Saturday, 26 March 2016

Chris Kuznetski - Sword of God

The reason for reading this one was simple. It was on the end of the shelf when I came to picking my next book. In general I know what to expect from a Chris Kuznetski, Payne and Jones (Batman and Robin) novel, so much so that I didn’t actually make that many notes on it.

My biggest criticism of his writing is that he foreshadows events far too much. More or less every chapter ends with a massive hint as to what will happen in the next chapter or the chapter after that and it’s a real shame too as his books and very readable and he is a great storyteller and character builder.

Despite my resounding praise for his work there is always nitpicking to be done. On page 67 (at least I’m lead to believe it is page 67 as it is directly after page 66 but doesn’t feature a page number. This is hardly Chris’s fault though as I’m sure he doesn’t do his own paperback printing) there is the use of the word ‘mum’ which I always find strange when written by an American author even when talking about Koreans.

Page 99 has a rather bizarre paragraph about Muhammed and how Muslims and English speaking Muslims deal with saying his name, which is fine... only it has no bearing on the story at all. Other than maybe highlight that Shari is an English speaking Muslim who doesn’t follow the customs but we knew that anyway and if it was such a big deal, why doesn’t anyone else mention it? The narrative isn’t really required and doesn’t add anything to the story.

I didn’t see anything else even worth mentioning until page 316 where another meaningless paragraph is present. The entire section about the Abraj Al Bait Towers feels tacked in just to tell us about the target for the terrorist attack. We knew about the building before this point so it might have been better to have explained the size of the building earlier. Another way to address it would have been during the mission scoping before Payne and Jones attempt to take down the terrorists – that way it would have fit in to the story properly rather than feeling like a total tack-in before the finale.

The last thing I picked up on was the incorrect spelling of character name on page 414 out of 422 where Henderson is replaced by Harrison which made me reread the chapter over again to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

So in summary, Sword of God is a good read with a few minor quibbles and definitely a good book to pick up if you are going on a long journey. However, I couldn’t help but be disappointed with the lack of an actual ancient sword to find. I do enjoy the epic questing, searching for ancient objects and myths.

Sword of God by Chris Kuznetski was published by Penguin Books in 2007. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Stephen King - The Wind Through the Keyhole

When I found out another Dark Tower book was released, I was quite excited. I thought it would be great to dive back in to Stephen King’s crazy world of Gunslingers and apocalypse in spite of everything I may have said in my review of the final Dark Tower book. For the most part I was right. It is a tale that can work by itself and also as an extension of the seven-book extravaganza – but only if you make certain exceptions.

The main thing that stood out to me was the weird suedo-English used throughout Wind Through the Keyhole. In the main series you are made aware that there is a high speech and a low speech. The low speech is how we - in the real world - communicate with each other. The problem I found in this book was that King creates his own in-between language without any kind of background explanation as to what the words he uses actually words mean. The crux of this is that at points, it is really hard to understand what on earth people are talking about.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is actually a story within a story... within a story. That’s not actually overtyping, but fact. Roland is telling the usual gang of wanderers a story about his past. While telling the story of his past, he then tells another story in this story... it’s less complicated than I’ve made it sound but it’s still a bit weird. Especially when Roland is supposed to be telling them a story about the storm they are sitting in. Why not just tell them the actual story you told to the boy in the story from your past? It didn’t really make much sense in terms of framing... or over-framing. 

There were a couple of things that made me stop reading to question what was actually going on, more than just the suedo-language, during the 333-page addition to the Dark Tower. The first one occurs on page 132 when one character’s wife and child die. The next three words in the narrative are ‘Ross was gloomy.’ This feels kind of redundant in the face of another character losing everything they supposedly loved and is also ridiculously selfish when put into context. Ross is supposed to be a character we look up to and respect yet he becomes gloomy as he thinks his friend would resort to drink and violence in the face of his wife’s death because he will have to deal with it. Really?

