Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

I love a good science fiction movie where the characters are complex, the beauty of the stars a mere backdrop to the real drama of humanity. I’ve tried many times to replicate this feeling in a science fiction novel and only a very few novels have met with these expectations (“The Sparrow” and to a lesser extent “Century Rain”). But “Leviatian Wakes” gets up there. Its noir, its horror, its romance, its political thriller, its drama, all rolled into one. And its set in space. And there are space battles and mysterious alien presences and human settlements in the vast expanse of space. Told from two alternating perspectives, the story follows Jim Holden, the captain of a space ship and Miller, a middle-aged, weary cynical cop as they both race to destroy an ancient alien virus that a group of human scientists have discovered and unleashed on a galaxy that now comprises of Earth, a terra firmed Mars and a collection of colonised asteroids called the Belt. Its nicely paced, smoothly written (despite being a collaboration of 2 people) and has an impressive amount of detailed and plausible world building. I liked the world that James SA Corey create, the hopefulness of space exploration combined with the tension between the three political groups (Earth, Mars and the stations and asteroids that make up the Belt or OPA-Outer Planetary alliance). Holden’s rememberances of his childhood in the free air of Montana contrast with Miller’s own recollections of growing up in the grittiness of the Belt. The characters’ journeys are interwoven nicely into the textured suspense of the narrative as Holden and Miller desperately try to save the virus from engulfing the entire galaxy while trying to maintain their own moral centre. If there was anything that let the novel down, it was the ending. Too quick and sudden, I felt that there needed to be more reflection at the end about where the characters were and where they might possibly be going next. Despite being the first of a trilogy, the ending of this book need not have been quite so abrupt. The epilogue felt more like reading a dot point summary of what the author(s?) intended to write rather than a real epilogue. Nonetheless, the next book is eagerly awaited.

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THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. JUST A FEW ABOUT THE WORLD THIS STORY IS SET IN.

For all the fantasy novels that are published each year, few actually reach the heights of fantasy greats such as George R.R Martin and Robin Hobb. But Mark Lawrence does just that, he has reminded us how good fantasy can be when its done really, really well. His protagonist is Prince Jorg, who at 10 years of age witnessed his mother and brother slaughtered on the orders of his father’s enemy, Count Revan. Jorg himself was severely wounded in the attack but as his physical injuries fade, his emotional trauma intensifies and he becomes filled with a white hot rage and develops an obsession to seek out the Count and avenge his loss. He turns away from childhood and becomes instead brutal, violent and cold. He shuns all goodness in the form of love, affection or forgiveness lest it make him weak and unable to cling onto the rage within him. He runs away from his father, King Olidon and spends the next 4 years roaming the land with a band of rogue criminals, looting, plundering and whoring. When he finally stumbles upon his father’s old priest, held captive, he frees him and decides to return home, hoping for recognition from the King. This is not what eventuates and along the way he finds himself attacking an impenetrable fortress, dallying with ghosts and monsters and seeking revenge once more from his mother’s murderer.

Many reviewers have described Jorg as evil, horrific, an anti-hero who despite his actions endears a certain amount of charm. I think this completely misses the point of the story. Jorg is neither evil nor an anti-hero. He is a complex character layered with all the emotions that make us human – grief, despair, pain, anger, pride and ultimately, love (for without it, how can there be grief?). The action in the story is no more terrible or violent than in any other fantasy novel – people do get murdered, blood is spilled, people are betrayed. But what we do get that very few other fantasy novels have is absolutely splendid writing, taut and beautiful and we get Jorg, with all his darkness and cunning. He is endearing because like his old tutor, we see him as the man he could be – smart, noble and great.

What we also get is imaginative world building, for the world that Jorg inhabits is a medieval world set 1000 years in our post apocalyptic future. It is a broken empire ruled by ambitious kings and inhabited by spirits and monsters with powers and the dead who come to life (zombies??). And underneath it all are the remnants from our own doomed era, secret hidden arsenals of nuclear weapons and treasure troves of our own forgotten world. It makes for an intriguing narrative linked together by the Shakespeare quoting Jorg with his Macbeth like tortured ambition and the raw naked grief of Hamlet.

What a gift this story is. I only hope that the rest of the story lives up to the brilliance of this first book.

The intriguing thing about the WOOL stories is that they focus on what comes after the apocalypse happens, after the dust settles and the new world unfurls. Its not the apocalypse that we are concerned about, its how the world adapts, falters, grows. And yet, despite this, there is still an echo threading through of what came before and as a reader, the mystery of what caused the world to collapse and who made the silos is like an itch that niggles. Second Shift is the second part in a middle trilogy within the Silo series that focuses on this Before. First Shift takes place largely in the time before the silos while Second Shift sits after the catastrophe but before the events in Wool (I am assuming, its not completely clear how the events in Second Shift relate, time wise with the events in Wool). The story continues to mesmerise and we now know what catastrophic event forced people into the silos. Hugh Howey does a good job of both unravelling one mystery while creating more questions. Is only certain memory erased? What is the ultimate aim of those in charge? Who else remembers? What about Jules? How do the events in Second Shift relate to her and the other characters in the earlier Wool stories? If there is one flaw to Second Shift, its that these new mysteries and questions, made me impatient to get this story over with. I wanted to get ahead of myself and perhaps failed to just relax and sink into the story of Second Shift. Perhaps this is a characteristic of all linkage stories and this is certainly a story that links the Before with the After. And when the story ends, its both tragic and hopeful, twin emotions that one of the main characters, Donald, faces each moment he is awake in the silos. We are then left wanting and waiting both in hope and trepidation of what Howey has in store for the Silos.