Saturday, 16 March 2013

R.A. Salvatore - Servant of the Shard

Servant of the Shard is meant to be the first book in a series of three books, which is why I was perplexed that the very first word of the prologue is ‘he’ like it assumes some kind of prior knowledge to something that has happened  before the story has started. In fact, the entire opening of the book reads like this. So much so that I did a little research into the author and discovered that this trilogy is preceded by five other series’, set in the same world, that follow on from each other.

My main issue with this is that if you are going to have several series that follow on from each other, there should be a brief summary in the beginning of the book to inform the uninformed reader of anything they need to know to enjoy the story. Stephen King did this with his epic fantasy, The Dark Tower and it majorly helped me, especially when I waited a few months before reading the next book in the series.

Another issue with reading this as a first book is that there are a lot of characters with weird fantastical names and they are all introduced at the same time. This made life very confusing for me. I am only a simple minded man and to accommodate lots of new names at the same time was very challenging for me.

By page 6 of the 369 page fantasy extravaganza I had finally established who everyone was and their place in the world (no easy task,) and could move on to bashing the narrative. There is overdone dialogue description where the author over emphasises the calmness of one character’s talking. Had there been a preamble detailing the previous books and this character’s specific traits, this might not have been necessary. However the phasing of, ‘he asked calmly – too calmly,’ is a lazy way of describing the difference in character.

Page 17 is littered with over written sentences, one such example being, ‘taking no obvious note of her arrival at all.’ This style carries on throughout the novel, so much that I stopped making note of anything after page 24.

There were two other things that bugged me before this point (bad things happen in twos in seems.) ‘Life in the Dark Lane’ is the title of chapter two and while this is clich├ęd, it is also out of context in this particular fantasy where cars do not exist.

On page 24, one paragraph is written from the perspective of two different characters which again makes for confusing reading as well as poor layout and sentence structure.

After this point I stopped making notes, put all my issues with the story aside and discovered that the book actually gets better as it goes along. Salvatore has got a lot of skill when it comes to writing complex action sequences. Even though there is a lot going on, they are quite easy to follow and he manages to build suspense without foreshadowing future events or character death.

Also as a final note, I am pleased that the book actually features a crystal shard which uses its holders as servants. Finally, we have a book with an appropriate title!

Servant of the Shard by R.A. Salvatore was published by Wizards of the Coast in 2000. RRP £5.99 (Amazon Paperback)

Allan Pease - The Ultimate Book of Rude and Politically Incorrect Jokes

Why did the dead baby cross the road?

That is a politically incorrect, rude and insensitive joke. It is also nonsensical so that would explain why it is not in Allan Pease’s collection of jokes. At least it would on the outside. There are a lot of ‘jokes’ in this book that fit the criteria of not making any sense, and some not even in their own context.

What does it take to circumcise a whale? Foreskin Divers.

If someone can explain this joke and why it is funny, please post a comment below. If it is in fact a reference to four skin divers, it is simply a terrible joke.

Some are not even rude or politically incorrect and following on from my previous review this makes the title somewhat misleading. To be an ultimate book of politically incorrect jokes, I would expect to be reading lots of jokes that are quite offensive.

Instead this book plays it safe in most respects. Apparently it is okay to make sexist jokes towards both men and women, the French, Greeks, Irish, Gays and Jewish people. However there are several notable minorities missing from this list so does this mean that going into all of them will be taking it to far? In the same light is it not okay to include any of the more inappropriate jokes that circulate the internet on sites such as sickipedia? The difference is that sites like sickipedia are opposed to quality control and anyone can contribute. Therefore I would expect an ‘ultimate’ book to have a least a few of the more offensive ones cherry picked from these locations.

For example;
I was doing my secretary up the arse last night when my wife caught me.
‘You can’t do this to me!’ she said.
‘I know,’ I replied. ‘That’s why I’m doing it to her.’

This is only a slightly offensive one but over the course of the 276 pages, I would expect a lot more offensive jokes of this nature and worse - and a lot less whale foreskins.

I think that maybe the problem is more with society than the book itself.  It was published in Great Britain and the nature of the general English population is that they are easily offended and will actively look for things to complain about. People have forgotten that jokes are exactly that – jokes. Jokes are told to get a reaction from an audience. If you find racist jokes funny, that doesn’t mean you are a racist. If someone takes these jokes seriously, it raises more concerns about the reader than the teller.

However, the disclaimer in the front states, ‘Send complaints or abuse emails letters to’ so clearly Allan isn’t that bothered if he offends people – so use more offensive jokes! And remove the ones that don’t make sense!

