Book Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

16 Oct
 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Author: Philip K. Dick

ISBN: 1-85798-813-2

First Published: 1968

Blurb:

War had left Earth devastated. Through its ruins, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalked, in search of the renegade replicants who were his prey. When he wasn’t ‘retiring’ them, he dreamed of owning the ultimate status symbol – a live animal. Then Rick got his big assignment: to kill six Nexus-6 targets, for a huge reward. But things were never that simple, and Rick’s life quickly turned into a nightmare kaleidoscope of subterfuge and deceit.

Review:

Philip K Dick’s dystopian science fiction novel is short, but deep, and still stands as a classic of the genre.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future where World War Terminus has decimated much of the world, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter whose job it is to hunt down rogue androids. The majority of humanity, or at least those who could afford it, have escaped the nuclear fallout of the Earth for colonies on Mars. They use androids in these colonies for the menial labour, or the more dangerous jobs that humans don’t want to do. Some of these androids escape, fleeing to Earth where they hope to integrate themselves among real people. The novel takes place in a single day, following Deckard’s task of “retiring” six Nexus-6 androids.

The Nexus-6 androids are so advanced as to be barely distinguishable from humans. Indeed, the question of what makes humans human is a vital one explored by the novel. Bounty hunters in this world are forced to test androids using questions around morality and empathy, analysing eye dilation and other responses. While generally accurate, there is the risk that certain types of people, particularly those with mental health problems, will fail the test.

The concept of empathy being the one thing that can distinguish humans and androids is explored further through humanity’s newfound obsession with animals. A lot of species of animal went extinct after the nuclear war. To keep a real animal, and an electric counterpart, is a sign of status in this dystopian society. Indeed, Deckard’s main aspiration, and the goal which drives him to track down these dangerous androids, is to earn enough money to be able to buy a real animal to replace the electric sheep that he owns. The empathy felt for animals is explored, especially when androids are depicted cutting the legs off a spider to see how few legs it can survive with.

A further aspect of the novel which deepens it considerably is the use of religion. Mercerism is a new concept that arose after the war, which relies heavily on empathy. Followers link themselves up to an Empathy Box, a kind of collective consciousness that enables them to share in the suffering of the religion’s founder, Wilbur Mercer. Rocks are thrown at Mercer in this experience, and the pain is shared by all those linked through the Empathy Box.

The concepts make this short novel a very complex and deep one, exploring lots of aspects of our own society. Androids are used as a substitute for Otherness, an exploration of racism, slavery, and ostracism. They also act as a warning that technology could go too far and turn on its creators. The status symbol of owning animals reflects capitalism.

The novel is exciting, with a fairly fast pace, mostly thanks to its short length. It is full of subterfuge, intrigue and deception, and in the end leaves a few questions open for the reader to think about.

The characters are fairly interesting, though Deckard is a slightly unlikeable character. He’s quite sexist, abrupt, but it’s easy for the reader to empathise with him. His morality is grey, which serves to further the exploration of human empathy and android coldness. Isidore, a man with mental health issues, is more likeable. He is eager and kind. Like androids, he is looked down on by other people because of his lack of intelligence; he is called a “chickenhead” and viewed as subhuman. It serves as another exploration of human’s prejudices.

Overall, this is a novel that is definitely worth the read, even nearly fifty years after it was written. The writing is easy to read, the plot is exciting, and the substance is deep and thought-provoking.

 

Ratings:

Character: 8/10

Plot: 9/10

Style: 10/10

Overall: 8/10

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Book Review: The Illearth War

10 Oct
 The Illearth WarTitle: The Illearth War

Author: Stephen Donaldson

ISBN: 0-00-615246-5

First Published: 1977

Blurb:

Cursed by a terrible disease, Thomas Covenant is an outcast in our world: shunned by his neighbours, pushed by loneliness to the edges of madness.

Suddenly he is transported to a mysterious and beautiful new world – the Land – where gentle people work magic with wood and stone, and the very earth and air bring healing. Covenant is welcomed as the reincarnation of a legendary saviour: his maimed hand and white-gold wedding ring mark him as a figure of power and sorcery, with a wild magic powerful against evil.

But Covenant does not believe that the Land is real and thus, he becomes the unwilling tool of the enemy who seeks to destroy it: Lord Foul the Despiser.

