hate him. A large part of that is because we’re experiencing this from his POV, and the writing of that POV is absolutely terrible. Some of that is because he lacks any kind of emotional depth. He doesn’t mention Teresa, the girl he shared such a deep and meaningful connection with who went missing, for several chapters, then suddenly claims she’s all he can think about. He’s sobbing and angry when he finds her but has to run and leave her behind, but as soon as a new girl shows up he’s eyeing her up and getting touchy feeling within minutes. There are a dozen male characters, they can’t get hooked up with the new girl? With each other? You can’t have a female character who isn’t a love interest?

Finally, the writing: It is bad. So bad i have to wonder if this was even edited. Did they accidentally print the first draft? Dashner can not write. It’s all tell, no show. Things stated plainly with no feeling or mood. Questions asked blatantly, outright leading the reader rather than enticing them along. Settings described in unnecessary detail, but the emotional states of the characters and evocative atmospheres are consistently absent. His pacing is off, he fails to use language to immerse the reader into the moment, instead dragging them along awkwardly. While i was reading this sequel, my partner attempted to read the first book–operative word: attempted. He didn’t get past the first chapter, and it took him so long because we were sitting together reading out the best examples of the appalling writing. It was fun for 20 minutes or so, but only when you have someone to share the cringe-worthiness with.

I’m throwing in the towel on this series. I officially don’t care how it ends. Call me when someone opens a kickstarter raising funds for a decent author to re-write the entire thing.




High Rise

highriseTitle: High Rise

Author: J G Ballard

Summary: Within the concealing walls of an elegant forty-storey tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on ‘enemy’ floors and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for riots and technological mayhem.

In this visionary tale of urban disillusionment society slips into a violent reverse as the isolated inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, create a dystopian world ruled by the laws of the jungle.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: I moved this book to the top of my to read pile when i heard about the film, hoping to read the book first and get to see the film at the cinema. There were some delays in getting to the book, but even if the film was still showing, i’m not sure i’d want to bother.

The premise is fascinating. A self-contained society within one multistory block of flats descending into chaos. That’s the kind of story i want to get into the details of, to follow along with as things unravel. Except in this case, that didn’t really happen. The specifics and action surrounding the collapse of the society within the high rise are severely lacking. There are glimpses, but it’s mostly exposition after the fact. The focus is not on the action. Not on what is actually happening or why. The focus is actually one the three main characters. Really, the story is more of a psychological thriller. Instead of detailing the high rise’s decline into dystopia, it follows three men’s descent into varying types of madness.

Spoilers ahead. I can’t talk about how problematic this book is without them, i’m afraid…

There is Royal, the architect of the building, who lives on the top floor and sees himself as above–literally and figuratively–the rest of the residents. This causes him to draw away from his neighbours and isolate himself, instead forming (what he thinks is) a kinship with dogs and birds. There is Wilder, a television producer who lives on the lower floors and is at first keen to make a documentary about the high rise and its self-contained collapse. Over time he becomes obsessed with ascending the building, even abandoning his wife and children to accomplish the feat. There is Laing, a medical professor who lives in the middle of building and mostly just wants to keep to himself. Despite the madness around him, he manages this, pulling his sister in until she’s dependant on him.

The thing is… a story about the fragile egos of three men isn’t fascinating. I didn’t like any of them, honestly. By the end i assumed at least one of them would die, but I wanted all of them to. I just didn’t care about their plights, their mental health, their futures. I just didn’t care.

As male-centric as the bulk of the story is, the end was almost–almost–pretty awesome. While the men have been scrambling about the building, fighting, barricading, protecting… the women have been biding their time, working together and generally getting shit done. BUT, when the focus of the women’s power is centred around caring for children and keeping house i’m left feeling distinctly resentful. Honestly, that’s some pretty dated stereotyping, even for 1975.

Essentially, this was a brilliant idea poorly executed. I had a couple of other Ballard books on my to read list, but i’m seriously going to re-think them. I’m in no rush to read more of his work. I think i will give the film a go, when it comes out on DVD. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually better.

