24 February 2016

Review: Paladin of Souls

Paladin of Souls Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit, first time I tried reading this book I did not get past the first dozen or so pages. The beginning of the story has a certain tediousness to it, and the author's prose, while good, doesn't have that quality that can make a pleasure of otherwise drab passages.

But this time around I resolved to push past that, and I was glad to do so. Mostly because Ista was a pleasure to read. The other characters were mostly entertaining, mind you, but it was Ista, her personality, her inner voice, her struggles and her history that captivated me.

If you read the first book you know more or less who she is, you know of her madness, etcetera.
What this book explores can best be surmised the following words:
“Once, she had been her parents' daughter. Then great, unlucky Ias's wife. Her children's mother. At the last, her mother's keeper. Well, I am none of these things now. Who am I, when I am not surrounded by the walls of my life?

And so Ista goes on a pilgrimage meant to escape this void that is her life, with no more plan than to stray as far as possible from those walls that had held her for so long and would still do so, even as they hold no meaning any more. And then, of course, things happen.

I usually enjoy stories with multiple points of view, but fortunately, we are never left to wander in the bland waters of less interesting characters' murky viewpoints here, though I admit I would have liked to learn more about Jojen, be it by visiting her viewpoint or somehow else. I really did not fancy her resolution at all.

But that is a safely minor point in the grand scheme of things.

Carrying on, one thing I would advice people is to not worry about where everything is going. This is, more than anything else, a character-driven story and the travel is in a way the destination. (not that there isn't a very real and satisfying destination at the end, but you get the point. Hopefully) I say this because things can feel a little bumbling and a little random at times, but I think it is safe to say that by the end everything will be accounted for, and there's really nothing that happens without a particular reason or to set up something for later on. So read on, and enjoy!

Prose: 3/5
Not the best fantasy writer in terms of prose, but not the worst either. People who shy away from the more elaborate and wordy fantasy authors are probably going to like her style much more, though.

Pacing: 3/5
It was decent enough, specially after things were established.

Plot: 4/5
The plot by itself is not the greatest thing ever, but in execution it is made very enjoyable by the vividness of its main character.

World-building: 3/5
I've honestly never become too invested in the world in which the stories take place. We never really get to know it too terribly well, and are only ever afforded a few scant details about it. Half-tempted to give it two stars instead of three, really.

Characterisation: 5/5
If you've read this far, then this should not come as a surprise. The definite jewel of this books is Ista's characterisation thorough. And she in turns make the whole of the book interesting. So of course she gets a five out of five.

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15 February 2016

Review: The Silence of Medair

The Silence of Medair The Silence of Medair by Andrea K. Höst
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I cannot truly overstate how much I enjoyed this story(and by this book, I mean both The Silence of Medair and Voice of the Lost)

It is not often when I find a book that neatly reunites so many things I enjoy in such a spectacularly well-done whole. Beautiful prose? Check. Attractive characters? Check. Interesting world-building? Check!

Captivating story? Oh boy!

Its a very interesting premise, really. Our heroine, seeing her homeland about to be overrun by invaders, undertakes a mystical quest, and actually succeeds against all odds in finding the mystical muffin. Except, sure of her victory, instead of hurrying back home with her prize, she makes the most fatal, and yet the most innocuous-seeming mistake of overstaying her welcome in the muffin factory, with the end result of emerging 500 years too late to actually fulfil her mission.

It sounds deceptively simple, but the author makes an excellent work of exploring every last one of the intricate nuances of this mishap, and in a supremely engaging way too. How do you live with yourself knowing that you had the keys to save your world and way of life from the invaders warring unexpected war with your nation, and that you botched it in the most unbearably stupid of ways? This and over equally interesting issues are constantly explored in the story as Medair struggles again and again to come to terms with the catastrophic proportions of her failure.

She is caught, understandably, in a present that abruptly becomes a 500-year old past. But what really quicks the history on is that she is not the only one unable to let the past, or her, be.

Medair is, for many reasons, the most developed character in the story, but the author does a very good job of fleshing and texturing the whole cast, and you never really feel you are wasting your time when any one character is in the lime-light. You might, however, regret every minute you are not reading or learning more about a particular few, but that just goes to prove you can be damned for being too good.

The above being said, I do have some grievances. The story never quite satisfyingly concludes a few scattered and relatively minor threads that I would have liked elaboration. Most of those pertain to the pseudo second book, (view spoiler) But such things are not enough to mar just how much I enjoyed every last page of this and how much I hung on every letter as the story neared its end

Really, just stop reading reviews and go get it. Just remember, its two books, but it is definitely and most assuredly a single story.

