27 May 2013

The Assassin's Curse - Cassandra Rose Clarke

Ananna is the daughter of a pirate captain. She is being forced into an arranged marriage for the good of the clan. That is, until she runs away on the back of a stolen camel, in her wedding clothes, with her husband-to-be shouting after her. The Hariri clan isn't too pleased about that, so they send an assassin after her. Somehow, Ananna saves the assassin's life, leaving him cursed to protect her from harm and her stuck with him. Ananna unwillingly tags along in search of a cure to the curse, a journey that turns out to be more dangerous than she anticipated.

This story is filled with adventure, peril and magic. The story is simple, and yet the scope for what could happen to the protagonist is huge. It keeps you guessing, because the moment magic comes into the mix, you have no idea what the characters are capable of.

The book is a quick read, mostly because it is so engaging, but also because it is quite short. It can get a little bit formulaic at times; apart from running away, Ananna doesn't exactly make things happen, things happen to her. The character who really pushes the story along is Naji, the assassin. Therefore it tends to read a little like the Wizard of Oz; this happens, then this, then this...

The characterisation is well done. The two main characters are well-rounded, with different drives. The way that Ananna and Naji interact is both amusing and engaging. The assassin keeps mostly to himself, as you would expect. He is secretive and lethal, but he also has a vulnerable side, which you can just see through the layers of moodiness. Ananna is no pushover, either. Being brought up as a pirate, she knows how to look after herself and she has no intentions of being stuck with some morose murderer. However, things change, and soon she finds herself defending the man who would have killed her.

The story is written in first person narrative, in Ananna's voice. This is good as then we get Naji's story as she discovers it. Her style of speech is manifested here with double negatives, curses and slang. Some people may dislike that the author has done this, but it feels more real, like Ananna is literally telling you the story.

It is a very thrilling read, however, there is one rather large flaw, in my opinion. This book is only part one. The end, if you could call it that, leaves the reader right in the middle of the story arc. It isn't exactly a cliffhanger, but it's close enough. It means that you absolutely have to buy the next one to find out what happens, but you also have to wait for it. It's not out until the 18th of June. Some people might be OK with this, but I am not one of them. It is a personal preference that I finish the first book in the series with a sense that I could just stop reading if I wanted to; that the story was perfectly rounded off. The fact that I am forced to read the next one, rather than just wanting to in order to find out what happens to the characters, is quite frustrating. I found this was also true of 'The Selection', which was, again, a great book.

Without this flaw, it probably would have got and 8 or 9 out of 10, but instead I am giving it a 6.

Image from Amazon.co.uk
PS: What an awesome cover!

The Witch's Betrayal, a short story, is out now on Kindle. The Pirates Wish will be out on the 18th of June.

21 May 2013

The Twyning - Terence Blacker

Kindle is a wonderful thing, made even more wonderful by the introduction of the Kindle Daily Deal. That was where I found this book and proceeded to buy it for 99p.

What a premise. A war is looming. On one side, Doctor Henry Ross-Gibbon, an MP and a band of willing followers, on the other, the rat Kingdom. Efren is a ratling born to the Court of Tasting, but his life takes a wild turn when he is witness to the murder of the rat king at the hands of the Doctor. Soon, he finds himself in the middle of a political struggle, and then in the middle of a war. To make things more complicated, he finds that not all humans are the enemy, and becomes torn between love and loyalty.

First off, you're all asking, what on earth is a Twyning? Well, some of you may find this gross. It is a load of rats, about 20 or more, all joined up by the tails to form one big seething mass. Told you.


The book has two first person viewpoints, that of Efren the rat, and that of Dogboy, a homeless thirteen-year-old who lives in a rubbish tip. It is at first difficult to see how the two could link together, but trust me, they do. The chapters alternate between the two voices, meaning that you get each of their story a bit at a time. This is good as you get to see, piece by piece, how their lives will cross over. Efren is possibly the more interesting of the two, simply because he is a rat. There are so many elements to him that make him an excellent character. Not least that he isn't even a normal rat. The way his emotions are shaped; they're just like ours, only he thinks differently. Loyalty to the Kingdom and his King is a forefront of his thoughts. He is a truly selfless character, but he can come across as a little bit cold. The inclusion of Dogboy's voice means that we have something to associate with. His thoughts are like our own. We understand him perfectly.

There are a lot of very clever aspects of the story. The first is how the Kingdom of the rats has been thought through. We thought they were mindless beasts, but in this book they communicate in their minds, they have a Court system that allows the Kingdom to run smoothly and they have a kind of religion in that they worship the Twyning. The second is that the backstories of the children, Dogboy and Caz (a little girl who Dogboy lives with), are very interesting. Caz's particularly fits in with the events of the story, and there are some peculiar things about both of them that will give the reader a surprise or two.

As the story progresses, it drags you in. Your emotions become entwined with that of the young boy and the rat, of all the trouble that they get into. When the war finally starts, you truly feel for all the rats dying, you believe that the doctor is the enemy, even though your human brain is still telling you that rats are vermin. This book is packed with excitement and interest. It can be a little gory at times, just to warn you, but don't let that stop you. It is well worth reading.

Money well spent? I think so. The climax was good, but I wanted the war to end with a bit more of a punch. I wanted something to happen that would really shock me, like some of the events earlier in the book such as the pits and the rescue.

Still, it deserves a good, sturdy 9 out of 10. I would read any of Terence Blacker's books on the merit of this one alone.