Three times, in their hour of greatest need, the peoples of the Land will summon him to their aid. Three times, as their reluctant leader, he will fail them.

Only at the end, as a victorious Lord Foul prepares to devastate the Land and enslave its people forever, will Thomas Covenant call on the wild magic he alone can wield – for a last, epic battle with the forces of evil…

Review:

The Illearth War is the second book in Stephen Donaldon’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. The series is an epic fantasy about the titular character, Thomas Covenant. He is a leper living in the modern day who finds himself transported to the wondrous world known as the Land. In the Land, he is looked up to as a hero, a second incarnation of Berek Halfhand, and believed to be the salvation against the evil Lord Foul who threatens to destroy everything.

The Illearth War takes place forty years after the events of the first novel, Lord Foul’s Bane. At least, forty years has passed in the Land; time flows differently in both worlds. Thomas Covenant finds himself brought back to the Land by the Lords of Revelstone. In the intervening years, Lord Foul has built up an army using the Illearth Stone, a powerful object that twists nature. In response to the events of the last volume, the Lords have built up an army of their own, the Warward. Covenant is summoned just before the onset of the war. The story also covers an expedition to discover the fate of the giants, and a journey to find the Seventh Ward of Kevin Landwaster.

One of my complaints about the last novel in this series is the characterisation of Covenant. He is incredibly self-absorbed, selfish, close-minded, obnoxious, and just irritating to read. He is not much better in this novel. I’d argue that he is one of the most frustrating character’s I’ve ever read about, and it really puts me off reading the rest of the series. His title of Unbeliever is well-earned; he doesn’t believe that the Land is real, and refuses to accept that he is the hero destined to save it. While this is an interesting concept, and makes him more of an anti-hero, his close-mindedness only serves to add frustrating stubbornness to the events.

Although Covenant is the protagonist, a third of the novel is told from the perspective of Hile Troy. He is another man from the real world, brought into the Land accidentally during a summoning that was intended for Covenant. In the five years since this summoning, Troy has become the Warmark, the leader, of the Lord’s army. The bulk of the war is told from his perspective. He was born blind, but the power of the Land enables him to see, and so he believes that the Land is real and worth protecting. This makes Troy a refreshing contrast to Covenant. He is still full if self-doubt, but that is more to do with his own ability to lead the army to victory, not about the realness of the Land he protects.

Another of the major characters is High Lord Elena. She is a product of Covenant’s last foray into the Land, and the main driving force behind Covenant’s eventual acceptance that while he is in the Land, he may as well do something. She is full of duty, wanting do to everything she can to help the Land, and she both loves and loathes Covenant. Their strange relationship adds another dimension to the novel, and she acts as an anchor for Covenant.

The pacing of the novel could be described as Tolkienesque; very slow, with frequent descriptions of how many days have been travelled, and talking heads discussing the next steps. While part of the novel’s charm is in the descriptions of the Land, the excessive padding doesn’t lend itself to the plot at all. There are really only three major events in the novel, and they take so long to get through that it becomes a bit of a slog. It’s a little better than the first novel, as it is more focussed and meanders less, but it’s still a tough read. There are exciting moments, however, and these moments have huge implications for the wider world of the Land. There is a lot of build up, and the outcome is almost worth it. Part of the issue of pacing is the amount of words dedicated to the moaning and moping of the main characters. The problem is that they think too much, and they tend to react in melodramatic ways.

The style is also reminiscent of Tolkien. Language tends to be flowery, with lots of descriptions of the surroundings. While this helps flesh out the Land, it often feels as though Donaldson had a thesaurus beside him while writing.

Overall, the novel is enjoyable. It has a wider scope than the last novel, and more epic and important things happen, despite the plodding pace. The characters are just as flat and frustrating as ever, but I think I will continue to read the series to discover the fate of the Land, and in the hope that Covenant’s attitude will eventually change.

Ratings:

Character: 6/10

Plot: 8/10

Style: 7/10

Overall: 7/10

Book Review: Queen of Sorcery

1 Oct
Queen of Sorcery

Queen of Sorcery

Title: Queen of Sorcery

Author: David Eddings

ISBN: 978-0-552-16834-2

First Published: 1982

Blurb:

The evil God Torak covets dominion over all men. If the stolen Orb of Aldur reaches him, he will surely gain what he desires.