Emperor of Thorns

eotTitle: Emperor of Thorns

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: The path to the thrown is broken – only the broken can walk it.

The world is cracked and time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end of days. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne no matter who stands against me, living or dead.

This is where the wise turn away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. Don’t look to me to save you, Turn if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don’t follow me.

Follow me, and I will break your heart.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: The third and final book in the Broken Empire series. I’m sad to let Jorg go, but am pleased there are more books by Lawrence set in this fascinating post-apocalyptic universe. I already have the next one on my wishlist.

Emperor holds all the smooth, witty writing of the previous books. So much so I took to this books with a pen like no other yet, stopping every few pages to underline a line or a mark a passage. I cannot express enough how much a love the writing style. It’s subtle, and if you’re not paying attention you might slip past its humour and its poignancy (sometimes in the same line). Above the dystopian post-apocalyptic setting, beyond the characters, it is the writing itself that kept me reading.

Talking of characters though, okay, I have things to say. There was no one i hated, which, when almost all the characters are some shade of evil, might be a strange thing to say, but it’s no surprise, either. Excepting Jorg (the book is told in first person from his point of view, you’ve got to like him), my favourite character was Miana. However. I don’t think enough was made of her. She was introduced in the previous book and though her appearance was brief, she made one hell of an impact (quite literally). I finished King entirely enamoured with her, hoping she would be in Emperor. And, while she retained her strength of character she was very much “Jorg’s wife” and never really came into her own.

What other female characters were there to admire? Katherine? She’s nice enough, but a little too good for my tastes; she verges on dull. I don’t understand Jorg’s obsession with her, nor the point Jorg’s obsession plays in the story–it adds nothing but a poor attempt at a non-conventional love plot. And Chella, who is somewhat interesting, particularly as some of the chapters in this book are from her point of view. Seeing more of her back story and motivation was key in actually developing her character. I can’t help but wonder what happened to her, at the very end there, after… Shh, spoilers.

And Jorg’s brothers, well. Nothing much changes there. Makin remains my favourite, painted that perfect shade of grey. Rike comes full circle, and to end on absent-minded plundering and a last minute turn around in character was a pretty perfect conclusion for him. Gorgoth was, for all he is a troll, the most human of them all. There isn’t a single of his road brothers that i don’t love the relationship Jorg has with them.

The plot… it meandered a bit. Stories with a lot of travelling do tend to have that issue. It started strong, with action and intrigue. And some of the flashback narratives kept things interesting. But after a certain point, things petered out and i was left waiting for things to pick up again. Which they didn’t until the climax. And in comparison to the previous book, which was non-stop action–an entire battle told over the course of the book– this book doesn’t hold up, unfortunately.

It didn’t have to keep up the action, though. I did thoroughly enjoy this book, and all of miscreant Jorg’s adventures in death, revenge and power. I’m really looking forward to getting hold of Prince of Fools, finding out even more about this world, these places and meeting new characters–of which there had better be more, and more awesome, females. The glimpse we had of the Red Queen was enough to get me interested…


Swan Song

ssTitle: Swan Song

Author: Robert McCammon

Summary: Facing down an unprecedented malevolent enemy, the government responds with a nuclear attack. America as it was is gone forever, and now every citizen—from the President of the United States to the homeless on the streets of New York City—will fight for survival.

In a wasteland born of rage and fear, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, earth’s last survivors have been drawn into the final battle between good and evil, that will decide the fate of humanity: Sister, who discovers a strange and transformative glass artifact in the destroyed Manhattan streets… Joshua Hutchins, the pro wrestler who takes refuge from the nuclear fallout at a Nebraska gas station… And Swan, a young girl possessing special powers, who travels alongside Josh to a Missouri town where healing and recovery can begin with Swan’s gifts. But the ancient force behind earth’s devastation is scouring the walking wounded for recruits for its relentless army, beginning with Swan herself…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: So, i’ve decided it’s a thing. A read an epic apocalyptic dystopian over Christmas and new year thing. It really cheers me up over the festive period. In 2014/15 i read The Stand, in readiness to read Swan Song in 2015/16. I felt i had to read The Stand first, because chronology and all that. And in the end, it’s turned out i did prefer The Stand, but now we’ll never know if that’s because i read it first (but really, it’s not).