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7 February 2016

Review: The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I do not know how to rate this book. In some ways, it feels not so much as a novel but as fan-fiction. What I mean is that it leans very much on the Iliad to be enjoyable. In a way, I suppose thats part and parcel of wanting to explore an already established setting with a novel like this, with wanting to fill the blanks and the like, but I can't help but feel that a tighter plot would have made this go from entertaining to excellent.

Also, Patroclus' constant fawning over Achilles, while fitting, also felt very tiring at times. The whole book, really, felt somewhat too ti ring at times, sometimes going very slowly in scenes that would have been best skipped over, while other times being very sparse on scenes that I think would have been best explored in detail.

One such scene, or number of scenes, really, that I think we could have done without were the ones concerning Patroclus before he met Achilles. While they do serve to establish his character in an useful way for the rest of the book, they were also supremely uninteresting to read. I think, in general, that the tale could have started later, and used other plot points, or even recollections for that particular purpose.

Conversely, there were a number of scenes that could have been longer. Those coming after (view spoiler), specially. The book falls into a sort of awkward fast-forwarding summary-style narration (still in the voice of Patroclus) that I really dislike.

Its like some authors think that after the climaxing point of the story people are just itching to discard the book. While in a way that might be true, tying things up properly is as important as everything else, and that includes making the reading of it interesting as well.

The above being said, I did enjoy the book. I rather liked Patroclus' intimate way of narration, and the style of prose employed in general was very fitting for the book. My favorite parts, however, were probably the sad ironies and the little bits and pieces that I suppose could be called foreshadowing, except I can't imagine anyone reading this who has not read the Iliad first.

Would I recommend the book? Perhaps. To someone who enjoyed the Iliad and enjoyed reading fan-fics and who considered himself or herself a romantic at heart.

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1 February 2016

Review: La clave está en Rebeca

La clave está en Rebeca La clave está en Rebeca by Ken Follett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Muy pocas veces se encuentra uno con libros cuyos personajes, aun estado en bandos enteramente opuestos, resultan ser igual de atractivos e interesantes de una forma tal que el lector termina deseando un desenlace al menos feliz para ambos, en lugar de decidirse enteramente por uno u otro lado.

En este caso, me pase la mayor parte del libro deseando tanto la victoria de Vandam y la de Alex. En realidad, el personaje de Alex fue para mi mucho mas atractivo y complejo que el de Vandam, y me decepciono bastante que ya cerca del final del libro el autor pareciera repentinamente decidido a destruirlo (o tratar de pintarlo bajo una luz enteramente negativa sin los matices grises que había usado al principio). Creo que esto fue una jugada baja que le resto mucho impacto el libro. (view spoiler)

Otra cosa que me incomodo bastante fue el repentino uso del 'monologo interior' por parte de Wolf, Billy, y Elene. Sin duda ese par de paginas fueron las mas difíciles de leer de toda la novela por ser tan completamente diferente del resto.

Argumento: 3/5
Prosa: 3/5
Ritmo: 4/5
Caracterización: 4/5
Marco: 4/5

Total: 3.6/5

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26 January 2016

Review: La reina estrangulada

La reina estrangulada La reina estrangulada by Maurice Druon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

En verdad me es un poco difícil darle una puntuación justa a este libro. Por una parte es definitivamente entretenido, con una prosa que da gusto leerla. Por otro lado, ningún personaje realmente llega a ser interesante, ninguna parte de la trama particularmente memorable. El libro termina, en cierta forma, tal y como empieza, empujando tu atención y nada mas. Al final no termina siendo muy diferente a una muy particular clase de historia.

Es tal vez, por esto, que no encuentro nada en particular que decir en los apartados de argumento, ritmo, y marco (world-building).

Argumento: 3/5

Prosa: 4/5
Si la caracterización (O falta de) es donde mayor cae la novela, la prosa es sin duda la parte que mas la levanta. El autor realmente poseía una gran facilidad para atrapar con su prosa, para hacer reir, para disminuir a un mínimo los momentos tediosos. Por esto, mas que por nada mas, la recomendaría a cualquiera que tuviera intereses en el periodo que abarca o en la ficción histórica en general. Es entretenida. Lastimosamente, no llega a mucho mas.

Ritmo: 3/5

Caracterización: 2/5
El fallo mas grande del libro, creo, es en cuanto a la caracterización. Todos los personajes se sienten mas como si fueran distintas mascaras de una misma persona. A excepción, tal vez, del Artois, ninguno es memorable, ninguno, en realidad, se siente como si fuera un personaje de verdad. Mas que muchas otras novelas, esta me hizo sentir que los personajes no eran mas que algunas palabras que se repetían cada cierto tiempo en el texto.

Marco: 3/5

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24 January 2016

Review: Broken Banners

Broken Banners Broken Banners by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, before I get into this review, I have a confession to make: Despite this being the second entry in a series, I haven't actually read A Reaper of Stone yet. In some ways, this makes for an unfair review, but as the story is also rather self-contained, with but a few hints of what comes next to wet one's curiosity, it does not matter too terribly much, I think.

