27 October 2013

Books: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (2012)

Throne of the Crescent Moon is the debut novel from Saladin Ahmed. 

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings. 

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.  Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla’s young assistant, is a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety. But even as Raseed’s sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia. Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the lion-shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man’s title. She lives only to avenge her father’s death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father’s killer. Until she meets Raseed. When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

First, I was surprised how short the novel is, running just a mere 274 pages. It first reminded me of David Eddings The Belgariad, a five novel series that was anywhere between 300 to 350 pages in length. Those books were not overtly complex, and the story was rather straightforward. But Eddings, fully aware of the garden of thorns he was stepping into with his fantasy series (the early 1980s was the beginning of slew of fantasy novels by authors insprired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings), so he added a lot of humor into the dark universe he created. Thus he created a readable and quirky series (that eventually became 12 books) that set it apart from LOTR, but could still be appreciated and liked by those fans of that series.

Ahmed does that here as well, but the book feels too close to being an over-long short story than the first salvo in what appears to be a mutli-volume series. Unlike Eddings, the author story is too straightforward, filled with too much coincidence and convenience. As another reviewer pointed out, “the plot moved from one set to the next with very little difficulty, and the usual way of things was for one character or another to say something along the lines of, ‘Oh. Problem? No worries. I have a guy that can help us with that.’”

And this made me conflicted. I appreciate a writer who can tell a lean fantasy based series and not get bogged down in the ennui that caused me to give up on Robert Jordan and even George R.R. Martin (great attention to detail, but sometimes you got to cut this crap out), but the story is lacking because he did not fully create a sense of urgency with the characters or even the situation. 

And the dread deus ex machine showed up at the end, and I was not surprised by it all –Ahmed telegraphed it ages earlier. Still, he created a very real world -added a bit of diversity that is much needed in this genre- but all that goodness goes to waste on story that felt rushed and incomplete.

14 October 2013

Books: Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey (2012)

It’s been about 18 months since the events of Leviathan Wakes, James Holden and his crew of the Rocinante are now working full time for OPA in their hijacked military ship. Meanwhile, the protomolecule –a morphogenesis type entity that was the start of the war that breaks out between Earth, Mars and the ‘Belters- has been plunged into Venus my Detective Miller in hopes of stopping it. Launched millions of years ago from some unknown part of space, the protomolecule was supposed to wipe out Earth, but Venus now becomes the host for whatever the thing truly is.

Meanwhile, as tension escalates between the three powers, Holden and his crew get drawn into a search for a missing child on the moon Ganymede, which is in the middle of a war. But something happened on Ganymede, beyond the skirmish between Belters and Martian Marines. A monster of unbelievable strength has been left loose there, a monster that seems connected to Venus.

But as one Earth Admiral tries to piece together those events with previous ones, it becomes clear to Holden and crew that someone is trying to reverse engineer the protomolecule and turn into something even more horrible than it already is and at the center of it all is one little girl.

While the authors continues the believable human personalities traits and keeps the technology in the realm of reality, they do stumble a bit with some cartoonish villains and off the wall silly politics. And like the first book, the authors bounce back between characters, giving us the readers a unique way for the story to unfold -though at times I felt some growth came due to the story beats and not necessarily organically. But it's still a fun book.

02 October 2013

Books: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (2013)

As Stephen King has noted since he began the task of writing a sequel to The Shining, he never felt the need to write continuations to his any of his tomes (outside the Dark Tower series, and though him and Peter Straub wrote a sequel to The Talisman, it is a more stand-alone and probably more of a Dark Tower novel than a true sequel); he had said what he wanted to say and moved on. But, as he mentions in his afterword of Doctor Sleep, some fans had asked him whatever happen to Danny Torrance, the little boy who spent a horrifying season in the Overlook Hotel at the hands of his alcoholic father and the “ghosties” that inhabited the haunted building. 

According to King, even he wondered the same. He has said that every once in while he would wonder, as the decades passed, what age Danny would be, what he might be doing. Then back in 2009, King asked his fans, via his web site, what they wanted most, another Dark Tower story or a sequel to 1977’s The Shining. Not surprising, the fans wanted both. In March of 2012 he released The Wind Through the Keyhole, what he called 4.5 of his Dark Tower series, and a year and half later, he finally gave us Doctor Sleep

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes Doctor Sleep. But during his time there, he comes in contact with Abra Stone, first as a baby, then as young girl (and Abra is so much a variation on Carrie, I would not have been surprised if they were related) who possess the same abilities as Dan –except hers is stronger. 

But because she is stronger, and because she sensed the murder of an 11 year-old boy in Iowa, this draws the attention of The True Knot, a tribe of nomadic people –who like a bunch of retired folks traveling the nation in their huge RV’s- that are some sort of quasi-immortal creatures, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death. But the Knot is not quite what they used to be, and their stored thermos bottles of “steam” is running out and their leader, Rose the Hat, decides that Abra –and her powerful shining- will solve all their problems. 

Now Dan Torrance must confront his own personal demons and help Abra put an end to The True Knots wandering days, a battle that will end where it all began. 

I have noticed over the years that King –as he’s grown older and become a better writer- his ability to scare the willies out of you has been tempered by his apparent desire to understand the human condition more. His characters have become more complex and they have more human problems –more dark human problems, of course, but problems set in the real world. Which is perhaps, for me who’s been a Constant Reader since 1980, actually likes his later works more. Yes, I still think ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand, It and The Dead Zone are some best works from the 1970’s to the mid-80s, but his characters have become more real. More human. Thus, more interesting. In the end, character driven stories are always more satisfying than the plot driven ones. 

Yes, Doctor Sleep won’t scare you in the same way King did in The Shining, but this book is tremendously entertaining, fast paced and wonderfully multifaceted.