I loved the start of this book. It got straight into the action of launching nuclear weapons and we’re introduced to the characters as the bombs fall. I loved the lack of messing about and getting straight into the story. I loved the gruesome, realistic descriptions of the characters’ post-nuclear blast wounds. I loved how nothing was easy, everything was a struggle and how much the tension was set high from the very beginning.

For most of the book, i enjoyed all the main characters. I didn’t necessarily like them (i’m looking at you, Ronald), but i enjoyed their storyline and their representation–they interested me. I don’t think there was anyone i was overly fond of; there was no one i favoured more than the others, and for that, the deaths that occurred throughout the book were sad, but not genuinely upsetting, which felt like a shame. As much as i liked the characters, i felt far enough removed to see the deaths as a device to the story and other characters’ motivations.

My problem with the characters began when the two main groups of ‘good guys’ finally met up. I had been waiting and getting excited for it, but it was quite a let down, and actually left me disliking characters i had previously been fond of. You choose to traipse all over the country for seven years looking for someone you see in a magic glass crown, that’s your choice. Don’t get all righteous and demanding when that person’s trusted friends are protecting them from you because you are pushy, potentially dangerous, strangers. I’m going to side with the sane, rational people looking out for each other, not the bossy self-important ones who think they deserve something. I never fully recovered my fondness, unfortunately.

The, perhaps very strange, thing i liked most about this book, was its ability to make me wince. I’m a fan of horror, i’m used to gross and disturbing things, and it usually takes a lot to get to me. But there was something about the simple, almost blasé way this book described disfigurements, violence and injuries that had me screwing my face up and hissing through my teeth. And i loved that. I loved being physically affected in that way, because i so rarely am.

Something that bothered me from the very first chapter, continually, right up through to the last chapter, was the choppy–dare i say sloppy–point of view. It switched from person-to-person without warning and in no discernible pattern. No chapter or even paragraph breaks to distinguish and prepare the reader for the change, just -bam- you’re in someone else’s head. It wasn’t hugely difficult to follow, it just interrupted the flow of the reading, particularly when it would flit to one person only for a line or two, then switch back, or switch between a multitude of people in a short space of time. I understand it was to get across more and relevant information to the reader, but honestly it was a sloppy way to do it.

About halfway through the book, time skips ahead. By seven years. I know it’s seven years, because the narrative makes sure to mention that fact several times, very clearly and extremely pointedly. And at this point, i suddenly felt very far away from the characters i’d got to know over the several months the first half of the book spanned. Could not, instead, those first several months have spanned several years? To take the reader, gradually, on the journey with these character over the years and showcase the key points of their growth and spread the plot points out over the years… rather than skipping ahead as if nothing of note had happened in seven years. It rubbed me entirely the wrong way and felt entirely like a quick and easy cheat on the author’s part. “Let me introduce you to all these interesting characters! Aaaaand… skip to the end.”

The major turning point for me and this book was towards the end. When the two teenagers are pushed together in an awfully sexist fairytale way. A kiss to wake sleeping beauty… i strained my eyeballs, i rolled them so hard. I very nearly gave up right there and then, on page 627, with only 229 pages to go. But i persevered, and was rewarded only with more talk of how beautiful Swan was, with how much Robin loved her, even though they’d barely spoken 20 words to each other. Forget all the violence and gore–this made me sick.

Overall, the ending felt rushed and unsatisfying; the threads of stories weren’t so much woven as tangled haphazardly into a knot. It was a case of moving things along too quickly to pack everything in, and in an 856 page book, that’s quite something. Suddenly war and defence! Suddenly prisoners of war! Suddenly weeks later on the road! Suddenly ‘God’ and the end of the world! And still other things weren’t explored or utilised enough. For seven years a magical glass crown is converted, protected and hunted. Its vital role in the story is stressed and pages dedicated to an exaggerated ‘crowning’ scene… only for it to have no relevance to the dramatic conclusion of the book. It becomes a trinket. And i’m left with the overwhelming feeling of, ‘What was the point?’