The other thing that stuck with me, and I’m pretty sure this came up in the original series as well, is the description, ‘Turtle that holds up the world,’ which still feels like a Terry Pratchett Discworld rip-off. This could also be a reference to Chinese or Indian mythology but that seems like a giant leap in term of the Dark Tower story.

Other than that though, it is good standalone novel that fits nicely in to the Dark Tower journey. If any more of these come out, I will definitely read them but I would like to see more adventures from the actual journey to the tower rather than stories within stories within stories.

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2012. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)


Thursday, 3 March 2016

Lee Child - Killing Floor

This book was recommended to me by a friend who doesn’t read very much so I thought I would pick it up and give it a go. What I’m about to say may seem extremely negative and for the most part it is because there were a lot of things about the book I didn’t like. That said, once I got used to the writing style, it became a fast paced, accessible action-adventure which was difficult to put down. That’s the praise out of the way, let’s talk shittiness.

Now I’ve always been taught that the first page of anything you write is the most important, especially when it comes to novels. Selling yourself to publishers happens in about sixty seconds, maybe less depending on how many manuscripts they have to read. The first page here made me take a second check of what was going on because the last paragraph, which crosses over to the second page, starts with some newspaper bullshit of no relevance to the scene and moves immediately to the action of our main protagonist being arrested. I understand the reasons for this but it made me stop, think and need to re-read and that’s not something I should be doing on the first page of a novel.

As I’ve said above, it took me a while to get used to the writing style, however once I did it reads quite well. The main issues I had were with some of the character decisions made throughout the book and they link back to the writing. I will warn you now that some of things I’m about to say may be considered spoilers but I will try to be as vague as possible.

As early as page 39, I started to raise my eyebrows at some of the stuff that was going on. Apparently the Chief of Police sees Reacher at the crime scene at midnight. Not one person turns around and asks what the Chief of Police was doing there. Just a routine stroll around the out-of-town warehouse where someone was murdered as the exact same time?? This is explained later on as to why he thinks to saw Reacher there but that just poses more questions than answers. This carries on for the next twenty pages and not even the first-person narrator questions why the police chief is there. Maybe I’ve read/watched too many deductive programs but it would have been the first question on my list.

On page 80 when Reacher and Hubble turn up at the prison, the warden asks which one of the two of them is Hubble... but doesn’t address Reacher at all. This doesn’t make any sense. Either you are checking you have both of the right people or you know both of them. Why only ask one of them? Again, there is a clear reason for this but it doesn’t make sense to do it in the context it is done unless the Warden’s character is really stupid but if that’s the case, Reacher isn’t he so should have sensed something was up. The intelligence of Reacher is established early on when he works out that Finley is an ex-smoking divorcee just by looking at him.

In fact, a lot of the other points I’ve made about the narrative decisions relate to Reacher’s early show of observation and deduction. Apparently, it’s a super power that needs to re-charge because he didn’t work out that someone at the police station didn’t run the victim’s prints and was therefore in on the murder; he didn’t question the suspicious death of the previous investigator even though the evidence made me think it was murder (and I was right); he didn’t work out until a few days after the event, that the white supremacists who tried to kill him should have been trying to kill Hubble; he doesn’t think that taking a car from a house would alert anyone watching the house that he had been back there; he drives for 50 miles further than his petrol tank will allow him to go but after pointing this out, he isn’t surprised by this and doesn’t even do a fuel check after stopping.
It’s lucky though because his super powers come back in to play at the end as he manages to track down Hubble by making a fuck load of ridiculous assumptions about his fake name and location that, of course, are right on the money. Looking at this, it actually seems like his deductive brilliance is actually out of character.

On the subject of Reacher, he is the a-typical male character. He objectifies the one woman in the town who is actually attractive (according to the narrative anyway) and of course, she ends up fancying him too. It’s all very stereotypical.

So there you go, Killer Floor is a novel with some narrative decisions that are more puzzling that the decision to cast Tom Cruise as the 6-foot tall blonde guy. As I said though, none of that takes away from the fact that it’s a very readable book and there are some clever bits in there that make it worth reading.

Killing Floor by Lee Child was published by Bantam Press in 1998. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)