Image from www.terenceblacker.com.

13 May 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness - Film

In the second film from the reboot of this classic Sci-fi franchise, we pick up as we left off with Captain James T Kirk getting into all kinds of trouble, and almost getting members of his crew killed.. again. The first scene delves straight into the action with a mission going slightly awry for the crew of the Enterprise. Then the story really begins. A disgruntled Starfleet officer by the name of John Harrison attacks Starfleet and then flees into Klingon territory, knowing full-well that it could cause a war if someone from earth were to follow him there.

It keeps getting better. There are a couple of lovely twists, especially for those of you who have seen the previous films and series. Some may not like this take, but I guarantee that if you liked the first reboot, you'll love this. It carries on in the same vein of the first film; it's full of action, great effects, interesting landscapes, a well-thought-through plot and a few laughs too. The way that the crew have been swapped about a bit and put out of their comfort zones is really clever. Sulu's turn at being captain is a priceless moment. The fact that the entire cast seem to have come back is also brilliant. It wouldn't be the same without Anton Yelkin's Russian accent or Karl Urban's cynical eyebrows.

Speaking of actors, there are so many that stood out. Some in good ways, some not so good. Chris Pine, in one particular scene, brings tears to the eyes, while Benedict Cumberbatch's superhuman villain is pure genius. The character suits him down to the ground. He's clever, sneaky, and he fights, too! His evil acting was perfect. Sometimes people can overdo the evil. Take the Wicked Witch of the West in Oz: The Great and Powerful, for example, whose laugh was so forced you wondered how she wasn't coughing after every cackle. Zachary Quinto has always been a favourite too. It's amazing how likeable Spock is, given that he hardly shows any emotion. Still, Benedict Cumberbatch wins the acting trophy hands-down.

There are some amazing effect moments; red vegetation and weird white crusty-looking indigenous species are there from the first scene. I also loved the warp dust that you get at the beginning as the title comes up. But really it's the climax where the best parts are. A free-falling spaceship anyone? Or perhaps you'd prefer a fight that ends up about 50 feet in the air with futuristic buildings all around? Maybe the aliens are more your thing. If so, look out for a lot of strange-looking people. My favourite is the one that looks rather a lot like Data, with a computer in the back of his head, bright blue eyes and a robotic voice.

So that is probably enough gushing. This film is well worth a watch, even if you've never watched the like of this before. You'll quickly get into the action and laugh with the rest of us at a few comments. It is, however, recommended that you watch the first film before this one. Should I give it a 10 out of 10? I think I will. It's the best film I've seen for a few months.

Image from renegadecinema.com

11 May 2013

The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux

So you've seen the stage production and the film of this horror/romance (starring Gerard Butler, of course, though there are loads of them), but what about the book? Will it be as heart-wrenching, as terrifying or as poignant?

Well, the short answer is no, but not for lack of trying. The main reason why is that we never get the point of view of the main characters; the Phantom, Christine and Raoul. The book is set out like a history, the author directly sets out some facts and piques our interest by telling us about the disappearance of Christine Daae, the strange story of the opera ghost and the death of the Count de Chagny (not to be confused with the Viscount de Chagny, Raoul). The rest of the book comprises of diary fragments and writing from two or three other characters, not unlike Dracula, which is also comprised of diary entries and records of the events. Maybe that was how you wrote horror stories in the late 1800s/early 1900s, but it is not to everyones taste.

However, the book has some very good points. The first is that the mystery of the entire book is kept till right at the end.. what really did happen the night of Christine's disappearance? If you've never seen the film/ stage versions, you won't be disappointed. If you have, keep reading anyway, there are many changes that will keep you guessing. The shadowy Persian, for example, is a character that really stands out. He was new to me, but his history with the Phantom and his narrative were both extremely interesting. It really makes you realise the type of person the Phantom really is, as we see many sides to him.

There was one more thing that made the book lose more effect; the Phantom has a name. Now, everyone deserves a name, and the Phantom has acquired one; Erik. This now makes him a little too human to be the monster described by the Persian. He loses his mystery, and the strange charm in not knowing who exactly they are. A name gives someone attributes, a personality. The name Erik, for example, is Norse for Eternal Ruler. While this is extremely apt for the character, it gives away some idea of who he is. In the film/musical, we do not know the man at all, and can only judge him on his words and actions.

The book builds beautifully into a pacy finish, complete with torture chambers and a plot to blow up the opera house. A tiny let-down was the conclusion, but it is a let down in every version. At one point you think, how on earth will this end up happy? The way this is implemented seems, at least to me, like a bit of a cop-out. However, it does show humanity in the Phantom again, showing there are many sides to a monster, rather reminiscent of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. At least the book ties up all the loose ends well. It answers every question you could have though of, which is something the film does not do. How does the Phantom's voice seem right close to your ear, yet nothing is there? You will find out!

All the best loved elements of the Phantom story are here; the fallen chandelier, the death of a man by the Punjab lasso, the underground lake where the Phantom lives, the secret tunnels of the opera house, the secret engagement of the two young lovers, the loss of the Prima Donna's voice.. I was very happy to see that all of these were original ideas from the book.

Although the style of the book is dated (it was originally published in 1909 after all), it still manages to pack a punch and is a very good read. This is, however, one of those rare books where the film is actually better.
It's a 7 out of 10.

Image from Wordpress

You can find 'The Phantom of the Opera' for free on Kindle.

To redirect to my post on the film version starring Gerard Butler, please click here.