Garion travels through strange lands with master sorcerors Belgarath and Polgara in frantic pursuit of the Orb. But as his own powers grow, Garion starts to realize that he too may have a part to play – a part his not sure he wants…

Review:

Queen of Sorcery is the second novel in David Eddings’ Belgariad series. It is a series with a fairly typical fantasy plot; an item of great power and importance has been stolen by the lackeys of an ancient sleeping god, and the main character and his motley band must travel across the world to retrieve it.

Garion, a young farmboy who also happens to be an orphan (I did say that this was typical fantasy fare) is swept up in the journey to find the orb by his Aunt Pol and Mister Wolf. The plot is episodic, with lots of small adventures happening along the way.

Each part of the novel takes place in a different country, each with its own problems and characteristics. This novel travels through the wartorn lands of Arendia, where rival lords are fighting over control of the country. It then goes into Tolnedra, where there is a succession war with lots of political intrigue (though not a huge amount of time is spent on this). Finally, the crew enters Nyissa, a swampy land where the people worship snakes.

The episodic nature of the plot lends itself to very fast pacing. Almost too fast. No single event feels particularly momentous, as there is very little build up, and the resolution to each conflict happens very quickly. Only the way each event affects Garion seems to lend itself to any kind of depth and evolution. Still, it is a fun romp to read.

There are elements of the plot that feel a little forced, especially when it comes to Garion’s burgeoning powers. The conflict that arises due to his powers growing could be alleviated if only his aunt explained things to him when he asked, rather than putting it off. It’s very frustrating that she says “we will talk of this later”, when it never happens. It’s also fairly obvious to the reader the true nature of Garion, so Pol putting off actually explaining things to him only serves to force the plot.

The characters that make up the party are, on paper, quite varied. However, there is very little distinction between their voices; every character sounds the same. At various points, a character in the party would speak, and only then would I remember that they are there. Though all the characters are bearable, and likeable, characterisation is not one of this novel’s strengths.

Eddings adopts a nice, storyteller’s style of writing. The language is usually fairly simple, and has the effect that the narrator is telling the story while sitting around a campfire. It’s a nice effect that gives the novel a more mystical and traditional feel.

Queen of Sorcery is a fun read that should particularly appeal to young fans of the fantasy genre. It does very little to break the mould, and clings to tradition in a comforting way. It has Tolkien-esque elements, but very little of the depth and epic qualities.

Ratings:

Character: 6/10

Plot: 7/10

Style: 9/10

Overall: 7/10

Book Review: In One Person

15 May
In One Person

In One Person

Title: In One Person

Author: John Irving

ISBN: 978-0-552-77844-2

First Published: 2012

Blurb:

A compelling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled over – tormented, funny, and affecting – and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Not least, it is an intimate portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself ‘worthwhile’. Beginning with his first love – an older, transgender woman – and including the classmates and lovers he will lose to AIDS, William Abbott makes an unforgettable statement about sexual repression in America.

Review:

I picked up this book not having heard anything about it. It was the author’s name that caught my eye. Back in college, I read The World According to Garp, and wrote a comparative essay about it, comparing it with Great Expectations. I really enjoyed the novel, and John Irving is also one of my dad’s favourite authors. The subject matter also captured my interest. And so began my journey into the life of William Abbott.

William Abbott is an interesting character. In the beginning of the novel, Bill is a young and nervous boy attending an all-boys school in a small town in Vermont in the 1950s. His nervousness, which manifests in a slight speech impediment, is mostly due to having “crushes on the wrong people”. The school psychiatrist invites all pupils with such impulses to speak with him, that he might be able to cure the affliction. Bill’s crushes are on the school’s star wrestler, the teacher who helps him with his speech impediment and, most importantly of all, on the librarian of the public library, Miss Frost.

After his eventual relationship with Miss Frost, Bill’s character changes completely. No longer is he a fearful, young teenager, but he becomes a forward, capable person who learns to defend himself both verbally and physically. It’s a strange thing to see this nervous boy change so quickly into a nearly confident man who is happy to go on an impromptu trip to Europe and move to New York. I say nearly confident, because Bill is still extremely introverted. He is still interested to learn about other people, but he focuses a lot on learning more about himself. Bill constantly gauges his own worth against others he meets, and it’s only at the end of the novel that he finally accepts himself as worth something to somebody.

