21 June 2012

Review: The Fires of Heaven

The Fires of Heaven
The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So you'll recall how displeased I was with The Shadow Rising on a whole. The good news? The Fires of Heaven is significantly better on a whole than the previous volume, and is probably my favorite since The Great Hunt.

There are reasons for this. The book spends the lion's share of its time on Rand or the Aes Sedai, which is (at least for me) the core of the book. We get an idea as to Rand's leadership, we get character development a-plenty. With at least 670 hardcover pages, you'd hope so, I guess? The final third of the book was great, as well. Some great battles, some excellent moments with the characters we know - I can't complain in that regard.

The problem, though, is really the common theme throughout the Wheel of Time for me. While I didn't necessarily mind reading them (and it's worth noting that I probably would mind if I didn't have multiple motives to read this series), the first 400 pages or so were almost entirely expendable. Very little happened that couldn't have been condensed and placed elsewhere. The books feel like bulk for the sake of bulk, and it's just unfortunate.

I think back to other epics that I've read over the years. While Wheel of Time is better on a whole, I can think of only one book that was ultimately unnecessary in the Sword of Truth saga. It's not as if Jordan was getting serialized and paid by the word. I'm five books in, and I feel like there's only been enough raw content for maybe three books at this point - and I have six to go. And then the Sanderson ones.

It's pretty frustrating, as Jordan was clearly a talented writer and there's a good story in here. It's just tiring to see how utterly buried the good story is underneath the excess.

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14 June 2012

Review: The List

The List
The List by Siobhan Vivian

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

People my age may remember "after school specials," mid-afternoon melodramas involving young people and their young people problems. I'm not convinced a single one is really memorable in a good way, and it's largely become a long-term punchline.

With this in mind, welcome to The List, which follows homecoming week at a high school where, yearly, an anonymous list is posted that lists the prettiest and ugliest girl in each class. The list comes out every year, and this book follows the aftermath of this school year's list coming out.

I can't really think of much in the way of anything good to say about this. The characters are all caricatures, from the "victims" to the beneficiaries of the list, the problems these girls face are cartoon versions of real problems, and the only adult with any significant characterization comes across as naive and hollow. That might have been the point of it, but it comes across as really frustrating in the context of everything that happens in the book.

The worst part, really, is that this book clearly arrives at a time where bullying and social injustice in schools and in middle/high school relationships are a hot-button issue. Instead of taking a magnifying glass to those ideas or satirizing it (a la Mean Girls), this book instead plays it painfully, dramatically straight, and fails miserably at coming away with anything that resembles humanity or much in the way of a learning experience. Things happen, people have Feelings about them, and then it kind of resolves. Maybe. Sort of.

Tragically bad for a book I was really looking forward to, both conceptually and otherwise. I can't really point out anything specific that this seemed to be aiming toward, but whatever it was, it did not work at all. Avoid this one.

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Review: The Imago Sequence and Other Stories

The Imago Sequence and Other Stories
The Imago Sequence and Other Stories by Laird Barron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Laird Barron is quickly becoming my new favorite weird/horror writer.

I read The Croning last week and quickly went to seek out his earlier fiction. He has two short fiction collections and this one, The Imago Sequence was recommended to me first. The good news is that the collection falls mostly on the good side - the first story, "Old Virginia," was probably my favorite of the collection. The final story, "The Imago Sequence," is a Barron fan favorite and for good reason - it's nearly perfectly constructed and is just creepy enough.

While I didn't love everything ("Proboscis" in particular), that's going to be the case with any short story collection. He has one more, Occultation, that I'll be seeking out very quickly. Barron's a great writer that more people need to seek out. He's got a modern sensibility while being closer to Lovecraftian storytelling than anyone else I've read recently.

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08 June 2012

Review: Wonder Woman: Odyssey Vol. 1

Wonder Woman: Odyssey Vol. 1
Wonder Woman: Odyssey Vol. 1 by J. Michael Straczynski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This trade is the first six issues of what's probably best known as "that one time Wonder Woman's outfit changed." The arc is a reboot of sorts, 12 issues before the big New 52 reboot. It's not really your traditional Wonder Woman, and that's both a good and bad thing.

