29 December 2013

Breathe - Sarah Crossan

Humans have devastated the earth, and now there is not enough oxygen to breathe. Instead of living freely, humans exist inside giant bubbles on the earth's surface, where machines pump in oxygen recycled from the air outside. Quinn is a Premium and has lived with the luxury of surplus air for exercise, and for having siblings. Bea is an Auxiliary, an only child who only wants to be ale to afford enough oxygen to allow her parents to dance with each-other, and yet the two of them are best friends and everything is running smoothly. That is, until Quinn meets the mysterious Alina, and then life takes a drastic turn for the worse, where the three end up on the run from pod officials, outside with only a few hours air to breathe.

Breathe is certainly a very thought-provoking book. It could easily be what could happen if we chop down too many trees, provided we work out a way to manufacture oxygen quickly. It really makes you think about what we are doing to this world as a whole, how we are destroying our resources but not doing a thing to restock them. There are too few environmentalists and too many people in the trade for profit, rather like the world in this book. Only now the environmentalists are radical thinkers, and the businessmen detain those under the dome.

The story got very involved, very fast. In the first chapter, we read about two teenagers, then in the next chapter we hear about a different two; it was enough to make my head spin. Eventually you realise who is meant to be what, and what you've already read about them adds up. But for the most part, the beginning was actually quite confusing and this didn't endear me to the book. However, since the story was so fast-paced, it kept interesting the whole way through, and the climax was very good. It keeps you turning pages to the very end.

Although Bea and Quinn do undertake journeys in their character, especially Quinn, I didn't feel that they meant a great deal. It was like the characters' thoughts were changed rapidly to push the plot along, rather than having any real epiphany. There seemed to be no confusion of the issue, only acceptance about the way things really were; this should have been developed as it is not realistic. Alina, on the other hand, does not appear to make a journey in terms of her character. She is apparently unaffected by the friends she has made, the death she has caused and the war she has started. I hope that in the next book we see much more in the way of character development.

This book is a teen fiction, and as I am an adult I can say that it is clearly not aimed at me. Therefore my opinion is much more critical than the average teenager. A 14-year old who loves dystopian fiction and sci-fi would utterly love this book. As for me? I give it a 6 out of 10.


23 December 2013

George R.R. Martin - A Game of Thrones

" In the game of thrones, you win or you die" - Cersei Lannister

In the fantasy Kingdom of Westeros, Robert Baratheon the usurper sits on the Iron Throne. The children of the forest, the dragons and the white walkers are all long-dead, extinguished by the long summer. But the Hand of the King is dead, possibly murdered, and King Robert travels North to Winterfell to name his new Hand; Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark. But beyond the wall there are whispers of ghosts, and Ned Stark is not keen to leave his home defended by his young son.

Meanwhile Aerys Targaryen, the heir of the king deposed by Robert, is trying to amass an army in the east, and his first act is to marry off his only remaining relative, his sister Daenerys, to a Dothraki khal, the leader of a huge clan of barbarians. The Stark words have never been truer; 'Winter is Coming'.

There is a fair bit to say about this book, but first off I have to admit that the TV series has done an excellent job of adapting the book. Each character and each story is accurate, and some characters, such as Samwell Tarly, have come into their own in the TV series, where he didn't make too much of an impression in the book. This, however, is based on this first book alone, further reading needs to be done before judging it as a whole.

The best part of the books is that each character is meticulously made. They have separate strengths and weaknesses, multitudes of personality traits and a distinct voice. Even though the book is written in third person, when you start a chapter, you know exactly who it is about. The chapters alternate between a host of characters; the entire Stark family (minus the youngest member) has a voice, along with Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister. Favourites so far are Arya Stark, Ned's youngest daughter, and Tyrion, the dwarf. Having seen the second series, I have extremely high hopes for these two narratives as the story progresses and dearly hope they don't die.

The plot is well woven and builds up wonderfully at the end. There are some shocking, grotesque and sexual moments dotted throughout the book, so it is best recommended to adults. There is really nothing about life that is missed out; it is real life on a fantastical scale, with a fantasy setting, more intrigue, more death, more action and more plotting. Prepare yourselves, because the series is just getting started. 9.5 out of 10.


22 December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The sequel to An Unexpected Journey is finally here, and fans of the book are going to love it. Once again, we follow Bilbo, Gandalf and the band of Dwarves as they carry on in their quest to conquer Smaug and claim back the Lonely Mountain and the Kingdom of Erebor.

Unlike the last film, where the beginning is somewhat a recollection and a chance to bring in the likes of Ian Holm and Elijah Wood once more, the second hurls you headlong into the story. There is no backtracking and no long-winded back-story; you are straight where the story of the first film ended. This makes the film much faster in terms of pace and settles you in to what is actually a very well-made middle film.

The plot of the original book is followed very nicely. No part is missed out (unlike in the Lord of the Rings, where a greater part was missed out due to timing issues) and in fact extra parts that piqued our curiosity in the book have been put in, such as Gandalf's adventure in Dol Guldur where he attempts to deal with the Necromancer. New ideas have also been added, and while I felt that the inclusion of Legolas is unnecessary, it does bring together the two sets of films so people who have never seen the Lord of the Rings will have extra people to recognise. Fans of the LOTR films will love this inclusion, as Legolas is a very well-loved character. Gimli is even mentioned, which is amusing as I was debating how old he might have been at this point and was entirely right.

There are a couple more new bits thrown in for good measure; A huge action sequence with Smaug (which I feel went on for a tad too long) but it was all very watchable and quite intense, a she-elf by the name of Tauriel, whose storyline is actually very interesting and quite lovely, and then there is the fact that not all of the dwarves go to the Lonely Mountain. This part is very different to the book, but I liked it nonetheless because the story had several plot-lines rather than it focusing on one thing for too long.

So now we get on to the visuals. As always with adaptations of Tolkien's novels, the scenery, the design of costumes and the effects are simply magnificent. For me, though, I particularly liked Laketown and Mirkwood, despite the fact we see quite little of it. Oh and Smaug? He is just as terrifying as I ever imagined him to be, and yet not really as clever as he should be thanks to that enormous action sequence where Smaug is simply following the dwarves about and getting confused by the fact there are so many of them.

The actors in this are all excellent. Martin Freeman shines again as Bilbo, as he discovers he has more courage than he thought; this time tables are turned as Bilbo begins saving the dwarves. Luke Evans also does a great job as Bard the Bowman, and Bard's story is a given a little bit more significance too (but you'll have to see the film to find out how!) Aiden Turner also comes into his own with a flexibility that I can only marvel at. How is it that one man can play a vampire and a dwarf and play the characters in an utterly different style? Kili is an extremely likable dwarf and is given his own subplot in this particular installment. It leaves me secretly hoping that the third film ends up slightly different to the book (again, spoilers!)

There is one tiny little thing I think this film, as well as it's predecessor, lack. The book was for children originally, and so it had a large amount of comedy in it. Most of the dwarves were amusing, the conversations with Smaug were witty, the barrel sequence was hilarious and highly memorable. I think the film has left out most of the hilarity in favour of the darker mood that encapsulates the LOTR franchise. I think I would have liked to see lighter moments in this film as it would be much more in keeping with the book.

In a nutshell, The Desolation of Smaug is everything I could have asked for. It is full of references to the other books, new plot-lines to add interest and has a vast amount of action. Apart from the lack of comedy, the film is a roaring success in my eyes. It is certainly something that most people would like, particularly people who are fans of the fantasy genre and of Tolkien. 9 out of 10.