The novel is told in the first person. The narrator is the future William, who states that he is in his seventies. All the scenes in the novel focus on his struggles with his own sexual identity, and how that relates to those around him. We learn about his family, and how his genetics might have impacted on his sexuality. We learn about the historical relationship between his mother and father at the end of WWII. We see him develop a few close friendships, and how his friends and classmates also struggle with their sexualities as they grow up. And later, we see him slowly lose his family to various causes, and how he loses many of his friends to the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. The AIDS outbreak in particular is heartbreaking to read, especially seeing how many people in Bill’s life are affected by it.

The novel is not without its sense of humour. I wouldn’t call it a comedy as such, since Irving deals with the subject matter very seriously, but there were some quips that made me laugh out loud. On the more serious side, Irving is very frank, going into a lot of detail about the symptoms of the AIDS patients, and into graphic detail in regards to Bill’s sexual encounters. But this lends weight and realism to the story, and adds impact to the overall message.

My biggest critique of the novel is that nearly every character that Bill encounters has a life-dominating issue with their sexuality. Perhaps Irving is stating that everybody has to struggle in some way with their sexual identities, but it felt a little unrealistic that every acquaintance Bill happened to make has their life altered by their sexuality. It grants great breadth of various sexualities across the spectrum, but still feels a little contrived to make every character LGBTQ.

Irving’s style is literary, and he makes frequent references to other novels. In particular, he references Great Expectations, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Madame Bovary and Giovanni’s Room. Great Expectations is the book that begins Bill’s path into a career as a writer. The local theatre and school theatre perform Ibsen and Shakespeare, with discussions between characters on how they deal with sexuality. Madame Bovary is a novel integral to Bill’s family history, and Giovanni’s Room is a book that helps Bill understand his own identity. These literary references help to add further weight to Irving’s political message.

And the greatest aspect of In One Person is its heartfelt message of the acceptance of various sexualities beyond mere tolerance. As I read the novel, I was forced to reflect on my own attitudes to the topic. It informs the reader about the struggles people go through in discovering themselves, as well as bringing to life the greatest struggle that LGBTQ people have faced in the battle with HIV and AIDS.

In One Person is a novel that teaches that a person’s worth does not lie in their sexual orientation, and for that, I can’t recommend it enough.

Ratings:

Character: 9/10

Plot: 8/10

Style: 9/10

Overall: 9/10

Book Review: The Wise Man’s Fear

12 May
The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man’s Fear

Title: The Wise Man’s Fear

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

ISBN: 9780756404734

First Published: 2011

Blurb:

So begins the tale of a hero told from his own point of view–a story unequaled in fantasy literature. Now in THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, Day Two of the Kingkiller Chronicle, an escalating rivalry with a powerful member of the nobility forces Kvothe to leave the University and seek his fortune abroad. Adrift, penniless, and alone, he travels to Vintas, where he quickly becomes entangled in the politics of courtly society. While attempting to curry favor with a powerful noble, Kvothe uncovers an assassination attempt, comes into conflict with a rival arcanist, and leads a group of mercenaries into the wild, in an attempt to solve the mystery of who (or what) is waylaying travelers on the King’s Road.

All the while, Kvothe searches for answers, attempting to uncover the truth about the mysterious Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. Along the way, Kvothe is put on trial by the legendary Adem mercenaries, is forced to reclaim the honor of the Edema Ruh, and travels into the Fae realm. There he meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist, and who no man has ever survived…until Kvothe.

In THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, Kvothe takes his first steps on the path of the hero and learns how difficult life can be when a man becomes a legend in his own time.

Review:

The Wise Man’s Fear is the second installment in Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. It depicts the second day of Kvothe’s dictation of his life story to The Chronicler.

Stylistically, the book is consistent with the previous novel, The Name of the Wind. Once again, Kvothe is in his humble inn in a small rural village. The novel switches between the present time in the third person, and Kvothe’s dictation of the past in the first person. Kvothe is a legend, apparently hiding from his past in his convincing disguise as a simple innkeeper, and this trilogy tells the whole truth of his rise to fame.

The plot of the novel picks up where the last book left off. Kvothe begins in the University, furthering his studies and is seemingly successful. His ban from the Archives is lifted, something which he has wanted for a long time. There are, however, other conflicts, particularly with Ambrose and with his moneylender. This part of the novel strikes me as very similar to the last novel, although the advancements in Kvothe’s studies and the increased conflict with Ambrose are exciting to read.

