Mar 30, 2015

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami - A Flights of Fantasy Book Review

I've finally accomplished a major reading milestone in my reading life, finishing 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami in its entirety. I bought a hardback copy of the book when the day it first came out in Fully Booked years ago, but I never got past part two of the three-part novel. With over 1,000 pages, it's really long Murakami book!

1Q84 is set in a fictional year where the letter "Q" represents a question mark. The people living in this parallel 1984 world bare witness to the phenomenon of their being two moons in the night sky. The story's two protagonists: the aspiring novelist Tengo and the gym instructor/assassin-for-hire Aomame both live in the year 1Q84

Tengo's story begins when he ghostwrites Air Chrysalis, a novella about mythical creatures called "The Little People." The brainchild of a young girl named Fuka Eri, the novel becomes a huge bestseller. Meanwhile, Aomame is given her toughest assignment yet, to murder the leader of a religious cult called Sakigake. This man had been raping prepubescent girls in his community, and was to be released from this world.

Then, when Tengo's and Aomame's narratives converge in this year of 1Q84, a beautifully detailed and complex Haruki Murakami story emerges. 

What I Liked:

I was surprised by how satisfied I was with how 1Q84 ended. Firstly, I was expecting a sad ending. I thought there was no way Tengo and Aomame would end up together, or even seeing each other. Secondly, I was expecting both protagonists to be "lost," unable to find meaning in their lives, at the end of the novel. That the protagonists ended up happily together was great!

I loved learning more about the stories of various secondary characters like Fuka-Eri, Tamaru, and even Ushikawa. Each one of them enriched the story in his own way, and made reading the novel significantly more enjoyable.  

What I Disliked:

I found 1Q84 extremely repetitive. Both Tengo and Aomame keep having these internal monologues where they think about the same things over and over again. Perhaps a quarter of the novel could have been shaved off if these repetitive musings on exercise routines, culinary ingredients, and metaphorical vacuums were lessened.

And don't get me started on the story of the Gilyak people, which I found almost as boring as Tom Bombadil's poetry, from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

My Rating:

Mar 10, 2015

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas - A Flights of Fantasy Book Review

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas is one of the best young adult fantasy novels I've ever read.

Similar to Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games and Garth Nix's Sabriel, Maas's novel features a strong young female protagonist. Betrayed and imprisoned, the feared assassin Calaena Sandorthien is given an unexpected chance at freedom. Defeat twenty-three other deadly killers in a competition, and she will be allowed to serve as the King's Champion. Then, she can earn her freedom after four years of service. 

Unaware of her true identity, her fellow competitors believer her to be nothing more than a petty jewel thief. Her plan is to remain inconspicuous by pretending to be mediocre and only revealing her true strength at the very end.  However, complications arise when her fellow competitors begin dying one by one. Their bodies are torn to shreds; their brains are sucked dry. A supernatural evil seems to dwell in the castle, but how can that be when all forms of magic had already been purged from the Kingdom of Erilea? 

Then there's the Crown Prince and the Captain of the Guard, two handsome gentlemen vying for her affections. She is drawn to each man for different reasons, and is torn between them. But does she even have the right to choose, when she's nothing but a criminal and an assassin?

What I Liked:

Calaena Sandorthien is a lady of contradictions. On the one hand, she is a skilled and ruthless assassin. On the other hand, she is a kindhearted person who values friendship and love. Crown Prince Dorian Havilliard describes her very romantically, early in the story as "a lovely girl gazing at the story, and the stars who gave back."

Despite being a known enemy of the nobility, she is fond of the finer things in life, including reading literature, playing the piano, and dancing. "Libraries were full of ideas--perhaps the most dangerous and powerful of all weapons," she thinks to herself at one point in the novel. "The stone castle has a library with over a million books, and only the king and prince are allowed to read these books or grant permission to read them. I could live in such a place forever and die in bliss too!" I agree with her wholeheartedly.

More than the competition (more along the lines of archery, knife throwing, wall climbing, and potions mastery rather than actual combat), it was the more personal, artistic scenes like Celaena playing the piano alone in her bedroom, which really moved me in this novel.

I like how magic (in a magic symbols enabling and disabling demons from entering the real world from the netherworld kind of way) was firmly introduced by the end of the novel. It's so Sabriel! And it's making me want to read the Abhorsen trilogy (plus Clariel!) again! I'm really excited to see how the magic aspect develops in the next novel. Good thing I already bought a copy.

