Filthy Little Bookses

Okay, I guess I’m taking the Gollum reference to its logical conclusion, and slowly but surely I’m catching up on all the reading I’ve done over the past six months. I’m actually glad I don’t write about the books my company publishes as I’d never catch up at this point if I did. Rest assured none of the books included in this post are filthy!

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily a New Hope, by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope, by Ian Doescher. Published by Quirk Books

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, this book really exists. And yes, it is completely and unabashedly nerdy. And yes, it is completely awesome. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, by Ian Doescher, answers the age old question of what would happen if the Bard himself had written Star Wars? The answer is simple: an entire trilogy of plays written in blank iambic verse. Guys, there are soliloquies. Darth Vader soliloquizes. Luke gives grand speeches. And Chewbacca, well ok, he still growls and roars, but he does so iambically!

Alright, so how can anyone seriously review this book? Anyone who has been even remotely alive in the last 35 years knows the story, and almost everyone loves it. The complete nerdiness of this book also makes it instantly desirable. While reading it on the train I had numerous people catch sight of it and ask me about it. I live in New York. People only talk to you on the subway if they are extremely drunk, very creepy, or just downright crazy, but completely normal and well-adjusted people politely asked me about this book. I even took the dust jacket and off and people were still asking about it! It just goes to show that this is actually a really fun idea, and what’s more is it actually works out great. Ian Doescher has done a wonderful job rewriting the movie we all know and love into Shakespearean verse, and without the obscure Early Modern English vocabulary.  The dialogue, speeches, and soliloquies are all written with care, and will make readers smirk at the cleverness imbued into each line. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope is an accessible, enjoyable, and short read for any lover of Star Wars, Shakespeare, or both! And yes, it will be a trilogy. The second entry in the saga, William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, was released last month, and William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return is expected to go on sale in January.

The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau. Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau. Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

Since the success of The Hunger Games, many publishers have released similar futuristic, dystopian young adult novels to cash-in. Some of these imitators have been hugely successful in their own right, such as the Divergent series. Others have done okay, and still others have not done well at all. Unfortunately, The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau, doesn’t leave much of an impression in a market swamped with other books just like it.

Cia Vale is the daughter of a somewhat well-to-do family living in what was once the Midwestern United States. Her father works to remove toxins from the soil and engineer hardy plant life that can grow in the inhospitable landscape of a devastated world. Cia has a loving family, she lives in a small and welcoming community, and though the circumstances of her life aren’t perfect she has little room to complain. That all changes when she is accepted as a Testing candidate that will determine if she will attend university, and go on working to rebuild and rejuvenate her country. Unfortunately for her, the Testing is intense in more than just challenging candidates’ mental faculties. It will also push them to their physical and mental limits, and the punishment for failure is death. The testing culminates in a lengthy survival exercise in which the candidates must travel hundreds of miles back to the capital of the United Commonwealth all while avoiding traps, wild mutant animals, and each other. And even if she survives, Cia won’t remember any of it.

The Testing largely fails right from the beginning. The lives of the people living in Cia’s community, while hard, are not desperate. Cia and her community actually appear to have their lives under control and live seemingly without a Big Brother-ish shadow hanging over their heads. So the first problem with The Testing is that it really doesn’t seem like anything is at stake. The next problem is the overall contrived nature of the plot. If you’re expecting someone to die, this book won’t let you down, and they’ll die gruesomely. Third, and most importantly, it shares way too many similarities to The Hunger Games. Readers could easily replace the names of characters in The Testing with those of TheHunger Games and you’d have essentially the same book. Perhaps this could be said for many other dystopian young adult novels, but they’re more forgivable because they are actually well written. The Testing is not. The prose is every bit as infertile as the toxin-ridden soil surrounding Cia’s home. If you’re hungering (Yes, I just made a stupid pun. Yes, I am ashamed.) for some good dystopian novels like The Hunger Games, I’d recommend skipping The Testing. There are much better books out there.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Published by William Morrow Books.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Published by William Morrow Books.

In the world of speculative fantasy, Neil Gaiman reigns supreme. He is the author of the novels Neverwhere and American Gods, and prior to that he was well known as the writer behind DC/Vertigo’s amazing Sandman comic book series that originally ran from 1989 through 1996. Not to mention the numerous children’s books he has written, such as Coraline. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Gaiman’s first novel intended for adult audiences since 2005’s Anansi Boys, and it was well worth the wait.