Kvothe leaves the University and begins an adventure in which he discovers more about himself. He befriends the Maer of Vintas, a very powerful man who is a potential patron for him. He helps in a mission to take care of a group of bandits who are killing tax collectors. This is easily the dullest part of the book since the group spends weeks searching. The only redeeming quality of this sequence is Kvothe’s new friendship with Tempi, probably my favourite secondary character in the novel. He meets Felurian, a legendary and dangerous faerie, and experiences his first sexual encounter with her. He trains with the Adem, Tempi’s people who are renowned for their fighting prowess. At the end of the novel, Kvothe returns to the University, which really feels like coming home for the reader. It’s nice to see Kvothe’s familiar friends again, as well as the familiar locations.

This novel is mostly about the growth of Kvothe from a young teenager into a man. One of Kvothe’s flaws is that he believes himself to be more worldly than he really is. This leads to him misreading signals and saying things that greatly offend others. He didn’t believe in Felurian until he came across her, believing her only to be a fairy story. The fact that she is real suggests that Kvothe’s own hunt for the Chandrian will be successful; the majority of people believe the Chandrian to be nothing but children’s stories. I especially enjoyed the Felurian encounter, since it is a modern take on older fantasy tropes, like those used by William Morris, Tolkien, and George MacDonald.

There are moments when conflicts seem to be resolved to quickly. He greatly offends his Adem teacher, and is threatened with his thumbs removed and his tongue cut out. Only two chapters later, however, they are back on speaking terms again. This, couple with the lack of danger since we know that Kvothe must survive in order to tell his story, reduces a lot of the potential tension. The only true tension about Kvothe’s fate lies in the events in the present day, since there is no guarantee that Kvothe will survive, and that it is repeatedly stated that he is “a man who is waiting to die.”

Rothfuss’s approach to sex is also a little unrealistic. Kvothe’s time spent with Felurian has them mostly going at it like rabbits. This over-exertion is often enough to kill Felurian’s victims, but Kvothe conveniently manages to combat her powers in a new awakening of his “sleeping mind”. It felt a little contrived. His sexual encounters with the Adem, who conveniently view sex simply as a practical way for men to reduce their anger (not even linking sex to pregnancy!), also feels a bit of an excuse to get Kvothe in bed with other women. I understand that the novel is about Kvothe’s growth into a man, but using sex a major force of this doesn’t feel right to me. The sex, however, is well-written and not overly cringe-worthy.

It’s Rothfuss’s writing style that makes this book a must-read to me. It is poetic and easy on the ears, and simpy a joy to read. His language made me forget about how little seems to happen for large swathes of the book, as I would often read it simply to enjoy the words themselves. This slowed me down a bit, since I took more time to enjoy how Rothfuss was writing, rather than rushing through to find out what happened next (though there was some of this too).

The Wise Man’s Fear is a worthy follower to the first novel, though some of the freshness I felt from The Name of the Wind was lost. The characters Kvothe encounters are all interesting and are well fleshed out, even though some of Kvothe’s abilities can seem a bit a contrived to me. But then again, he is a legend, and a lot of his renown amongst normal people is due to highly exaggerated tellings of the true story. I’m looking forward to the final novel in the trilogy. I’m a little worried about how long it will be, since there is still a large gap between the young Kvothe of the past, and the world-weary innkeeper of the present. And I still have no clue as to why the series is called The Kingkiller Chronicle.

Ratings:

Character: 10/10

Plot: 7/10

Style: 10/10

Overall: 8/10

Film Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

6 Jan

This may be a somewhat biased review of the film, since I am a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and love Tolkien lore. As such, please be aware that this review will have some rose-tinted opinions about the film, though I will try to be as impartial as possible.

I had high expectations for The Hobbit. Before I sat down in the cinema, I was a little worried that it wouldn’t live up to those expectations. Peter Jackson set the bar incredibly high with his Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I, like many others, was anticipating this film to be up there with them.