What was the point? That was the ultimate feeling i was left with when i closed the book. For all it galloped to the big climax, the very end–the ‘they all lived happily ever after’–dragged. At that point, i didn’t care that much. I was just wanting it to be over.

The Maze Runner

mazerunnerTitle: The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

Summary: When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas can remember is his first name. But he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade, an encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible maze.

Like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they came to be there, or what’s happened to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything to find out.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: This book found its way onto my to-read list thanks to the film they made out of it and, of course, my desire to read the book first. A couple of year later and i finally got around to reading the book. Billed as “a must for fans of The Hunger Games”, the dystopian science fiction and the draw of the puzzling maze… all these things had me hopeful and excited.

The entirety of the 3.5 stars i am giving this book are based solely on its plot, genre and ideas. They are fascinating, original and left me eager to keep reading. I had so many thoughts and ideas and questions that i had to keep reading to explore and find out more. Where is the Glade? Why are all these teenagers being sent there? Where (if anywhere) does the maze lead? ETC, ETC. However. The 1.5 stars this book did not get, is mostly what i find myself needing to talk about.

Firstly, Thomas. Our lead character. I didn’t hate him, but neither did i like him. I wasn’t rooting for him, because ultimately i couldn’t get a genuine feel for him. He seemed like a non-character. He was wildly inconsistent; he would decide he liked someone, then in the next chapter they would do something he didn’t appreciate and he’d decide he didn’t like them. I specifically noticed this with Chuck, Minho, Newt and Alby–Thomas was constantly liking then disliking then liking them again. He was also a contradiction in himself; one example that sticks in my mind was one minute he wanted to avoid people, then the next he didn’t want to be alone. And the thing that bothered me most about these swift changes in attitude was how sudden and out of the blue they were. There was no plot-driven reason, or even situational reason, it just seemed like he needed to think and feel something, so it was just bunged in without thought.

Leading on from that was the fact that Thomas asked a lot of questions. And i don’t mean to the other Gladers, when he was trying to get information or figure things out, but i mean, in his head. He posed questions straightforwardly, prompting the reader to consider certain things–pushing them in a certain direction. Essentially, it’s a poor writing device. Instead of leading the way with action and description, Dashner decided to point the way with neon road signs.

There were a few things that felt forced, contrived and unnecessary. The first and most obvious thing was the slang language of the Gladers. Words like ‘klunk’, ‘shank’ and ‘shunk’ which to me had no specific definition and all seemed interchangeable with ‘shit’ and/or ‘fuck’. The other thing that felt unnecessary was, i’m sorry to say, Teresa. The token female, she brings nothing to the book for being a female other than a vague attempt at a romance and a few poor-taste rape jokes. Why not just make the entire group a mix of males and females? From what we learn towards the end of the book, am i to assume penises make a person more intelligent? Because if so, fuck you, James Dashner.

For all its mystery and world building and hooks and set up, at times this book was rather predictable. The large-scale plot and back story is almost impossible to figure out precisely, but the small plot points and the details were simple enough that i saw them coming immediately. And for a group of oh-so-intelligent teenagers, it leaves me highly unimpressed that they missed these things. Who set the fire was obvious before the fire was even mentioned, and WICKED was literally staring them in the face, to give but two examples.

Although i devoured the second half of this book in a couple of hours, it still had its issues. The action-packed climax was not smoothly written; i was never so caught up in what was happening that i forgot i was reading. There were even times when things were unclear and i was confused, which caused me to go back and re-read parts. I want to be immersed in the action, not stopping to figure things out or rearrange things in my head. Action scenes, particularly, need to be edited to hell in order to make them run smoothly and effortlessly for the readers. These ones weren’t.

The last few chapters and the last few reveals were… a little rushed. So much changes, but at the same time, so little is actually revealed, that i felt very unsatisfied by the non-answers to the entire book’s set up. Instead of a satisfying end to this book, i felt like i had read the first few chapters of the next. And that’s bad form, as far as i’m concerned. Screw the sequel, you need to give closure to this book–to this story, before you start writing a big ellipsis and thinking about all the money you’ll make from a sequel.

