Saturday 12 September 2009

Book Reviews

A Princess of Landover
Terry Brooks
Little, Brown Book Group

Review by Brad Harmer

Princess Mistaya Holiday hasn’t been fitting in too well at Carrington Women’s Prepatory. The trouble is, people don’t seem to appreciate her using the magic she’s learnt in Landover to settle matters in the human world. So when she summons a dragon to teach a lesson to the snotty school bully, she finds herself suspended.

But Mistaya couldn’t care less – she wants nothing more than to continue her studies under Questor, the old court magician and Abernathy the half-man half-dog court scribe. However, her father Ben Holiday, the King of Landover, has rather different plans in mind for her. He thinks he’ll teach her about perserverance and compromise by sending her to renovate Libiris, the long-abandoned royal library. Yawn. Clearly, this is the worst idea her father has ever conceived, but not for the reasons she thinks.

Sounds like the sort of thing you’d cast Anne Hathaway in the movie production of, right? Maybe not. Maybe I’m just always thinking about Anne Hathaway.

A Princess of Landover is a light-hearted fairy-tale style fantasy story, but not so light-hearted that it borders over into comedy, and this is unfortunate, as it just somehow feels like an uninspiring drama, rather than the self-aware parody it’s trying to be. The story plods along, and at no point does it shoot off in a direction that you don’t expect. This is a path you’ve trod a hundred times before, and one certainly expects better from an author of Brooks’ calibre. This is Fairy Tale fluff; and not even particularly good fluff, at that.

For a younger reader, there may be enough here to provide some entertainment, and it certainly hits all the right buttons for a kid’s book: teenage protagonist, no monsters, a cat as a sidekick, some light romance...but this isn’t the 1980s. This can’t stand up against Harry Potter, Cirque Du Freak or even Twilight.

This book is far from bad, but what it is is unoriginal and uninspired. What are supposed to be humorous notes and motifs aren’t funny enough to even raise a smile, so the whole thing just winds up feeling rather flat. A shame, as there was potential at the start, but by the halfway mark, it’s obvious that there’s just not enough charm here to make it worth continuing with.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some mild conflict, but nothing in particular.
Sex/Nudity: None
Swearing: None
Summary: A rather vapid and unfortunately dull tale from an author who has produced so much better. This is one for completists only. 4/10

The Crucifix Killer
Chris Carter
Simon & Schuster Ltd

Review by Brad Harmer

The body of a young woman is discovered in the middle of Los Angeles National Forest. Naked, strung from two wooden posts, the victim has been sadistically tortured before meeting an excruciatingly painful death. The skin has been ripped from her face – while she was still alive. On the nape of her neck has been carved a strange double cross: the signature of a psychopath known as the Crucifix Killer.

But two years ago, the Crucifix Killer was caught and executed. Is it a copycat killer? Or is the real killer still out there, ready to embark once again on a vicious and violent killing spree, selecting his victims seemingly at random, taunting detective Robert Hunter with his inability to catch him? Hunter and his new rookie partner, Carlos Garcia, are about to enter a nightmare beyond imagining.

This book owes a lot to horror heavy CSI-style movies like Se7en and Saw, as well as virtually every buddy cop movie produced in the eighties – but that really doesn’t matter. It wears its influences on its sleeve, and does everything so well, that you’re too concerned with turning pages to stop and think “Hey, I’ve seen this thing somewhere before...”. To put it another way, The Crucifix Killer doesn’t do anything new, but it does it all very well.

The “whodunit” side of the story was well presented. Every time I thought I’d gotten a handle on who the killer was, something came along that completely flipped my theory on its head. About three quarters of the way in several curve balls are thrown in quick succession, and I didn’t know what to think anymore. I finally discovered that my first guess had actually been the correct one, but for the wrong reasons; although this is because my theories are always based upon “The Scooby-Doo Principle”.

This is Chris Carter’s first novel, so a lot of the clich├ęs and trappings he stumbles into can be forgiven. With pacing, setting and a mystery like this, he is certainly one to watch out for in the future!

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several scenes of graphic torture, sometimes with a BDSM theme. Some shootings. Some fist fights.
Sex/Nudity: Several scenes, some nudity, several scenes involving prostitutes, sex-workers, and BDSM. Some rape scenes.
Swearing: Several moments of creative and colourful language.
Summary: If you’re looking for something truly groundbreaking in Crime fiction, then you won’t find it here. If you are looking for a slick, well-executed and extremely dark crime/serial killer story however, you’ve found it. Miles better than Cornwell, as good as Rankin, maybe as good as Deaver one day. 9/10

Prophecy of the Sisters
Michelle Zink
Little, Brown Book Group

Review by Brad Harmer

I love Gothic horror stories, and I was very much looking forward to this when it turned up on my review pile. From the off, it reads very much like all the great Gothic tales I loved growing up: Dracula, Carmilla, the ghost stories of M.R. James...The atmosphere presented by this book was incredible. It was like a return to form for Gothic storytelling, without getting mopey and Anne Ricey all over the shop. Filtering in some fantastical elements that reminded me of Lord Dunsany, or H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories, and I had very high hopes.

Unfortunately, Prophecy of the Sisters is the proverbial “Book of Two Halves”. For the first three-quarters of the novel, it maintains this all pervading sense of chilling gloom, with some genuinely tense horror moments. Unfortunately, by the time it reaches the last quarter or so, it seems to lose all sense of identity, and instead end up as a mish-mash of different genres, with no real indication of what direction it wants to go in. I noticed it first when the the gang of good guys all go off on a quest for knowledge, and the novel lost all of its Gothic sensibilities and became an Enid Blyton adventure story!

Too many fantastical elements are introduced without explanation, and the story starts to feel thin, as though what was only really enough to stretch to a novella or short story has been spread out to a full-length novel. By the time the big magic battle has rolled around, it had totally lost the plot, and so had I. When the climax of the book is unengaging and fizzles out into nothingness, you know you’re wasting your time.

For all this, the book isn’t bad. It’s well written, and the characters are all readily identifiable. For the first three quarters of the book, the mystery is great, and I was truly enjoying it; it’s just a terrible shame that the ending lets it down so badly.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
No direct violence, but some magical battling.
Sex/Nudity: None
Swearing: Minor uses.
Summary: What could have been a brave move (releasing a Gothic novel in this day and age) is a wasted opportunity. Shapeless and devoid of identity. – 4/10

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