So in summary, it is a mediocre collection of jokes, some of which are really funny and others which are not.  The ones that don’t make sense annoy me but mainly because the title states Ultimate book of which is very misleading.

The Ultimate Book of Rude and Politically Incorrect Jokes by Allan Pease was published by Robson Books in 2001. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

As of 15 March 2013 this book is now referenced on Allan’s Wikipedia page.

James Becker - The Nosferatu Scroll

One of the most important things about a book is that the reader can identify with the characters involved. However, there are certain ways a writer can prevent a reader from doing so even if they design a really good character and this is exactly the case with James Becker’s Chris Bronson.

Of all the surnames there are to chose from, including making up new ones, I do not understand the decision to name the main after one of Britain’s most notorious criminals – complete with a matching first initial. He is also referred to throughout the book as Bronson and he is a policeman. I found it impossible to picture anything but a bald guy with a cheesy eighties moustache as Bronson was gallivanting around Venice.

There will be more on Chris Bronson’s skill set later, but for now let’s discuss the actual writing. The first few chapters hammer out a load of semi-relevant information in the form of dialogue from Bronson’s wife, Angela.  My main problem with this is that it stops being dialogue and reads like non-fiction. There is no characterisation to the paragraphs; they just run as uninterrupted dialogue for pages at a time. I would have forgiven this had Bronson said something at the end like, ‘Sorry darling, I stopped listening about 3 pages ago.’

There are small problems with the characterisation of everyone throughout the book. On page 125 when some random dudes have a woman prisoner, they haven’t said anything to her for the entire time she has been captured. Then, all of a sudden, it what appears to be a complete change of character, one of the dudes turns around and starts antagonising her.

The dialogue problems also continue throughout. A lot of the conversations are very wooden with little characterisation from either party. It makes for very uninteresting reading.

Around chapter 31 I started to become aware of a few problems with the pacing of the novel. Some parts which feature a lot of moving through different locations pass by in a few sentences and other parts, such as unnecessary conversations and information based dialogue get dragged out. I was quite shocked in this chapter especially because I almost didn’t notice that we had skipped a really long journey and passage of time.

Chapters are written from a few different perspectives.  One such perspective is the captured girl mentioned earlier. All these chapters serve to do is remind us that she was captured and is still captured and is being held captive. They don’t add anything to the story other than to remind us that she is in trouble and that something potentially bad is going to happen to her later. If nothing happened later, there would be no point to the story. There is far too much forewarning in these sections – we know something is going to happen and we do not need to be reminded of it every five minutes.

Moving on to problems with the story itself – one of the other characters is captured later on and kept alive to complete a translation. However the captors point out that they have translated some of the text themselves so would know if she was doing it wrong on purpose. At this point, it seems the only reason to keep her live is a device to drive the story.

As mentioned earlier Bronson has very specific skill set. One such skill is the art of aikido which is explained to us in the middle of an action sequence. The only reason for this is because Bronson needs to use this skill to survive. Similar occurrences happen throughout the novel, if Bronson needs to do something, the author gives him the necessary skills to do so with a quick history of why he is able to do it. At one point he needs to use a gun so it is brought to our attention that he used to be in army. After this I was half expecting him to come face to face with a lion – but he would be okay because of that year he spent as part of the circus as a lion tamer.

There are several other irritations, too many to mention all of them at this stage so I’ll mention two more that really got under my skin.  At the end of one chapter, Bronson is asked to if he can confirm whether or not a dead woman is his wife. His response is, ‘Yes I can.’ This is expected, he should know what his wife looks like. But surely if anyone is ever in this position where they are asked if they are able to confirm whether the dead person is their wife, the response would not be, ‘yes I can,’ and then stop talking.

The last one comes near the end where there are two girls are captured together - one of them is English and the other is Italian. The Italian knows a little English. Now in my experience, when someone says they know a little English, they know the basics. I wouldn’t expect someone with limited knowledge of a foreign language to know what the translation for taser was.

It seems that Becker, throughout the 466 paged of the novel, will give his characters the necessary requirement to make his story work with very little effort on his part which is attributable to very lazy and predictable writing. I managed to predict the ending to the letter and I am very rarely able to do that which is a not a good sign.

Despite the many, many points I’ve raised I still sort of enjoyed it, although the best bit was the author’s note in the back which taught me a lot about the history of vampires. Wait, I’ve just thought of another irritation! The book is called The Nosferatu Scroll and this would indicate that there is an item in the book of that name. However, Nosferatu is not even mentioned until the author’s note which makes the title of the book almost completely meaningless.

The Nosferatu Scroll by James Becker was published by Bantam Press in 2011. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)