Prose: 3/5
As far as prose goes, I think it was solid, if not particularly inspiring. For the most part it was good enough to tell the story it wanted to tell without drawing too much attention to itself, but there were a few places where it felt a little drab and lacking. Somewhat cut and dry. The best that it could be said is that it certainly matched the snowy, mountainus setting.

Pacing: 3/5
This, too, felt solid. However, I find there really wasn't enough difference between some of the viewpoint character to warrant going from the head of one to the head of another when they were both in the same place. I honestly think the novel could have done completely without Con, as Aldis and the female lead were clearly the more interesting characters, and more time in their head-space (specially Aldis') could only have been a good thing

Plot: 3/5
While the plot in itself was interesting enough (specially with that first Aldis chapter and the subsequent drive to know what happened to him), I think the previously-described drabness of the prose sabotaged just how much more impact it could have had if things had been better described and we had been allowed to dwell just a little longer in the world, seeing things just as the characters saw them, instead of getting what felt like a skimmed-through version. Also, the resolution felt a little cheap and anti-climatic. Perhaps my opinion is skewed because of not having read the first instalment like I said (and perhaps after I read it I will feel better about this) but the mountain-power thing feel ridiculously deux ex machina-ish.

Characterisation: 3/5
Aldis and the female lead were nice enough, but the rest of the cast was just barely there. However, the one reason I give this a three instead of a four is merely because of how much of a disappointment the main villain was.

World-building: 2/3
Something else that is probably also being affected from me not reading the first instalment. However, I believe there could have been explanations, at the very least, for what Razors are. I mean, sure, you might have explained that in the first book, but even an oblique, passing half-reference to the nature of their powers or something to that effect could have helped.

Overall: 3/5
I feel like I said a lot of negative things with very few nice ones, however I think this series has promise, if the authors can polish their style a little more. The book was definitely an entertaining read, specially since it was so short, but part of me can't help but feel I would have enjoyed it even more if it had been longer and more thoroughly explored in all the right ways.

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21 January 2016

Review: Here be Dragons

Here be Dragons Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After not writing a review for so long, I am afraid I must again learn to organize my thoughts and to set them down in an enjoyable or at least informative manner. I am not quite there yet, and s o this might feel more than a little stilted and awkward (not helped by the fact that English is not my native tongue.) In any case, I apologize. To help myself a bit, I went back to organizing my ideas regarding five different aspects:

Prose: 5/5 stars
If there is one thing that initially caught and charmed when I first started reading this book, it was its prose. The way scenes, inner thoughts, and historical snippets were written was truly marvellous and a pleasure. if there were times when I tired of the book and put it away, it was never because of any technical fault or flaw in the writing.

Pacing: 2/5 stars
If the book has an enemy, I think it is its own pacing. The constants jumps from scene to scene, from year to year were tiresome and jarring and usually forced me to put down the book for a while. I suppose this might have been to keep in hand with known dates and events, perhaps. In keeping with the historical part of this history But if so, I think I would have preferred more vagueness, more drawing upon her own imagination and less keeping in fact with reality, because in my opinion it is the one thing that makes the book rather tedious to read.

Plot: 3/5 stars
From reading the synopsis, one might expect the story to centre immediately upon Joahnna and Llewelyn's joint troubles. For better and for worse, this only happens after we get a sizeable number of pages introducing us to the lives of the three big players: John, Joahnna, and Llewelyn. This is not terrible, by any means. It works specially well in the case of John and his daughter, but it can nonetheless feel plodding at times.

Characterization: 4/5 stars
I can honestly say I've seldom had more fun with a novel's characters. From the first they always feel very much alive and vibrant. My only qualm, as I mentioned during the reading, is the way we are often treated to more than one character's inner thought in any one scene. The switching about is awkward and jarring, even if it never gets outright confusing. I can understand why the author did this- specially when one more than one character were thinking the same while expecting the worse from each other, as it fuelled these scenes with poignancy and irony and the like, but I think I would have liked it better if she had kept to one's character head per scene, or per chapter or very much anything else but this awkward juggling.

World-Building: 5/5 stars
Not much to say here, except that the world feels as lively and genuine and well-crafted as the characters. It certainly feels consistent with itself, and with what I know of the period (which is admittedly not much, as while I love history, I am far from an expert on it). It was certainly an interesting and realistic window into a much romanticised period.

Overall: 4/5
All things considered, the book is a joy to read. It has its small number of flaws, certainly, but the positives far outweigh the negatives, and if you forgive the slow beginning, I can assure you that you are going to get completely caught up in the story it tells. You will sheer, and you will cringe, and you will stare in abject horror, because in the end it is just that good of a book.

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