Saying that, i think i will read the sequel. I’m not overly optimistic about it, but there was enough interesting plot and world in this book that i’m still thinking about it; still, in some ways, want to be reading it. So, i will give Dashner one more chance. I’m pinning my hopes on him having taken a writing class and hired a better editor between writing The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials…

The biggest downfall of this book, 100%, is the writing. At best, it’s mediocre. It’s all tell no show, it’s so basic and straightforward. It lacks passion and atmosphere, it lacks interest and development. Although a few characters were interesting, i got the impression this was an accident, and they were never explored deeply enough. It’s one of those books i can so easily see being so much better, and that disappoints me more than anything–so much wasted potential. As i have read in other reviews, if this book and its premise and ideas had been in the hands of another author, it could have been incredible. Instead, it’s only halfway decent.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: An Asian main character.

King of Thorns

kotTitle: King of Thorns

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: To reach greatness you must step on bodies. I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…

A six nation army marches toward Jorg’s gates, led by a shining hero determined to unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.

Faced by an enemy many times his strength, Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I read the first book in the Broken Empire series, Prince of Thorns, a year an a half ago. And i felt that long stretch of time while reading this sequel, because there were so many details i couldn’t remember. Thankfully, as the increased rating will attest, this did not hamper my enjoyment of the book.

I think i enjoyed this book more than the first, but it bothers me that, because i don’t remember the first well enough, i can’t say for certain why. Ultimately, i finished this book with a strong desire to re-read the first! If i had to guess why i liked this book more without the re-read, i would say it was possibly the fact that i already knew the characters. As well as that, we get to know these characters in a little more depth in this book. And really, because the book is told in first person from Jorg’s point of view again, we’re essentially seeing Jorg get to know these characters–and that includes himself.

Makin is still my favourite, i think. He is that perfect balance between a likeable character–a “good” man–and having an edge about him, being loyal to the ruthless, amoral Jorg. Makin is like the angel on one of Jorg’s shoulders, but he is a realist; he doesn’t try to stop Jorg or make him a better person, only watch his back, make Jorg sure of himself and his plans.

Of the other brothers, none stand out–they all add their own flavour to Jorg’s band of characters and i enjoy them all. I do love the banter and hate-hate but smidgen of almost-respect and mutual benefit relationship between Jorg and Rike, though. For such horrible characters, i do find myself far too fond of them all.

The best new character, hands down, was Miana. At 12 she is immediately an intellectual and determined match for Jorg, instantly earning enough of Jorg’s respect to make her worth something to him. And then later, well, she’s more than a match for Jorg in my opinion and i hope like hell she’s in the third book.

The plot, well, in essence the plot is a simple one: war. Jorg defending his hard-won land. But it’s the twists and turns of how he does it, and the flashback journey he took four years earlier that started it all off, that make the narrative more interesting. And there are plenty of twists and turns. The whole book is a trickle of plot points, small reveals and interest-peaking information. It’s in the last third of the book that the bigger revelations, dramatic action and (hopefully!) set up for the next book happen.

What i loved most about this book, though, was the writing. It is witty and subtle and clever and so, so quotable. The books deals with the heavy topics of murder, rape, war, genocide and more… but manages to keep the tone light, while not making light of the subjects. It’s, well, pretty damn perfect, actually. I think i overlooked that in my reading of the first book, or it slipped by me when i wasn’t looking. But Mark Lawrence can really bloody write.

And still, the most intriguing and interesting thing for me is the post-apocalyptic setting. There are many more glimpses and hints and experiences of it in this book, and seeing them from the point of view of people a thousand years later is fascinating, and something i have never seen before. This mix of 21st century, Middle Ages and fantasy (fantasy with a realistic, science fiction edge, which i love so hard) is something i feel i could nerd about for a long, long time. I will save it, though.

I will certainly not be leaving it a year and a half until reading the third and final book in the series. There are just so many things i enjoy smushed together into these books, and what Mark Lawrence has done with them is damn good.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Second book in a series.