Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Book Reviews

The Girl Who Played With Fire
Stieg Larsson
Quercus Publishing
Review by Brad Harmer

"Long" seems to be in at the moment. Movies at the cinema no longer think anything of having a running time of three hours, books are getting chunkier, and some British sit-coms even run for longer than six episodes. I suspect it’s a credit crunch thing. Everyone wants value for money, not realising that the age old adage of quality versus quantity still holds true. The Girl Who Played With Fire is, despite its pretensions, little more that a Dean-Koontz-Clive-Cussler-Ed-McBain dollop of summer holiday reading – but it weighs in at a hefty 649 pages. Way, way, way too long for the tiny little story contained within.

It’s all pretty uninspiring stuff. There’s a psychotically violent action-hero woman as the protagonist...who has virtually no character flaws. Funny when that happens, huh? Especially is there are things like “incredibly short temper leading to violence” that would be disadvantages to most people that the author manages to just somehow turn into a positive life-saving trait.

Anyway, it’s a book about Lisbeth Salander, a psychotically violent heroine, and Kal Blomkvist, a journalist who is investigating the murder of his friends. Oh, yeah, in this book all journalists don’t actually have to write, read or edit anything, and can spend every hour the day playing private detective for their own amusement.

The book hits peaks and troughs of being incredibly action packed and interesting, and then spending pages and pages of being incredibly dull. For every gun-fight there’s a scene where Salander spends ages hacking into someone’s computer to leave them a message in a Word file. All the interesting characters don’t seem to get more than hundred pages between them, and we’re instead treated to Super Salander and Detective Inspector Journalist all the time. And the problem lies in the books unwieldy length.

As mentioned earlier, this at its heart, could have been a fun summer holiday, Dan Brown, John Grisham read. What it really needed was some decent editing to get it down to a realistic length. At three or even four hundred pages, this would have been a great, action packed, adrenaline fuelled action story. What it is here is tedious and drawn out.

About two thirds of the way in, the action does ramp up a little. The combat scenes are well handled, and it becomes, if not “interesting”, then at least “not dull”. The surprise of just who the mysterious villain “Zala” is is certainly unexpected, which was handled well – but again, the pacing was lost after the revelation due to the book’s ponderous length.

If you’re one of these people who only read about two books a year on holiday, (I’m looking at you, Da Vinci Code Boy) you’ll probably be blown away by this, and it’ll probably be the surprise smash of the summer. However, anyone who’s a big reader would be recommended to take a pass on this. There are much better books out there. By Cussler, Koontz, Grisham and McBain.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
A rather large amount of gun-fights, fisticuffs and beat-downs.
Sex/Nudity: Nothing explicit, but several strong allusions.
Swearing: A realistic amount.
Summary: A high-octane action-adventure book spoiled by some rather precious editing. Could have been brainless fun, but wound up just brainless. 4/10

God of Clocks - Volume Three of the Deepgate Codex
Alan Campbell
Pan MacMillan
Review by Brad Harmer

In the cataclysm of the battle of the gods, a portal to Hell has been opened, releasing bizarre creatures that were never meant to be and threatening to turn the world into a killing field. In the middle, caught between warring gods and fallen angels, humanity finds itself pushed to the brink of extinction. As usual, its only hope lies with the most unlikely of heroes.

Former assassin Rachel Hael has rejoined the blood-magician Mina Greene and her devious little dog Basilis on one last desperate mission to save the world from the grip of Hell. Carried in the jaw of a debased angel, they rush to the final defensive stronghold of the god of clocks - pursued all the while by the twelve arconites, the great iron-and-bone automatons controlled by King Menoa, the Lord of the Maze. Meanwhile, in the other direction, the giant John Anchor, still harnessed to his master's skyship, drags that vessel into Hell itself to meet Menoa on his own ground.

But neither Heaven nor Hell is anything they could ever expect. Rachel's ally, the god Hasp, finds himself in the grip of a parasite and struggles against conflicting orders to destroy his own friends; and a dangerous deity comprised of broken souls threatens to overcome them all. As Rachel travels to the final confrontation she has both sought and feared, she begins to realise that time itself is unravelling. And so she must prepare herself for a sacrifice that may claim her her life...

This is a strange book. The setting, with its high magic meets steam-punk war-machine setting reminded me very much of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy (and I mean that in a good way). The “Angels” are nothing more or less than magic powered battle mechs – and I think that’s cool. The massed battles sequences were amazing set pieces of swashbuckling action. But unfortunately, when the dust has settled, cracks begin to appear in more than just the scenery.

Whilst Campbell epic battles scenes are fantastic, he writing begins to lose its appeal when dealing with the more personal scenes. The relationships between the characters are hard to follow, and I even had difficulty keeping track of who was who at times. The sense of humour throughout was excellent, and something that isn’t used well enough in most fantasy or sci-fi works.

If you’re already a fan of the Deepgate Codex series, then you’ll be more than happy with it. If you’re not however, this is unlikley to win you over, or even interest you in reading any of it.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
All the usual associated with fantasy books featuring massive battles with living battlemechs.
Sex/Nudity: None
Swearing: The odd profanity, which, whilst usually fitting in a fantasy work, seems rather out of place here.
Summary: Fun steampunky, battle action, but nothing that you won’t find done much better elsewhere. – 6/10

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