Book Review: Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

Wild Seed (Patternmaster, #1)Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

What a fascinating book. I read Mind of My Mind first, where I met the main characters here, but as that was not their story, they did not have much depth. Reading Wild Seed, it made me somewhat disappointed that they did not have as much to do in the sequel, but as the book progressed, I came to appreciate their diminished roles in Mind of My Mind since their story was told so completely here.

The first striking thing about this book is that it takes place during the time of slave ships where tribes were kidnapping and selling their neighbours. Doro took many of these slaves for his little breeding project, but never treated them as other slaves were treated. But they were no less slaves. Through fear and/or reverence he controlled them. More often than not, his people loved him for what remains almost inexplicable reasons.

Meanwhile, Anyanwu, semi-immortal like Doro, becomes one of his people – as much as it is possible for Doro to tame the “wild seed” that she is.

Again, there is an all-mother/father theme, but one that is far different from what Mary creates in Mind of My Mind. Again, too, the notion of good and evil is forced on you. Is Doro evil for what he does? Is Anyanwu evil for allowing it?

In the end, I came to the realization that this book was, in fact a love story. A strange and twisted romance that crosses every taboo subject regarding sexuality, humanity, loyalty, propriety, marriage…

6deec-5stars

Advertisements

Book Review: Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Kiss (Moirin Trilogy, #1)Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey

I’ve read the original Kushiel Trilogy three times, but haven’t been able to finish the last book in the series involving Imriel de la Courcel. I’ve had Namaah’s Kiss sitting beside my bed for well over a year and finally decided to pick it up and was instantly swept back into that world. Carey’s writing is so elegant and her ability to paint a picture with her words is undeniable. Of course, I could be biased because I already know the world and most of its history, but I don’t believe a new comer would be lost.

This trilogy begins many generations after the events of the last six books, which makes it a refreshing return for me. The histories of many events and people are often mentioned, but only in a way to quietly remind old readers and to subtly inspire new ones to seek them in their entirety.

Once again, we have a main character, Moirin, who is an outcast, but unlike Phedre and Imriel in the past, she is not a victim. She has grown up knowing unconditional love, which serves to guide her in finding her destiny as much as the various gods of her heritage do.

The blurb for this is misleading. It implies great adventure, but in fact, Moirin does not embark on the mage/warrior-princess/dragon-filled epic until almost 500 pages in. That leaves 500 pages where Carey artfully defines her character and all the intricate relationships and political intrigue of Terre D’Ange.

When it comes time to depart for Ch’in, the departure is just as jarring for the reader as it is for Moirin. Here it was a slightly less compelling read because of this, perhaps. Whereas with Kushiel’s Dart, the heroine’s journey climaxes in a war where we already know the setting and the people, here, it is slightly more difficult to appreciate these new characters and what is at stake.

Still, despite a somewhat disappointing ending because of the disconnect, it is still enough to entice me to read on…

679d6-new3stars

Book Review: Mind of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler

Mind of My Mind (Patternmaster, #2)Mind of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler

This was a surprisingly short read, which I picked up as part of the Seed to Harvest series, but have read before Wild Seed.

I’m not sure what I ultimately expected, but what was there was a bit of a let down. There were many themes and issues raised, but none truly pursued. Most notably so was the issue of race. For the most part, characters physical appearances were only vaguely described. Most times, when we came to know someone was Black, it was because Mary was making a comparison or wishing/pleased someone was so (ie wanting to know why Doro had chosen a White husband for her, or being pleased that Doro appeared to her in a Black body). Rachel’s race is introduced as a non sequitur that serves no further purpose but to add to Jan’s “Oh god, niggers,” comment later (we learn earlier that Jan is racist when a Black boy happens past her and therefore we assume she is White, as there does not seem to be any other option but Black or White).

Later, Emma angrily raises the issue of non-telepaths being referred to as “mutes,” which she compares to “niggers.” Beyond her brief tirade, this is not addressed again beyond the obvious comparison of mutes being used as slaves to the Patternists (though here, the mutes are all very content and mistreatment by Patternists is punished). Emma’s tirade is particularly hypocritical since she is as much a slave to Doro as all the rest of Doro’s children whom he keeps in line with violence and threats of death.

Overall, this was a very disturbing theme. The notion that one man is working to breed people with super human powers, particularly telepathy. Those who are failed experiments are left to die, while the successes eventually come together thanks to Mary, who is Doro’s ultimate success and thereby becomes his ultimate rival. Between the two of them, there are thousands of people running around the country with the ability to control minds, or inflicting horrible violence against others because they can’t control their own minds. Apparently, domestic violence is caused by this lack of control in active and latent telepaths.