First of all, the technology. I saw the film in 3D, which was a nice change from the original trilogy. I still regard 3D as a gimmick peddled to make us cinema-goers pay a little more at the box office, but I don’t mind it per se. I enjoy how it gives films a little more depth, but I really hate it when producers and directors decide to throw in token things flying at the screen just to have that 3D experience. Fortunately, Peter Jackson only does this once, and it was a minor clip that I can barely even remember. The 3D, technology, along with the 48FPS filming, brought Middle-Earth to a crisper light. You could see all the lines on each actor’s face, along with each individual leaf and blade of grass that grew there. One side-effect of the higher image quality was that it was easier to distinguish what was cosmetic and what was real. One example that sticks in my mind from early on in the film is the costumes the horses wore. In a bid to make them look more like ponies (after all, they are ridden by dwarves and a hobbit), the horses were made to look hairier than they are. This was all well and good, except it was obvious that they were simply wearing furry coats. This took me out of the story momentarily, which is never a good thing. But overall, I enjoyed the crispness that the 48FPS filming creates, despite some of the swooping 3D scenes, especially CGI scenes, becoming blurry.

The story was strong for the most part. I enjoy the fact that the filmmakers fleshed out Thorin’s character a little more. It makes him a far more interesting character, and the scenes depicting the coming of Smaug to Erebor added weight and urgency to the entire quest. The dwarves are a people who have been displaced, and who are seeking desperately to take back their home. This theme is brought up again and again, compared with Bilbo’s uprooting from his comfortable life in Bag End.

However, there were moments where the flashbacks and added story felt tacked on or squeezed in. There is a moment where Bilbo asks Gandalf if there are any other wizards, and then Gandalf goes on to describe the five wizards of Middle-Earth, before the scene cuts to Radagast. The dialogue here felt a little forced, and it seemed as though the writers were trying a little to hard to crowbar in as much backstory as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning about the history of Middle-Earth, but the way the filmmakers did it was unsatisfying.

The frequent ties to the Lord of the Rings trilogy can also be somewhat jarring as well. Scenes including Frodo (a definite cameo) and Elrond (an important character in the novel, but whose appearance felt like a cameo) are a couple of examples. Even Rivendell felt like it was simply making a cameo appearance, rather than feeling integral to the plot of the film. It was times like this that made the film feel as though it was a piece of fan-fiction, trying its hardest to tie itself in with the Tolkien canon by bringing in familiar faces and places. The original trilogy of films was not entirely exempt from this, either. Bilbo’s trolls are not important to the story in Fellowship at all, but are pointed out by Sam. Cameos like this are an obvious attempt to tie the two trilogies together.

The growing presence of evil in Mirkwood, however, is interesting. It adds weight to how Sauron grew so powerful without really being noticed by the White Council (who make a brief appearance in The Hobbit). During this scene, Cate Blanchett is as ethereal as ever as Galadriel, and Christopher Lee performs as menacing a Saruman as he ever did in original trilogy. Sadly, the filmmakers seemed to enjoy making Galadriel turn around slowly to face the camera so much, that they had to do it twice. The first time was beautiful. The second was too obvious.

As for the characters and the acting. I thought Martin Freeman did a marvelous job as Bilbo. He is perfect for the role of a quiet hobbit forced into an uncomfortable and unexpected setting. Andy Serkis shone again as the schizophrenic Gollum. Gandalf is more mysterious in his motivations than before. I thought Radagast, played by Sylvester McCoy, was brilliantly done. He is an absent-minded woodsman with a love for all animals (except for spiders), and is a great contrast to Gandalf’s wisdom. The Goblin King, portrayed by Barry Humphries, was equally good, and one of the funnier characters in the film to watch. Perhaps it had something to do with me imagining him wearing elaborate cat eye glasses.

The dwarves, on the other hand, were a mixed bunch. Most were well-played, and showed the diversity of the race. True, dwarves are still portrayed as enjoying their food and drink (especially the overweight Bombur), but some showed wisdom, naivety, skill with bows, and honour. Thorin especially was great contrast to the comedic sidekick popularised by Gimli in the original trilogy. He is dark and brooding, regal and determined. Indeed, all the dwarves show this determination to retake Erebor, showcased by the dark song “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold”.

This brings me nicely onto the music. Once again, it is fantastic, and perhaps my favourite part of the entire film. The main motif appears again and again, different from that used in the original trilogy, but just as recognisable. I was still singing it in my head hours after I had gotten home. There are frequent snippets of music from the original trilogy, especially surrounding the Ring and Rivendell. My only concern was that the music for the Nazgul was used for the Pale Orc, which didn’t quite add up to me (though now I think about it, might indicate something about the Pale Orc).