Some Concerns:

On the romantic side of things, I didn't find myself caring whether Celaena ended up with Crown Prince Dorian Havilliard or Captain of the Guard Chaol Westfall. They both seem like good guys in their own ways, so it's pretty hard to decide. Oh my gosh! I'm just as confused as Celaena. But I am siding with the more loyal and humble Chaol because I like rooting for the underdog (he's never going to get the girl!) and I identify with him more.  

My Rating:

Feb 27, 2015

Queen of Sorcery (The Belgariad #2) by David Eddings - A Flights of Fantasy Book Review

Queen of Sorcery is book two of The Belgariad series written by David Eddings. You can click on the link to read my review of book one, the Pawn of Prophecy. The second book picks up shortly after the first one ended, with Garion using his innate sleuthing skills to foil the plans of yet another group of enemy spies.

As Garion and his companions continue on their quest to find the stolen orb of power, the young boy begins to discover more about his powers of sorcery, and, his destiny. The more he learns, the greater his desire to go home to the farm where he grew up and live a normal life. However, fate has different plans for him, plans more dangerous and earthshaking than he could ever imagine.

My Thoughts:

Queen of Sorcery introduces interesting new characters, including Princess Ce'Nadra, who is also a wood nymph. There are lots of hints suggesting  that she'll end up marrying Garion in the future, their seeming incompatibility aside. The book also reveals more about beloved characters like the sorcerer Belgarath (Mister Wolf) and his daughter, the sorceress Polgara (Aunt Pol), who are also Garion's relatives. 

I especially liked how Mandorallen, initially portrayed as the bravest, purest, noblest knight in history, began doubting himself after his encounter with the sand snakes. Despite all the fighting and killing he had done in the past, he had never felt true fear before, in contrast with other characters (and, I'd assume, with most people in real life), who live with fear from day to day.

Lelldorin, another noble character, was also very interesting. He's an excellent marksman (I find bow-wielding and dual-blade-wielding characters ultra cool), who's close to Garion's age. The two seemed to get a long better than Garion with Ce'Nadra. I was sad when Lelldorin was physically injured during battle, and left behind by the group, though I'm sure I'll be reading about him again in one of the later books in the series. 

Every land Garion travels to in The Belgariad is culturally rich. I hope to discover more about them as I continue reading the fantasy series. Garion's being captured by Salmissra, the Queeon of Nyissia, the land of the snake people, was a part of the book I really enjoyed. I was really interested in their culture and traditions as a people. The whirlpool Garion and his companions had to slingshot around, to reach Nysissia was too awesome! Another setting I liked was the woods where the nymphs lived. Fairies are among my favorite mythological creatures. 

I'm gaining an appreciation of the individual novels of The Belgariad as individual chapters of one long story. Pawn of Prophecy flows directly into Queen of Sorcery, and so it continues. It may be good for me to review the series as a whole, once I'm done reading it. That way, I'll know what I like and don't like more definitively. In the meantime, I've got nothing bad to say about this novel. It's a quick, fun, and deceptively simple read, just like the first one.

My Rating:

Feb 24, 2015

Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad #1) by David Eddings - A Flights of Fantasy Book Review

I'd first like to thank my friend Thomas for recommending me this book. Without him, I might have never known about fantasy novelist David Eddings nor read any of his books. Now I'm reading my third David Eddings book!

Pawn of Prophecy is the first book of The Belgariad series written by David Eddings. The novel begins with the story of a powerful orb, stolen by the evil god Torak. His theft had fueled a world-ravaging war between gods and men, until Belgarath the Sorcerer managed to retake and hide the orb. After being defeated in battle, Torak is asleep, but not dead.

The story of Torak and Belgarath, which happened lifetimes ago, is now remembered only through the fantastic tales of traveling storytellers, like Mister Wolf, who sometimes visits the small farm where our protagonist Garion and his Aunt Pol live. 

Just a young boy, Garion doesn't know these stories are true, and that someone has stolen the orb and may be trying to wake Torak. He doesn't know that he is about to embark on a quest to find the missing orb, and that he is the embodiment of an ancient prophecy that could make or break the world. 

What I Liked:

What I liked most about Pawn of Prophecy is how reading it made me feel like a young boy again. Everything about David Eddings's work gave me a sense of wonder and awe, enjoining me to participate in an adventure that' spite of all the perils involved in it...immensely fun! 

This book is a breath of fresh air from all the seriousness and stateliness of other fantasy books I've been reading lately. Don't get me wrong, the themes explored in this book are quite serious and complex, but these never overpower the sense of wonder I get from the protagonist, and the book as a whole.