There is an attempt to offer a mother/father juxtaposition, where Doro is the cruel male figure whom his children love, though they know he cares nothing for them and would quickly kill them. Mary is the mother figure whom we assume is the representation of nurturing, but in fact, while she displays much greater conscience than Doro, she’s most certainly not a Mother Theresa figure.

One thing I did appreciate was the fact that there was no good vs. evil. Doro might have been considered an evil worthy of destruction, but how much of Mary could truly be considered “good?”

758dc-new3stars

Book Review: Supergods by Grant Morrison

Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being HumanSupergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison

This book is a wealth of information and insight on the industry that even includes suggested further reading and a thorough indexing. The book inspired many interesting discussion points for my book club, but while I appreciate Grant Morrison’s passion for comics, Grant Morrison’s passion for Grant Morrison and his industry biases were quite clear.

This was a difficult read, mainly because of the writing itself. It is clearly written by someone used to having his words quickly translated into images. Without the images here, he was overcompensating and it began to seem as though he fell in love with all the words on his screen, reviewing each sentence, adding some more adjectives, then duplicating each sentence and switching in some synonyms.

Occasionally, his descriptions were aided by comic covers or pages. I would likely have less issue with the writing had this been written into a coffee table format book that included more images.

It is important to note that most of the images that did appear were from DC Comics, the company and characters which dominate the book, making it clear who’s side Morrison is on.

The book is subtitled, “What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human,” which is addressed initially, mostly through Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, but this focus is eventually lost, with the second half of the book focusing instead on Grant Morrison. It turns out, this is actually an autobiography (and blatant promotion of past and upcoming works) that, as a friend noted, probably didn’t have enough to make a full book, so add the comic history… To his credit, Morrison did manage to make it through over 100 pages before pointing out how successful Arkham Asylum was and remains, but by the second half of the book, entire chapters are dedicated to his works and his trials and tribulations with Marvel and a clear bitterness towards Image (though his description of Image characters, artistry and books is apt).

He did manage to speak with initial kindness towards Marvel and its earlier creations, with a surprisingly pithy description of the X-Men. Later, when he goes into his time on New X-Men, he at least shows some level of humility in terms of the criticism his storylines received.

48642-new2stars

Book Review: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

As a sequel of sorts to American Gods and based on word of mouth that told me that this was very much unlike the much darker predecessor, I wasn’t sure what to expect, although, anything centred around Anansi promised to be charming.

The book started rather slowly with an intentionally boring character, Fat Charlie Nancy, who’s greatest stress was an embarrassing father, something many a teenager can sympathize with. Knowing what we know of his father, the trickster god Anansi – which Fat Charlie did not learn until his father’s death – made the dull circumstances of Charlie’s life oddly compelling as, at some point it was certain that things would change. Change came in the form of his brother, Spider, who was very much Charlie’s opposite and proceeded to take over Charlie’s life, literally, with everyone falling in love with Spider, including Charlie’s fiance.

From there, the story continued on a reasonably expected path, with Charlie growing increasingly upset with his brother’s infiltration, until suddenly, the mythology of the Anansi stories and the reality truly came crashing together in odd and unpredictable ways that resulted in a book that I’m adding to my favourites list, if only for the strange smile it left me with.

I’ve known Anansi stories, but some how, I won’t look at spiders the same way again. Charlie and Spider are fascinating characters and their twisted relationship with each other and with their father is frustrating and endearing at the same time.

I understand now why Neil Gaiman is a favourite among fans. His imagination is immense and enjoyable. His reimagining of mythologies is impressive. Special consideration for the accurate portrayal of delightful old Jamaican ladies!

66dea-new4stars

Graphic Novel Review: Eat the Dead by Siddharth Kotian

Eat The Dead by Siddharth Kotian Last night while gaming with friends, I read this during moments in our mission where people were leveling or working on adding enhancements to their character before moving on to our next missions. The story took place in India and played around with the Aghoris.

If you’re not familiar with them, they’re followers of Shiva who believe everything is sacred, everything comes from “God.” They’re known for their cannibalism. They eat corpses because they believe that keeps them in touch with “God” and that it helps them to transcend their earthly body and keeps them in touch with the universal mind. Other than that, they’re vegetarians. I knew this before I read the book because I have intense interest in theology and the beliefs of people. And it was cool to see it in the comic.

I think Kotian did a very good job of explaining the Aghoris. And this book had a great premise surrounded around the Aghoris and the fate of five strangers who (most of them unaware, except one) are trying to “better their karma” by breaking a negative karmic circle that they began together in a former life hundreds of years ago. But because it was a one shot the story suffered greatly. It just wasn’t meant to be a one-shot, in my opinion.

