Thursday, 16 July 2009

Book Reviews

The Host
Stephenie Meyer
Review by Brad Harmer

The Host is set in a future where the fate of humanity is at stake (original start, huh?). Earth has been invaded by a species that takes over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies intact, and most of humanity has succumbed. Melanie, however, refuses to relinquish control of her mind to the invading “soul”, Wanderer. Instead, she floods her consciousness with thoughts and images of the man she loves – Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, avoiding the invading souls, but with an unexpected side effect. Wanderer finds it impossible to separate herself from her host’s desires, and when outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off in search of the man they both love.

In reading The Host, I deliberately tried to put Twilight and any expectations I may have already had from my mind. Meyer has decided to try something new, putting an end to The Twilight Saga, so I was determined to give her the credit of judging this purely on its own merits and flaws. At least, that was my intention, but all I could think of whilst reading it was that all of its merits and flaws were exactly those that permeated Twilight.

The book opens with the bang, presenting some characters that are rapidly established, and an interesting premise is presented. It looks like it could show real promise. Then Melanie/Wanderer makes it to the human’s hidey-hole, and the whole thing stagnates for a good couple of hundred pages. The character interaction, when it occurs, is good – but there’s a lot of standing around, reciting in as many different ways as possible how the character is feeling about X, or how Y makes them feel. If all this is sounding familiar, it probably means you’ve read Twilight.

Oh, yeah...and get ready to keep notes. Here’s how Meyer introduces the main cast – in one paragraph:

I got to know a little about the humans around me, mostly just by listening to them. I learned their names, at least. The caramel-skinned woman was named Lily, and she was from Philadelphia. She had a dry sense of humour and got along well with everyone because she never got ruffled. The young man with the bristly black hair, Wes, stared at her a lot, but she never seemed to notice that. He was only nineteen, and he’s escaped from Eureka, Montana. The sleepy-eyed mother was named Lucina, and her two boys were Isaiah and Freedom – Freedom had been born right here in the caves, delivered by Doc. I didn’t see much of these three; it seemed that the mother kept her children as separate from me as was possible in this limited space. The balding, red-cheeked man was Trudy’s husband; his name was Geoffrey. They were often with another older man, Heath, who had been Geoffrey’s best friend since early childhood; the three had escaped the invasion together. The pallid man with the white hair was Walter. He was sick, but Doc didn’t know what was wrong with him – there was no way to find out, not without labs and tests, and even if Doc could diagnose the problem, he had no medicine to treat it. As the symptoms progressed, Doc was starting to think it was a form of cancer. This pained me – to watch someone actually DYING from something so easily fixed. Walter tired easily but was always cheerful. The white-blonde woman – her eyes contrastingly dark – who’d brought water to the others that first day in the field was Heidi. Travis, John, Stanley, Reid, Carol, Violetta, Ruth Ann...I knew all the names, at least. There were thirty-five humans in the colony, with six of them gone on the raid, Jared included. Twenty-nine humans in the caves now, and one mostly unwelcome alien.

Christ. Stephenie, we appreciate your effort in working out all these character notes, but there’s a better way of using them than just cutting and pasting them a third of the way into the book. By the way...some of those characters turn out major and some minor. You may think you can guess which, but believe me: You can’t.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Several rough-and-tumble fight scenes, and some stabbings and blood.
Sex/Nudity: Some fully clothed kissing with a strong Mormon subtext. Again.
Swearing: None
Summary: A brave attempt at a break-away novel, but one that falls short on several technical flaws. Fans of Twilight will enjoy it, but it’s unlikely to win Meyer any new fans. 6/10

James Jackson
John Murray (Publishers)
Review by Brad Harmer

The year is 1212. Which is a rather convenient number, if you think about it for too long.

The forces of Christendom are on the march again. There is much to avenge. Twenty-five years before, the Christian army lay defeated, slaughtered by Mighty Saladin (Generic Muslim Leader #34), on his way to capture Jerusalem. The Holy Land seemed lost.

Now, the Pope has called once more for crusade. Among the troops is Otto, a young noble searching for his vanished Hospitaller Knight father, and Brother Luke, a mysterious Franciscan on a mission of his own. With them are tens of thousands of children, pledged to recapture Jerusalem and that holiest of Relics, the True Cross. But in a journey beset by treachery and pursued by fanatics from the murderous Assassins sect, nothing can prepare them for what they will face.

The publisher loudly hails this as for fans of Conn Iggulden and Bernard Cornwell. I’ve yet to have the pleasure of reading any of Iggulden’s work, but I am a fan of Cornwell. With a Cornwell novel I expect great action sequences, great characters, a wry sense of humour, and to come out of the end of the novel having learnt something about the time period without even realising it. Pilgrim, however, reads more like a Boys Own adventure story than any serious piece of historical fiction.

The main characters are a bunch of children who get into “exciting scrapes” of the Golden Age comic variety, and always come through virtually unscathed. This has more in common with the Famous Five than with Richard Sharpe.

Technically, the writing is good. The opening battle scene is amazing, and the descriptive passages are amazing. It’s just sad that the main storyline itself is made of wank. It’s starts off uninteresting, then becomes a self-parody, before ending up laughable. Seriously, don’t bother.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
About as much as you’d expect from historical fiction – a genre written by sexually frustrated history teachers for sexually frustrated history teachers.

Sex/Nudity: About as much as you’d expect from historical fiction – a genre written by sexually frustrated history teachers for sexually frustrated history teachers.

Swearing: About as much as you’d expect from historical fiction – a genre written by sexually frustrated history teachers for sexually frustrated history teachers. I keed...I keed.

Summary: A novel whose apparent success can only be as a result of the other authors the publicity department has been name-dropping. Don’t bother – there are a hundred other historical fiction novels you’d be better off reading. Try Company of Liars by Karen Maitland – that’s the best book I’ve read this year. – 2/10

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