What I Didn't Like:

Pawn of Prophecy is a coming of age story. It doesn't have the political maneuverings, massive action sequences, or complex magic systems one used to reading George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, Joe Abercrombie's First Law, or Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series would expect. And if you are searching for those kinds of books, you might not enjoy David Edding's The Belgariad series. 

However, I enjoyed Pawn of Prophecy very much. It was a quick and fun read, which left me eagerly craving for more! I found myself reading several chapters of Queen of Sorcery, book two of the The Belgariad series, immediately after finishing the first one. 

My Rating:

Flights of Fantasy is a reading challenge hosted by book bloggers Alexa Loves Books and Hello Chelly. Here are my goals for the Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge 2015.

Feb 17, 2015

Mistborn: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson - A Flights of Fantasy Book Review

If you've read my review of Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, you'll know I absolutely loved the fantasy novel. I initially wanted to postpone reading The Well of Ascension, book two of the Mistborn series, so I could take a breather from the awesomeness of the first book. But I couldn't resist! I finishing reading the second book over the weekend. I did the bulk of my reading on Valentine's Day afternoon in Starbucks 515 Shaw, which is like my second home. Thus, the Heart's Day greeting sticker on my cup of coffee.

Book two begins shortly after book one ends, with Vin killing The Lord Ruler and overthrowing The Final Empire. As the new king of Luthadel, Ellend quickly sets up his parliamentary government. He gives equal power and representation to the noblemen, the merchants, and the skaa (former slaves), in hopes of building an empire where everyone is equal. However, things seem to be turning out for the worse than for the better for the budding politician.

Luthadel is now under siege from three separate powerful armies. One is led by his father Straff Venture, who fled from Luthadel during the skaa rebellion. The other, by nobleman Ashweather Cett from Fardex City. Then there's the army of Koloss, brutish beasts created by The Lord Ruler, commanded by Ellend's good friend Jastes Lekal. All three commanders seek a massive store of the precious metal aluminium, supposedly hidden in by Ellend in Luthadel. Will Ellend find a way to rout all three armies? Or will his short rule run its course?

Meanwhile, there may be another problem  in their midst. The mists seem to be coming earlier in the night and lasting longer in the morning. There have even been reports of the mists even killing people. Vin begins having doubts about killing the Lord Ruler. When he said that she was about to ruin everything, what did he mean? And what is this thumping in her head leading her towards some powerful source? Has the Well of Ascension returned, together with the deepness, and is she the Hero of Ages?

What I Liked:

The theme of trust was strong in this novel. Could Vin trust her friends, whom once Keisler trusted, or was there truly a traitor among them? Could Ellend trust the people's representatives in his government to do what was right for the people? In many ways, the protagonists are having a more difficult time running Luthadel than they were plotting to overthrow the Final Empire.

There did seem to be a switching of roles, with the good guys fending of attackers, like the Lord Ruler did in the first novel. With the precious metal atium at the center of their conflicts. The betrayals of TenSoon and Marsh were both shocking and hurtful. And the fact that all the Terris prophecies Sazed had been collecting about the Hero of Ages being tampered with was just terrible, although it served as an excellent twist.

I enjoyed seeing further growth in both Ellend and Vin, both individually and romantically. An optimistic and idealistic scholar, Ellend is having difficulty with the rigors of politics. He is seen as someone too nice and weak to be taken seriously as king. Maybe that's why Vin won't marry him because he's so unlike her.

Meanwhile, Vin is doubting her importance to Ellend, despite his asking her to marry him. What is she to him, just a knife he can use to threaten and kill his political opponents? Perhaps he is just using her because she is a Mistborn. Maybe she can find solace in a man who understands what it means to powerful like her. I'm glad they ended up marrying each other in the end.

I like how the power of the Mistborn continues to develop in The Well of Ascension. New metals with different uses and new uses for old metals are being discovered, keeping fight scenes exciting and unpredictable. Vin's defeating Zane, with him burning atium and with her having none, was just amazing! Even better than the Vin versus Shan battle in The Final Empire.

I really hate it when a really huge battle between armies is about to happen, but the writer decides to focus on fights between a handful of people, then the battle ends. Sanderson presents the battle between the koloss and Luthadel in all its gore and glory. There was plenty of death in this novel. I was especially sad to see Tindwyl die, especially because her romantic relationship with Sazed. I was sad to see Dockson and Clubs die too. Ellend almost died too! But he didn't. He even became a Mistborn. Now that's cool!

My Rating:
Flights of Fantasy is a reading challenge hosted by book bloggers Alexa Loves Books and Hello Chelly. Here are my goals for the Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge 2015.