The descriptions of the the Aghoris and a creature called the Adrika were well-written. However, you don’t get a chance to care about the characters like you ought to, and these were characters you definitely needed to know more about, especially Joel, for this story to be as gripping as it could’ve been. In other words, it would’ve benefited from being more than a one-shot. (And that bitter ex-boyfriend hate text that Raj wrote could’ve been taken out because we got he hated his girlfriend for breaking up with him. Something else could’ve filled that space… LOL)

Some one-shot horror comics work, but there was too much going on this for me to feel completely satisfied with it. So even though I said I’d give it a 2.5, it’s on the lower end of that. a8c10-new2-5stars

Book Review: Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Simply put, this is a vampire novel. A young boy who shows repressed homicidal tendencies befriends a vampire named Eli, a friendship that forces his whole world to change. I’m sure everyone knows that by now, but unlike so many vampire novels today, there’s nothing sparkly or darkly seductive about this world. It’s evil, twisted, and ugly.

The ugliness of it all is what made this compelling. This is a fairly fast-paced read despite the page count, crafted so well. The story makes you want to keep turning as you read about horror after horror, defeat after defeat. And yes, in some of this, you do feel a sense of triumph when bad things happened to the characters who “deserve” it in this book.

I wanted to say that the characters in this novel have few redeeming qualities, but while some of these characters are truly disgusting human beings, most of them are just people struggling against poverty, alcholism, and other real world problems. Their lives become so entwined with each other because of Eli. You do manage to feel some sympathy toward some of the characters, but that doesn’t take away from the ugliness of this story.

3fe53-new4stars

Book Review: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

Christine Lucas, the protagonist of this psychological thriller, has a problem. Years ago, an accident robbed her of her ability to retain day-to-day memories. Each night, her mind erases everything when she goes to sleep, and most days when she wakes, she is unable to remember anything past her young adult years. Her husband Ben is a stranger beside her in the bed she wakes up in every morning, and she is unfamiliar with the middle-aged face she sees in the mirror, still believing herself to be in her early 20s.

Ben does his best to help her cope, keeping her grounded by guiding her through each day with photos, scrapbooks and patience. Then one day, Christine discovers she has been working secretly with a doctor, who has been encouraging her to document each day in her journal. Using it to piece together daily events, she discovers there is more to her past, a past that her husband may have been keeping from her. What do you do when the only person you can trust is only telling you half the story? What can you believe when you don’t even trust your own memories?

Before I go to Sleep is like 50 First Dates meets Memento, a dramatic tale that very quickly transforms into a suspenseful, psychological thriller. It is hard to believe this is a debut novel, since beneath the twists and turns lies a very complex theme, a darker truth that many would find difficult to think about. If what makes a person is their lifetime of memories, who are we if we can’t recall our lives or even ourselves? Not being able to remember anything is a scary thought. On the one hand, while painful or disturbing memories can be abandoned each night, so will the memories of all the happy times and of those you love. It’s a little bit like dying every night, and when I really think about it, I can’t help but sympathize with Christine even more.

Given the premise of the novel, I was really curious as to how the author would handle the narrative. Not surprisingly, I found it a little awkward and confusing, but it was nonetheless well executed and better than I had hoped. After a while, I started getting used to the style and structure, and decided in the end that it was the best possible way to tell this story in light of the challenges it presents.

I thought this was a good mystery novel, with a very emotional build up to a startling and explosive conclusion. The only problem with this is that sometimes, I felt like the book was genre-confused, not knowing whether or not it wanted to be a heartfelt drama, or a suspenseful thriller. In the end, I guess it is a little bit of both. If I had known this beforehand, I probably would have liked this book even more, but as it is, I often found myself perplexed with its pacing while I was reading. Some parts of the beginning and middle felt a bit slow, while the ending was anything but.

Still, Before I go to Sleep succeeds at being an entertaining and enjoyable read. It is probably one of the more original stories I’ve read so far this year, and more thought-provoking than I expected.

90b91-new3-5stars

Graphic Novel Review: Kingdom Come by Mark Waid

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid

Never have I respected Superman as much as I did after reading this comic. Superman and I have a rocky relationship. I have never been a big fan of his because he’s just too perfect. And I have a hard time caring for perfect characters. I won’t go into that rant again. This isn’t about that.

This is set in an AU (alternate universe). Superman has retreated to solitude after a hero named Magog is acquitted of killing Joker—who went on a killing spree in Metropolis, a bender that resulted in Lois’ death. When humanity expresses that Magog is where superheroism should go, Superman leaves them to that, seeming to lose quite a bit of faith in people.