The Pale Orc is an invention of the filmmakers to flesh out Thorin’s backstory and to create another antagonist for the film. It’s mostly well done, but feels like they were trying too hard to make this film more than just a film about a journey. It adds in the element of revenge that is used overmuch in films and stories for my liking.

Overall, however, the film was highly enjoyable. Even my boyfriend, who I dragged along to see it and definitely not a Lord of the Rings buff (he thought they were written recently, around the time of Harry Potter!), said that there was never a moment that he was bored. There may be moments where the majesty of the original films is lost in place of a fantasy quest like any other, but there are equally moments of beauty that make it a definite hallmark of Tolkien’s franchise. I highly anticipate the next film in the trilogy.

 

Book Review: The Name of the Wind

11 Dec
The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind

Title: The Name of the Wind

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

ISBN: 9780756404079

First Published: 2007

Blurb:

Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

Review:

I’m unsure of where to start reviewing this. The Name of the Wind is the first installment in The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy by American author, Patrick Rothfuss.

This the latest book I finished reading, and it has to be one of the most unusual fantasy novels I’ve ever read. The perspective starts out in the third person, where Kvothe is a simple (perhaps) innkeeper, but is approached by the Chronicler to record the story of his life. As Kvothe relates his tale, the novel changes to a first person account of the story. The reader soon learns that there is more to Kvothe than his facade as an innkeeper in a small town.

The plot is fairly simple, and perhaps quite standard of fantasy. A boy loses everything dear to him; his family, his friends, his way of life. He then sets out on a path for vengeance, hoping to learn as much as he can about those that destroyed life as he knew it. Of course, there is much hardship, such as him becoming a street urchin in a bustling city, learning to beg and steal and remain hidden from view. But he quickly aspires to something greater, and attempts to attend a renowned University. Along the way, he meets a few close friends, as well as his true love.

So, fairly standard fantasy fare. But it is the way Patrick Rothfuss tells his story that makes this book stand out above most others. His writing style is elegant and smooth, his pacing is spot on, and his characterisation brilliant. There is never a moment where I am bored of Kvothe’s musings, and part of what made me want to carry on reading the book is to learn how Kvothe gets from young thespian to his mysterious persona seen in the present. Of course, there is also the mystery surrounding the larger picture; who or what is/are the Chandrian? What do they want? Why are they here?

Kvothe is a fascinating character. He has a brilliant mind, able to remember and learn things at a fantastic rate. Rothfuss clearly relishes in writing from Kvothe’s intelligent perspective. In this novel, Kvothe’s powers are fledgling, but it becomes apparent that he is capable of great things. Part of the intrigue of the novel is learning exactly how powerful he might become. Music is also a huge part of his character, something to which I personally relate to. Kvothe personifies the loss of the resources required to make music.

There are interesting spins on generic fantasy tropes. Early in the story, we meet Abenthy, a wise old man similar to Gandalf or Dumbledore. But we quickly lose sight of Abenthy, and never learn a huge amount about him. Doubtless, we’ll be seeing more of him in the future, but he remains one of the guiding forces of Kvothe’s ambitions, and an integral part to his development as a character.

A dragon also makes an appearance, though it is different from stereotypical dragons. The dragons in Rothfuss’ world are more like cows; large lumbering beings that eat trees (a humorous explanation as to how they breathe fire), and with less intelligence than dragons typically have. They are more bestial than sentient, exhibiting instinctive behaviour rather than rational thought.

The magic system in the world is also an interesting one. Called “Sympathy”, it is based on links and cause and effect. For example, an Arcanist can use his own body heat as energy to light a candle. He can link the two objects, and transfer energy between them. Of course, using his own body heat runs the risk of hypothermia, so Sympathy is a strict, dangerous, but intuitive magic system.

A final note on the romance in the novel. Kvothe’s love interest, Denna, disappears and reappears several times throughout the narrative, and as a reader, I couldn’t help feeling a lot of sympathy for Kvothe as he attempts to track her down, and feeling elated when he finally bumps into her (again). The romance feels fresh, and never stilted or forced. Denna is a slippery character, but I couldn’t help liking her despite that, perhaps because I was biased by Kvothe’s own thoughts.

This review most probably sells this book far short of where I was aiming. The Name of the Wind is a fascinating read about a unique character set in an almost familiar fantasy world. I would recommend it to any readers interested in fantasy, and I personally look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

Ratings:

Character: 10/10

Plot: 9/10

Style: 10/10

Overall: 10/10

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