Welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday, and we’re back to the format of olde thanks to finishing the previous books up and starting some new stuff up. I have three reviews this week, so obviously a lot has been going on. Let’s dig in.
This week I’ll review C.S Friedman’s Black Sun Rising, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and Bioshock: Mind in Revolt, the Bioshock Infinite tie-in by Joe Fielder. I’ll also talk some about Jayde Scott’s A Job From Hell and The Great Cholesterol Myth by Stephen Sinatra and Johnny Bowden.
Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…
Black Sun Rising: The Coldfire Trilogy, Book One: 1 by C.S. Friedman.
I admit it: I’ve procrastinated in writing this review because my feelings on this book are conflicted. I can clearly trace its influence in my own work now that I see it with clearer eyes, but its flaws are also much more obvious.
Let’s start with a recap of the story: the Reverend Damien Kilcanon Vryce (yes, seriously) comes to the city of Jaggonath (again, yes, seriously) with the intention of helping his church return to its warrior roots. Early in his time in town he meets the Lady Ciana, a Loremaster who specializes in using a magic force known as the Fae. Through the story, we learn that the Fae is a natural force of the planet Erna that functions as something of a defense mechanism for the planet’s native life. The Fae is highly responsive to emotions, both good and evil, and can be manipulated by both properly educated humans and humans with an inborn ability (also known as adepts).
With me so far? Good. The Fae can also manifest beings based on human emotion; these beings are known as Demons and feed off of all kinds of emotions, including fear. There is another strain of demons that feeds off of memory. Fairly early in the novel, these demons attack Ciani, robbing her of her abilities and thus setting the plot into motion as Vryce and his companions travel to retrieve Ciani’s memories.
The characters are a mixed bag. Some, such as the dangerous adept Gerald Tarrant, are fairly well-realized, with a great deal of depth and complexity. Tarrant is easily the best character here, though, and a prime reason for reading this novel. Other characters, such as the Lady Ciani herself, present little more than a surface impression and leave us with more questions than answers. This becomes a bigger concern when it comes to Ciani’s “true” nature, something that Vryce alludes to on more than one occasion but never truly fleshes out. I’d love to know more about Ciani, but, unfortunately, her amnesiac state renders her as little more than an ornament in the story.
The plot works well enough but doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. The central conceit of Tarrant’s involvement is that he attacks Ciani as well and wishes to regain his honor by helping her to retrieve her memory. To do this, he risks death on multiple occasions, something that he has studiously avoided to this point. The intimation is that Tarrant is growing and changing, but his path to that change isn’t entirely clear. Another character, whom I won’t spoil here, also joins in on this trip, but her motivations are somewhat murky as well.
And that’s my overall problem with the novel; while it holds together somewhat well, there are some questions that need answers for the entire thing to work.
Now, don’t get me wrong – the story itself is pretty damned good and held my attention all the way through (there’s a reason I’ve long considered this an underrated gem), but it does have its problems. Overall, worth a read, but with some caveats.
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness.
A strong experience that falters toward the end but still held my attention all the way through. Now let’s back up a bit and talk about the elements of the story. First, and most importantly, let’s discuss the characters, as they are the strongest aspect of this novel.
The book centers around Todd Hewitt, the only boy left in a town of nothing but men on a planet where women have become extinct and men’s thoughts are audible – and visible – to all. Todd’s transition to manhood is fast approaching, and he can sense that something is amiss about this transition but can’t quite put together what it all means; that is, until he meets a stranger in the swamps. I can’t give the identity of this stranger away, as their appearance is an important early twist, but soon Todd learns that things aren’t quite what they seem. Todd is a boy, and there’s never any doubt of that. He’s boisterous, he misspells words, and he has trouble with the word “ain’t.” He’s also been conditioned to live and think in a certain manner that, for the most part, lines up with the values of his hometown, though we soon learn that Todd is unique, a good person in a den of vipers. He’s a fleshed-out character that’s just fun to be around.
Todd’s constant companion, his dog Manchee, also manages to steal the show. Where a talking dog (did I mention that animals also talk on this planet) could be annoying, I just couldn’t help but root for the little guy.
The story itself is compelling, with plenty of twists and turns and good pacing that kept me entertained most of the way through. Sure, a few moments of emergency feel a little contrived, but it’s preferable to the story dragging during those portions.
That said, the last quarter of the book has some problematic elements. The much-teased reveal of what “really” happened is clear from a mile away and leaves the reader with a feeling of “oh, was that it then?” It’s not entirely surprising that Todd doesn’t catch on to what’s happened, as he’s still a child and stuck in the mindset of his hometown, but it’s sold as a surprise to readers that ultimately falls a bit flat. There are also issues with the story’s resolution; while it does technically have a climax, the falling action following that climax is a bit short, leading into a cliffhanger ending. I don’t have a problem with cliffhangers themselves as part of an understood series, but my issue lies in the relatively short time between climax and cliffhanger.
In the end, however, these are fairly minor issues that don’t ruin the book at all. It’s well worth a read for anyone interested in a unique idea in Young Adult fiction. Will surely be reading the sequels.
BioShock Infinite: Mind in Revolt by Joe Fielder (with Ken Levine). I received this book as part of a pre-order bonus for the video game Bioshock Infinite and picked it up as a light read between some heavier, longer works. Sold as a means to introduce characters and set the stage for events in the game, the story follows the events that occur when a psychologist is assigned to deconstruct the personality of notorious anarchist Daisy Fitzroy, leader of a group known as the Vox Populi. The story plays out in what is essentially screenplay format, as a series of transcribed audio logs of interviews with Fitzroy.
The idea has some promise; the format itself could lead to some clever mechanical tricks by the author. Unfortunately, it really fails to follow up or use the format to any great effect. It feels more like a way to shorthand the story and get something out under a deadline. There are some interesting character moments here and there, but too many times it feels that we get from Point A to Point C in a character’s development without seeing the Point B. This is an unfortunate drawback to the format, as it wouldn’t make sense for the psychologist to record the “Point B”.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to recommend the story on its own merits. It’s worth a look for the hardened Bioshock fan and is thankfully a quick read, but I didn’t come away from it feeling particularly enlightened or entertained.
A Job From Hell (Ancient Legends #1) by Jayde Scott. Still very early on in this one. The basic concept is that a young woman takes a job as a housekeeper at a secluded mansion in the Scottish Highlands and craziness ensues as she follows the lead of her shady brother. So far the writing is a little uneven and I’m having some trouble mustering interest, but it has some decent reviews, so I’m hoping that it picks up soon.
The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease-and the Statin-Free Plan That Will by Stephen Sinatra and Jonny Bowden.
This book represents something of a new phase in my reading. Now I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a health nut, but I have developed a healthy respect of and fascination with the cutting edge of medicine, especially as it relates to heart health and cancer prevention. For ages, I thought that a lot of the prevention side of things had been decided: you need only listen to your doctor’s advice, follow it, and everything should be just fine. Then I ran head-long into my IBS issues and learned that a lot of accepted wisdom about “safe” additives to food were making me sick. I began to wonder what else might be a bit off and how I could better safeguard my health. It’s somewhat out of scope, but I’ve developed an eating and supplement regimen based on the latest discoveries in what causes cancer and heart attacks/strokes; this book represents another step in that direction.
It takes on the myth of cholesterol’s role in causing heart disease (it’s involved, for sure, but not in the way that popular culture has informed us) and offers ways to protect your health. I’ll have more to say in the review, but so far it’s matching up with my research and offering a few insights that I hadn’t been able to connect due to, well, not being a doctor. Worth a read at this point.
And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!