Shortly thereafter, humanity learns that heroes left unchecked terrorize the just and the unjust alike and aren’t too different from the “villains.” They only care about fighting and destroying what they personally perceive as threats to the people (such as one “hero” attacking immigrants), much of which is personal prejudices and biases.

Then, Wonder Woman appeals to Superman to come back after a devastating battle between the “good” guys and the “bad” guys leaves Kansas in ruins and millions dead. Reluctantly, Superman returns, but things don’t go as smoothly as hoped when he’s faced with opposition from this new school of heroes, enemies, and even old allies, namely Batman.

This seemed to be a commentary on old school superhero comics versus today’s ultra-violent, grim “heroes” who seem more intent on destroying half the city than saving human lives with Superman representing how heroes used to be and Magog representing these new “heroes.”

I thought it was interesting (and superb storytelling) that the story isn’t told from any of the heroes’ point of views. Instead, the story is told by Norman McCay, a minister and a friend of Sandman who has “inherited” Sandman’s powers after his death. McCay is struggling with his faith and, like Superman, has lost some faith in humanity. Before his death, Wesley Dodds (Sandman) had apocalyptic visions that most people thought were the result of senility. He passed these visions on to McCay.

A being known as Spectre uses McCay to bear witness to the madness unfolding between the heroes and tells him that he must ultimately pass judgment on them, to decide who is right and who is wrong, a decision that proves difficult because both sides start making rash decisions in this “war.”

And while logically, readers know that Magog is wrong (and even that plays interestingly into the story), you can’t say the old school heroes are completely “right” either. Some of them, such as Wonder Woman, have their own reasons behind that fight as well, causing them to be as brutal and decisive as the new heroes. And you can even somewhat see the new heroes reasoning for their actions.

Superman is presented very human here, making it hard for me to hold a grudge against him. He’s a man who has lost a lot, and even though he won’t admit it, he’s living in some kind of bubble that filters out the rest of the world. He reluctantly comes out of retirement and makes tough decisions, while questioning if this is really what it’s come to.

And the ending, wow. I actually got a little misty-eyed there, and I’m not even that familiar with Shazam or his exploits. And the art really was able to pull out a lot of emotion in this story. It was breathtaking, enhancing an already well-written tale. Overall, this was a great read. Definitely goes on my favorites list.

39dec-5stars

Book Review: Hexed by Kevin Hearne

Atticus O’Sullivan lives an interesting life. On the surface, he’s an ordinary young man, making his living as a New Age book store/tea shop owner in Tempe, Arizona. In actuality, Atticus is a 2100-year-old druid, the last of his kind.

Just weeks after his harrowing run-in with an ancient Celtic god who was trying to kill him, Atticus’s life is threatened again — only this time, the bad guys are a coven of dangerous witches with a dark past, and they’re going after his friends too. And as if that wasn’t enough, a fallen angel is eating students at a local high school, Bacchants have come to town to wreak havoc and debauchery, and an angry albeit sexy Celtic goddess is setting fire to his kitchen. What is a druid to do?

Hexed is a fun, charming and worthy follow-up to the first book. All the action and humor that made Hounded such a great read is back for this second installment.

That said, so are the things I wasn’t so keen on. First let me just say that I like the fact that Atticus is different, and that he doesn’t act the way you’d think a 2100-year-old protagonist should. Still, for someone so ancient, he remains disappointingly shallow. For the most part, I enjoy his frat boy humor and his attmempts to make light of a situation with references to pop culture, but the old adage “too much of a good thing” comes to mind. The ironic thing is, it starts making Atticus feel less realistic to me and more fabricated. Perhaps when you start acting more modern and cracking more geek jokes than any other contemporary urban fantasy protagonist out there, it might do to dial things down a bit. I for one would love to see more of his millennia old wisdom come through just a little more.

The story, while enjoyable, also felt less coherent than the last one. Just like Hounded, Hexed was great in that its plot was made up of multiple threads, each action-packed and interesting in their own way, but it didn’t come together as well as I’d hoped. Reading it almost felt like reading three separate short stories that were related, but didn’t tie together very smoothly.

One thing I did like was seeing more of Atticus’s problem solving process. A criticism I had about the last book was how he seemed too powerful to ever be in any real danger, thus removing some of the element of suspense. In Hexed, however, some of his weaknesses came to light. He is still very powerful, but there were more situations in which he found himself with his back against the wall in very real trouble, or needed some help or rescuing from a friend. It shows some of his resourcefulness, and you start to gain an understanding of how he was able to survive and adapt for so long.

All in all, a good book and a decent sequel, and I’m looking forward to picking up the third installment. Recommended for fans of urban fantasy who are looking for some fun, light reading.

90b91-new3-5stars