Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Robyn Young - Brethren

Walking home blind drunk from a night out resulted in the purchase of this book. It is not a good idea to have a 24 hour Tesco on the route home from the local club. Well, for me anyway. Especially with change in my wallet.

However, unlike the many other things I’ve bought when I haven’t had complete control over my sense, Brethren is actually far from the worst. Or the mostly costly (Amazon has had an adverse affect on my bank balance over the years.)

Brethren takes us back to the crusades and follows the main protagonist Will Campbell through his young life. The first strikingly strange thing is Will’s name and how he is surrounded by other characters with far more historically general names than his. For example, his best friend is Garin de Lyons, his mentor Owein and a few other friends. Basically he is the only character with a generic surname like Campbell.

The main problem with the book is its length of 653 pages. There are many sections of the book which give bits of history that are unnecessary to the story. It really takes away from the story and character development when you are removed from it for a long irrelevant history lesson.

It seems that Robyn Young is more interested in writing about the history of the crusades as opposed to developing her characters and their individual stories. If I wanted to learn more about the crusades I would have picked up a non-fiction book.

One of the most interesting parts of the story is the relationship between Will and his love interest Elwen. They develop a secret love at a young age. Inappropriately young some might say, and it very interesting to see how their relationship affects Will’s anger levels. Unfortunately, tying in with the history stuff above, there isn’t enough of their relationship on paper, which is a real shame.

After their young love comes to end though, Will Campbell’s mood develops more swings than a children’s play park. At the start he is confident slash arrogant with his approach to becoming a knight. Then he becomes insanely angry due to his circumstances and then depressed but also angry and then back to happy in the space of a few pages. I don’t think this is a character flaw but more a problem with the language used surrounding his moods. This more generally happens with characters in action scenes where the words describe them as pretty much dead yet somehow they claw their way back to victory. Despite the fiction, it takes away from the believability of the characters.

That aside the book has some enjoyable moments. It kept me entertained enough to see it through to the end – and not just because I’m wired that way. Despite the history breaks it was good to see the young characters develop over the duration.

Brethren by Robyn Young was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2006. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Saturday, 12 January 2013

John McShane - Heath Ledger - His Beautiful Life and Mysterious Death - John McShane

I picked this one up shortly after Heath Ledger’s death in 2008. I also found a shirt from a University night out where people thought it was appropriate to write ‘I hate Heath Ledger’ all over my back. It was during the season of bad taste but just to clarify; I don’t hate Heath Ledger. Just this book.

The first few pages give a history of Australia dating as far back as 1982 which pre-dates Heath by 150 years. This is unnecessary padding for a book that is only 279 pages long. Also did you know that a man called Charles Harper set up a school for his own kids in 1896? You do now! Again it has no bearing on the life of Heath Ledger put at least it adds an additional paragraph to the book.

Another problem surrounding the length of the book is its publishing date. It was published in 2008, the same year as Heath’s death, and before the success of The Dark Knight and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was fully known. The book was rushed to make money, something that I don’t hold in high regard as per my review of The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. This is worse because it tries to cash in using a man’s death as a selling point.

That’s my main problem with it, now for the nitty-gritty. The first small error I noticed was on page 8. It was only a double space but these sorts of punctuation errors continue throughout the book – another sign of rushing.

While I’m going on about unnecessary wording, the first chapter is called ‘Sea, Surf and Gene Kelly.’ However there are no references to surfing or Heath’s enjoyment of it. It seems to be written on the concept of, ‘Surfing is associated with Australia... and Heath Ledger is Australian... I know! Let’s use Surf in the chapter title!’ Brilliant.

On page 52, an entire sentence is repeated. The whole page is Heath’s quotes but a little editing wouldn’t have hurt the book. And I doubt he said exactly the same thing word for word. In fact while I’m on the subject, quite a lot of the book could have been pulled directly from the internet. This is probably a good thing though as when the author decides to write his own narrative, it is either Australian history or stuff like this, ‘Heath and Heather... the names seem to go together well,’ which is an astute and pointless piece of prose. Pointless piece of prose... that goes together well too Mr McShane.

On page 201 the author uses two quotes that give Heath two different ages. Even though they are quotes from other sources, the author could at least have proof read the articles before publishing. It could also be a typo made during transposing, but again, a proof read would have sorted this. It’s just more laziness.
That’s it for my problems with the author. There was one other thing that annoyed me slightly. When Heath is talking about working on the set for A Knight’s Tale he says that the crew used bottles of Evian water to pour over the actors to keep them cool. This seems to me like a huge waste of money. Why not just use normal water for the purposes of keeping people cool?

 That said there are some good points to the book. There are many quotes and inferences from Heath’s life that are quite interesting. My personal favourite was, ‘If you make decisions based on society’s opinions, you’re going to make boring choices.’

The book also increased the size of my DVD collection so some good definitely came out of it!

Heath Ledger – His Beautiful Life and Mysterious Death by John McShane was published by John Blake Publishing Limited in 2008. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

Paul Hoffman - The Left Hand of God

I bought this book on my travels from a W H Smith at Birmingham train station and I’m ashamed to say I have been responsible for most of their book sales at train stations across the country. Despite buying it at a train station I didn’t get around to reading until a holiday last year which has lead to it being one of the most dog-eared books I own.

I will start by saying this is one of the best books I’ve read in a while, to the point where I didn’t write that much about it.

The story is original; the world it’s set in is dark and bizarre but not to the point of it not being believable and the characters are fascinating.

The main protagonist, Thomas Cale, is a young boy raised in a monastery type place by some unfriendly religious extremists called Redeemers. These Redeemers are training all the boys to fight for them in the name of some kind of super Redeemer person and expunge all ‘evil’ from the world.

Cale accidentally kills one of these evil Redeemer dudes and then has to run away, but takes some friends with him because it would be a pretty boring story if he ran away on his own.

One of the best things about the boy is the way in which the boys talk to each other. They have just escaped from a bunch of mad religious dudes but because of their training (I’m guessing) there is no fear and they start taking the piss out of each other, to the extent of making Mum jokes. This was a great way to relieve any kind of tension that was building up and I found myself laughing out loud – and a bunch of Turkish people giving me strange looks.

The humour continues throughout the book and it’s not just the kids that are in on it. Later on there is a conversation between two high ranking officials in one nation where they are discussing getting rid of Cale to which one of them says, ‘He’s a jinx like that fellow in the belly of the whale,’ to which the other responds, ‘Jesus of Nazareth?’

Again, I was in fits. I know the world is some kind of warped version of our own and this could well have been the case, but if it is, why does official number two ask the question if not just to make me wet myself in public?

This brings me on to another point about the way the novel is written. The dialogue is exceptional. Characters can talk for pages at a time without the need to direct who is saying what and it what way. The dialogue does all the work so narrative is not required. This is quite a skill, especially when there are more than two people involved in a conversation.

I reviewed my negative points and found that I was trying far too hard to find continuity errors and things that didn’t make sense.  I found the only noticeable mistake (which probably isn’t even worth mentioning) on page 248 where the narrative talks about ‘good and back luck.’ So a spelling a mistake. A spelling mistake is the only criticism I have out of 498 pages of narrative. There are probably more mistakes in this 584 word review.

The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman was published by Michael Joseph in 2010. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)