Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Yard

In my last post I mentioned that a book cover rarely sales me on a book.  I must be turning into a big fat sucker lately--or not lately... I usually don't need much of a reason to buy new books--because another cover caught my eye at the book store, and I purchased the book (on audile--sorry B&N).  If you're a fan of Sherlock, you'll enjoy reading or listening to The Yard--the debut novel by Alex Grecian.

The Yard tells the story of several detectives part of Scotland Yard's murder squad.  The setting is 1890's, shortly after the last of the Ripper murders.  London is still reeling from the horror of "Saucy Jack," and the citizens are all too willing to distrust the police's ability to protect them.  When more mysterious murders start happening--one of the victims a murder squad detective--everyone assumes the Ripper has returned.

The characters are fictional, though based on several real-life detectives.  One character--a doctor--is on the cutting edge of CSI theory, and amazes the detectives of the Yard with his analytical and deductive abilities.  It's easy to assume he is the Sherlock of the book, but the doctor doesn't do the actual investigating.  This is left up to two detectives, one an old-school veteran, the other a newbie.  Together, the newbie and doctor give us the Sherlock nod.  Also, there is a beat cop unwilling to let a case go unsolved.  Each of the threads are woven into each other by the end, if only a little too conveniently.  I was completely satisfied by book's end, though, despite a few hiccups.    

There were a few points of writing style that got on my nerve.  For example, when the point of view for the villain is given (third-person limited for the most part), he is referred to as the bald man.  Pointless, since no one would think of themselves this way, and if a name was given he would be as equally unknown to the reader as he is as the bald man.  His identity is revealed so early in the book that it is completely useless to do this little trick.  It was like Grecian had been told to hide his villain's identity from the reader to create suspense, but then decided halfway through to just tell us who the dude was.  Thing is, the suspense came from knowing who the villain was--seeing how close he was to the detectives--and seeing how it all played out with the police on his trail.  If the suspense was supposed to be not knowing who the villain was, there never should have been a point of view for him.    One other thing that seemed odd were a few interludes sprinkled randomly throughout the narrative.  The interludes gave a brief window into the past of three characters--one when a character was a child, and the other two only a few years before the beginning of the story.  I understand why the interludes existed--they are there for an extra view of the main characters.  Problem was that they didn't actually add anything to the narrative.  The information given could have easily been done with a simple paragraph of exposition for each.  I would have liked the interludes to matter more to the tale being told, and maybe a bit more structure as to how they were presented.

I enjoyed The Yard quite a bit.  The narration was excellent, the characters were fun, and industrial London is always an intriguing place to visit.  I would have liked more mystery, and a bit of a darker flavor, but all in all, I can say that it is a novel worth your time.  A sequel is scheduled for next year.

The Yard gets 4 out of 5 stars.    

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Prince of Thorns

It is very rare that a book cover will entice me to read a book.  I'm much more of a word of mouth/review-reader buyer.  Illustrations are nice and all, but I want someone to tell me why they liked a book.  For whatever reason, this wasn't the case with Mark Lawrence's debut novel.  The marketing department succeeded this time, however, and I knew I had to read Prince of Thorns because of a pretty cover.  I'm glad I did.  It was an excellent novel.  One every dark-fantasy fan should read.

Okay, I have to amend the above statement... just a bit.  See, beginnings are everything--I had to hook you with my opening.  Now that I have, I'll be honest.  The cover for Prince of Thorns never did it for me.  I saw the book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, and never even bothered picking it up--because the illustration is too... I don't know... graphic-novelish for my taste.  (Not to bag on graphic novels or their readers--I've just never gotten into them.)  But I did say that a cover caught my eye, which is why I put the cover for book two, King of Thorns, up as well.  I haven't yet read KoT, but holy crap!  That is an amazing cover!  Without knowing a thing about Lawrence and his series, I knew I had to read it after seeing that badass owning the throne on a pile of corpses.  

