31 August 2012

Review: The Path of Daggers

The Path of Daggers
The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, it took seven books, but now we're getting somewhere.

The flaw, as I've noted time and time again, is that so little seems to happen in these books. The series has, more or less, been 6 books of wandering around semi-aimlessly with limited purpose - Rand having his schizopheric attacks, the Aes Sedai being suspicious of each other constantly, and the side characters moving from place to place.

It's tiring.

The last two books have picked things up, however, and it's a good thing. The Aes Sedai situation is becoming less suspicion and more action, which is really where Robert Jordan shines as an author. You're getting the real idea as to the importance and urgency of the situation with the Black Ajai and the White Tower, and they're acting.

The big benefit of The Path of Daggers, however, is Rand. He's becoming less petulant and more accepting of his position, he's becoming more understanding, and yet he's still frustratingly stubborn and naive. His actions in battle toward the end of the book were both predictable and stunning in their breadth and arrogance, and it made me feel for Rand as a character for the first time in thousands of pages. Really well done.

Instead of loathing the next installment, I'm anticipating it excitedly. I'll likely fall a bit behind my goal of having them mostly done in time for the final book, but at this point it's less about racing through them and more about savoring the good parts - easier to do because there are more good parts to savor for the first time since the first volume.

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13 August 2012

Review: The Submission

The Submission
The Submission by Amy Waldman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the worst movies I've ever seen is Crash. In the same vein (and by the same writers) of Traffic, it's a movie that takes a certain idea or concept, maps it out in ridiculously black and white terms, and then takes a two hour cluebat to your psyche. In Crash, everyone's a little bit racist (except for those who are not, and are thus nothing more than pure victims), in Traffic, drugs may be bad but the drug war is worse. It's a knowing nod to those who are considered informed by the creators - as long as you agree with what the creators are peddling.

The Submission is effectively the literary version of this artistic illustration of such confirmation bias. In The Submission, we land in the story right when a design for a 11 September memorial is about to be chosen. The committee has done so via a blind selection process, and it turns out that the winning design is created by a Muslim man. The story follows the main people involved in the process, including the designer.

Whether you're sympathetic or hostile to the ideas pushed forward in the book is of little consequence to the end result, which is a straightforward narrative where anyone who is not on the correct side of the issue is a caricature of actual human beings, and ends up reading more like an NPR junkie's idea of what certain groups act like. It's a book begging to be handsold in an independent bookstore, in which like-minded people can nod at each other because, like in the films spoken above, they get it and everyone else does not. While it's (obviously) insulting to those that it's supposed to insult, it's also insulting to thinking people who may be otherwise sympathetic to a lot of what is described in the book, as I am. One can make a narrative with a message without condescending upon those it seeks to lampoon. It's not satire, but it might have worked better with its tongue firmly in cheek.

There's good writing here, for sure, but it's weighed down by the message-sending and attitude. It's unfortunate.

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09 August 2012

Review: A Crown of Swords

A Crown of Swords
A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I give up trying to figure this series out.

So, honestly speaking? A Crown of Swords is, by far, my favorite book in this series so far. Everything clicks really well, the book's pace is finally in line with what's happening, and, while it feels like a middle book in a long series, it works because what happens feels like it matters.

Where so many multi-book fantasy stories become elaborate chess matches, the Wheel of Time is no different in that case, except that so much of it ends up either focusing on the pawns or watching the same four pieces go back and forth repeatedly. In this book, at least, we get clear action from Rand, we get significant movement from the Aes Sedai, we actually get to feel some danger for the first time ever, it just works.

This is where the flaw in this series comes into play, though. So much of the Wheel of Time is based around missed potential. I feel as if I'm praising this book not because it was a good read, but because I feel like I should be applauding Robert Jordan for not screwing this one up. It's just as much a testament to the misses as it is the hits.

Reading this book truly got me interested in the series again, and that's something. I'm hitting the back end of the Jordan-penned tomes, and while I'm hoping I don't fall behind due to work duties, I'm interested to see if this keeps up. But I'm suddenly glad I haven't thrown in the towel just yet.

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01 August 2012

Review: Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream
Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are ultimately two books here - one is about the season of a top-tier high school football team, the other about the town in Texas that the school is in.

The football story is great.

The town story, not so much.

My problem with this book is not so much the writing or the story itself. My issue is more with the position the author takes about a certain topic. You can definitely get the feeling of distaste and dislike about the town, its priorities, and its beliefs throughout, and it really takes you out of the story - even if I agree with him! Let us make our own decisions as to how we feel about these people.

There are a lot of interesting people in town, on and off the team. You definitely get invested in a lot of the goings on, and the book succeeds on that level. It's just unfortunate that the author couldn't trust us to take the extra steps.

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