The struggle with Wonder Woman is well-known at this point, and Straczynski ultimately tries to put all that aside in favor of changing her entire origin story, almost treating Diana as a cross between Batman and Superman as this version's Diana becomes more familiar with her powers and her heritage. There's a lot that's fascinating about where he goes with this, but the story quickly and unexpectedly shifts away from a true story of finding knowledge and into...something else entirely. It's very jarring, and doesn't really work all that well.

There's plenty to like - I'm on Team This Costume, personally, and the scene in Hell is genuinely interesting and fun - but my issue with this is more that it's not the Wonder Woman or Diana I'm okay with. There's something to be said about a Wonder Woman who's both above it all while trying to integrate herself with her adoptive society. Even though there have been failures with the character in modern times (and some of the stories are rough, partially why we got this reboot). The story is really all over the place, and things seem to happen for no reason other than the plot demanding it. By trying to reboot the character in order to escape the trappings of the story, it has instead fallen into the same rut that so many mediocre Wonder Woman runs have fallen into.

I'll read the next trade because I enjoy Wonder Woman and because it's the last of the run before the New 52 reboot, but there's absolutely a problem that needs solving with this arc, and I'm hoping the next volume gets there.

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07 June 2012

Review: Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia

Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia
Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia by Greg Rucka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had somehow missed this when I was going into the Wonder Woman run, which I started with Rucka's arc in Volume 2. Reading this now makes me appreciate it a lot more than I would have if I had started in with The Hiketeia, which bases its entire story on the concept of Wonder Woman's relationship with the traditions of her home and how they correspond with the needs and realities of the world she now lives in.

It's incredibly well done - it's subtle as well as direct, and, as an added bonus, Batman gets his butt kicked. That's a good story for me. What's well done about this, though, is that it does provide the depth for Wonder Woman, both as the hero and as Diana, that most of Wonder Woman stories lack - not that Wonder Woman is simply a pretty face or anything, but that it's hard to figure out what it is that she should be doing. Rucka didn't have that issue on his run, and it's certainly not a problem here in this story.

I definitely liked this. I'm finally catching up with the end of the old run and the New 52, so this was a great opportunity to reacquaint myself with one of my favorite superheroes. I'm ultimately glad I picked it up.

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04 June 2012

Review: Purity

Purity by Jackson Pearce

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

The story is simple - a girl, who's mother died while she was young, made her make three promises, one of which involves listening to her father. Of course, the upcoming Princess Ball (read: Purity Ball) is coming up, and she's not sure she wants to take a vow of chastity this early in life, so she decides that the only way to stay true to her promise and not break the upcoming vow is to lose her virginity before the ball.


I mean, the book had its charming moments, and it's very much a comedy of errors in terms of getting from point A to point B, but there's a lot of paint-by-numbers aspects to this one that I didn't love. In terms of girly teenage sex comedies, this is one of the good ones, but it's nothing crazy special, either.

Bonus points, however, for not falling into general stereotypes about religiously-oriented people and the entire concept of purity dances/vows and the like. While the lead character is definitely skeptical of many things, there's an overall grace and acceptance to her points of view and activities that was refreshing in a book like this.

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01 June 2012

Review: The Croning

The Croning
The Croning by Laird Barron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With the resurgence in popularity of authors like HP Lovecraft, with new attention of folks like Clark Ashton Smith and "weird fiction" in general, it's good to see new weird fiction published. Laird Barron was recommended as someone to read, and I was able to get my hands on The Croning.

The story follows an academic and his wife over the course of various points of their lives. Don is continually caught up in some rather strange occurances, none of which he can truly explain and some he cannot readily remember. Toward the end of their lives, they own a cabin in the wilderness and, well, that's when things really get a little weird.

Barron's publishing history thus far has been more in the poetry and short story realms, and this book shows that - the overarching story is definitely cohesive, but it's told, in a sense, via a number of short stories with the same characters. It's actually a fairly interesting move, and one that worked really well for me in terms of keeping the slow burn and keeping me interested along the way.

As someone who's not a big horror guy, I really enjoyed the book. It got really, really creepy toward the end, had a lot of subtle nods to other books and ideas, and kept me up rather late reading. I can't ask for a ton more from a book, and this was really well done as a result. I'll definitely be looking for his other stuff sooner rather than later.

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