So the cover for book one didn't catch me, but the story and characters did.  The tale Lawrence spins is at times terrifying,  and then beautiful.  I almost feel guilty for liking the main character, Jorg, so much, because he is one hard bastard.  It's quite refreshing, though, to read about a character who is so honest--so brutal because his world has made him so.  In my mind, Jorg compares to Jaime Lannister from GRRM's series (Jaime is by far my favorite character in Martin's world).  Both are the toughest dogs in the yard, and both  do terrible things for gain.  Like Jaime, though, Jorg is deeper than his outward actions.  It takes knowing Jorg's past (which we receive in flash-back chapters) to understand him.  I don't know that understanding him means sympathizing with him, but I believed his arc because of his history.  Pulling this type of character off is no easy feat.  Mark Lawrence knows his business.  I can only stand with my mouth open that PoT is this guy's debut.

Prince of Thorns is the tale of Honorous Prince Jorg of Ancrath, told in his own words.  A brutal tragedy shapes his life at the young age of ten, and he sets off on a path of fire and blood to carve out his destiny in a post-apocalyptic Europe (I think about a thousand years in the future).  The setting is very medieval, with hints of our current civilization in decay.  There are sorcerers, necromancers, mutant-monsters, knights, whores, and blood.  

PoT reminded me of two series while I listened to it (besides Jorg's likeness to Jaime Lannister).  There's a lot of similarities with Stephen King's Dark Tower series (at least the first book, Gunslinger, anyway), and Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series.  The world in PoT reminded me of Roland Deschain's, while Jorg's telling of his story made me think of Uhtred of Bebbanburg.  Both are great comparisons to me.  If you're a fan of either series, you'll probably enjoy Lawrence's work.  

Well, I guess that's enough gushing.  You'll hear more from me on this series and author soon after I give a listen to book two.  (Here's hoping the audio is out the same day as the hardcover--only a couple of weeks away.)  Prince of Thorns gets 4 stars out of 5.  Go read it!   

-Also, check out Lawrence's post about how he became a published author.  It's quite inspiring.           


Monday, July 9, 2012

I write like...

Came across this fun tool to analyze your writing style on this blog.  Click here to see which famous author you are most like.  If I used text from my western fantasy, it said I am most like Lewis Carrol.  If I entered text from my dark, viking-esque fantasy I am more like Ursula K. Le Guin.  And when I used part of my YA space opera it said I was like Shakespeare.  Don't know that I believe any of it, but it's fun anyway!

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Amazing Spider Man

The Amazing Spider Man is, well... amazing.  It was a great movie--much better than the crap trilogy started ten years ago.  So far, it is the best superhero movie this year.  Go see it.  Enjoy it.  See it again.  They got all the beats right in this movie (although the murder of Peter's uncle seemed a bit of a rehash... would have been nice had they done something different with that, and I'm getting sick of New York City.  I hope Spider Man gets out of the Big Easy in his next outing, if only to chase a baddie down... be awesome to see him web-slinging across a different skyline for once).  This new film will make you embarrassed to even mention the Tobey Maguire series, like the Dark Knight and Clooney's horrendous Batman and Robin.

 I've only seen Andrew Garfield--the new spidey--in one other film (The Social Network).  He does a great job as Peter Parker, being more the rebel than geek.  And Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey walks circles around Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane.  Stone and Garfield have a chemistry on screen that Maguire and Dunst never even came close to.  I hope we get this new Spider Man Mary Jane free, because if Stone has to move over for some other chick, I'm gonna be ticked.  

The tone of this reboot is darker than before.  Like Batman Begins, it goes more in-depth to its main character, really trying to get at the root of what makes a superhero.  I felt the tone was ruined slightly by the very last scene, but I can't deny that it still put a smile on my face (no spoilers).  Parker learns through several tragic experiences that he has the responsibility to make the world a better place, and I think the writers got his character arc perfect in this movie.

The story never goes as dark as Nolan's Batman.  I wish it had--but I can live with where it is.  If The Dark Knight is the perfect adult superhero movie (which it is, though Watchmen and Kick Ass are a respective second and third), then The Amazing Spider Man is the perfect superhero flick for YA audiences.  Writers should pay attention to the smart try-fail cycles, the reversals, and pacing in this movie.  It was all spot-on.

That's all!