At the beginning of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, readers learn that the narrator (who is never named), is returning to his childhood home to deliver a funeral eulogy. I don’t remember if it ever says whose funeral he is attending, but that hardly matters. While back on his boyhood stomping grounds, his mind wanders back some fifty years distant when a man was found dead in his car not far from the narrator’s old home. Shortly afterward many strange occurrences begin to happen, which eventually lead to the narrator meeting the Hempstocks, two women and a girl claiming to be a multi-generational family. The narrator soon learns that the Hempstocks are far more than they first appear to be. They are actually ancient creatures or spirits, nearly as old as creation itself, and they protect our reality from encroaches by malevolent beings from realms beyond that of human experience. The narrator tags along with the youngest Hempstock, Lettie, as she journeys into the ether to put a stop to the creature that is causing mischief in the human world, but something neither of them expect happens when the creature buries a portion of itself inside the narrator and comes returns to our world with them. Once there, the creature decides it is going to stay and lead our reality to ruin, and the price paid to stop the creature is especially high.

To put it simply, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the best book I read in 2013. Gaiman once again proves that he is a master of his craft. Every little detail, every odd happenstance, every bit of fantasy is instantly believable and written with extraordinary care and attention to detail. If that isn’t enough, readers will share all the joy, heartbreak, and loss experienced by the various characters. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short, wonderful read that is perfect for anyone who has ever wondered if there is more to our world than meets the eye, and is a great introduction for any reader unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman. I don’t think anyone will regret reading this book.

The Eye of the World, Book One of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

The Eye of the World, Book One of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

At the start of the year, I made it a goal to begin reading an epic fantasy series. I’d been craving a good, high-fantasy novel for a while and I asked friends which series I should check out first. Mainly I was looking at The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Stormlight Archive. Most people I talked to said I should check out The Wheel of Time since the series recently finished and I could read book after book if I felt the need. So I purchased the ebook edition of the first book in the series, The Eye of the World. Now, I know that I may lose nerd points by the fact that I haven’t already read this series. I was always a little intimidated by the length and scope, and I was getting all the fantasy fixes I required from video games for a long time. Anyway, I was pleased to find that The Eye of the World has all the makings of a strong and expansive fantasy series.

Rand al’Thor is a young, unassuming shepherd living a secluded life near the village of Emond’s Field in the kingdom of Andor. He was blessed with loving parents (his mother having died before the book begins), and he lives a simple life. Rand and the other villagers are preparing for a Spring festival, but the preparations are cut short, however, when Emond’s Field is inexplicably attacked by Trollocs, the grotesque, inhuman minions of the Dark One. Moiraine and Lan, two strangers in the village who are actually a sorceress and her guard, know that the Trollocs are searching for a young man Rand’s age. Realizing that they aren’t safe in the village, Moiraine and Lan persuade Rand and some of his friends to flee the village in a desperate attempt to escape the Trollocs. What Rand and his friends don’t know is that the Trollocs aren’t after just any young man, but the Dragon Reborn, the reincarnation of a man named Lews Therin Telamon who had resealed the Dark One in his prison thousands of years before. As the Dark One again stirs in the depths of his prison, Rand must come face-to-face with his destiny if he, his friends, and the world are to survive the impending darkness.

The Eye of the World is a solid first entry for a series. The characters are strong and each is well-developed. The world is expansive and mysterious, and overall the book hints at great things to come. I did find the book archetypal in its approach, and by that I mean specifically the mythic story of the farm boy learning he has a great destiny and going off to save the world, princess, and etc. I also found that Jordan isn’t quite as capable as other fantasy masters at creating a world that is as alive as it is large. Finally, the book moves at a pretty slow pace that is only exacerbated by the fact that the ebook edition I read is a whopping 751 pages long (50 pages or so of that is an appendix/glossary), and not a lot of the questions brought up are answered through the extent of the book. Still, the last 150 pages or so got pretty intense, and the climax was especially thrilling. If the rest of the books in the series can match that intensity, then this could be a great series indeed. But don’t tell me! I want to find out for myself.

That’s it for this post! I only have two more books to write about, so I’ll tackle those in the next post. Afterwards, I’ll try to catch up on some of the video gaming I’ve done over the last six months.

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