Brisingr : Book Review

(This review might contain some spoilers, but hey, where have you been if you’ve not read this one already?)

Brisingr- Christopher Paolini
Brisingr- Christopher Paolini

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Inheritance series books. On one hand, I greatly admire the fact that Paolini was a young teenager when he started out and created a commendable piece of work in fantasy fiction, but at one hand he shows a complete lack of effort to improve his writing style and storytelling techniques.
In the third, and not the final book of the Inheritance Cycle, Paolini continues where the second book Eldest left off. The battle of Burning Plains has come to an end and Eragon and his cousin Roran are out to rescue Roran’s beloved Katrina from the clutches of the Ra’zac- a deadly treacherous beast under Galbatorix’s command who were also responsible for killing their father Garrow and ruining their lives in Carvahall.

During their rescue mission, Eragon comes across Sloan, Katrina’s father and the butcher who had betrayed them to the Ra’zac for his daughter. Here Eragon faces a moral dilemma as to when he feels he should kill Sloan for the murders he had caused but at the same time doesn’t want to become a law unto himself. Paolini meanders for a good 100 pages for this quandary and brings in an unnecessary detour in the story.

The story progresses to show Roran fighting with the Varden, having to proving his worth again and again before he can lead an army under his command.  Meanwhile Eragon has another face-off with  Murtagh his half brother and Thorn; returns to the Beor Mountains for the election and coronation of the new Dwarf King following which he and Saphira fly out to Ellesmera to meet their mentors, the old Rider Oromis and his dragon Glaedr.

Here Eragon learns that Murtagh and he have the same mother, but Brom was Eargon’s father while Murtagh is the son of Morzan, the evil Rider who had betrayed the Riders to Galbatorix.  They also discover the secret for Galbatorix’s ever increasing power and the source of energy behind it.
Armed with that knowledge they  fly back to join the Varden in their siege of Feinster and from thereon we hope and wait for the fourth book to release and see if Galbatorix will ever be slain by our last free Dragon Rider.

At places Paolini shows a maturity to his characters and depth to his story that is often hard to find in many better fantasy series. But at the same time, he still seems to not have learned the art of lucid and tight prose. He goes on to waste pages on plotlines that hardly seem relevant to the plot and more like fillers in a badly orchestrated stage act.

While he has an interesting host of characters, sometimes they fall flat.  For instance, Roran has got to be one of the most monotonous and lackluster character in the history of fantasy fiction. Despite being  the only human without any strain of magic in him to be a prominent warrior  his struggles, his interactions with Eragon, his undying love for Katrina  and his unwavering loyalty to the Varden, show only a drab doggedness rather than valor or any heroic trait. There are many pages depicting battles in which Roran was involved, and if the only excuse for those many chapters are to show what a brave and courageous leader Roran can be, then it again confirms the fact that Paolini needs to sharpen his writing.

It is for such unwarranted and unwanted rambling and extension that Paolini chose to write another book in what was supposed to be a trilogy and disappointed a large part of his audience.  He has mentioned that he wanted to explore the moral quandaries that Eragon faced, but writing a whole new book for the series hardly seems like a wise recourse.  As the character of Eragon develops and comes closer to fulfilling his ambition to slay Galbatorix, there will be many places where he will have to put his judgment, his character, his mind, his body, heart and soul to test.  The question here is not of exploring the character through pages and pages, but how to portray it with effective lucid writing. What a better writer could have achieved in 300 pages, Paolini takes 738 pages.

Though I didn’t outright dislike this book, I was disappointed with it. I was disappointed at how it began, such that anyone who’s not read Eldest will hardly be in a position to understand all the nuances in the book.  I was dissatisfied with how he managed the plot, the characters and the flow of the story.  There were many parts which I thought were too contrived or shoddily thought out, but let’s not reveal all here. Last but not least, I was upset with the note on which it ended.  It was like flat beer, to say the least. It doesn’t leave you with eager anticipation for the fourth book because you can’t wait to see what happens, but because as any fantasy fiction series nerd would attest, you can’t not read what happens in the series, no matter how bad it is.

Let’s just hope Paolini makes up for this with some brilliance in the fourth book.

You can also read other reviews here.

Review: The Solitude of Prime Numbers

I’ve never had the aptitude for languages. I’ve never regretted it. Except when I pick up books that are the translated versions. I wish I could read the original versions. I have nothing against the translators, oh no, in fact I think they should be appreciated a lot more for preserving the integrity and beauty of the work while making it accessible to a wider audience. It’s just that when I read them and get entranced and enchanted, I feel the need to read them as is, to find out more nuances in the writing, the words that lend more meaning to the story, the private jokes that are endemic to the language.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers- Paolo Giordano
The Solitude of Prime Numbers- Paolo Giordano

When I picked up The Solitude of Prime Numbers, I knew I was going to visit the same old feeling again. Even before I’d read the book, I was intrigued by it. One, writer Paolo Giordano is a physicist who was working on his doctorate in particle physics when he started writing the book.  Second, the title. It is a difficult feat to resist such a title. So, after waiting for a long time, I finally got my hands on it.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers tells us the story of Mattia and Alice, two injured and scarred souls who seem to be destined for each other. Mattia, as a young kid, left his mentally-disabled twin sister in a park to go to a party and returned to find that he has lost her. With an overbearing father Alice leads herself to a terrible skiing accident and then towards anorexia. With their own personal tragedies heavy on their young feeble shoulders, they create an odd alliance.

As a teenager,  Mattia, a math prodigy, studies prime numbers, numbers so soliatry that they can be divided only by themselves or unity. While studying these, he comes across twin primes– two numbers, who are odd and yet similar, separated by an even number between them. He thinks of Alice when he sees twin primes, close yet never completely together.

As they move through the torturous years of teenage to adulthood, fate seems to play with their lives and years. After many years when Alice sights someone she thinks could be Mattia’s lost sister, emotions that they had buried deep inside come resurfacing.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers, is a love story without the need or wherewithal for an ending. It is not a love story in the usual sense of lovers, romantic scenes and gestures, grand trials and passionate return to togetherness. It is a very restrained and precariously balanced tale of two people who are meant for each other but are helpless within their trappings of past burdens and own doubts and uncertainties.

I cannot say I could identify with the characters because it is difficult to identify with a girl who cannot eat and a math genius who cuts himself. You can relate to them, try to understand their pain. Giordano keeps the reader at a safe, slightly uncomfortable distance where you can feel for the characters without pity and feel a certain helplessness on their behalf. You will not even be in a position to blame cruel fate in their case.He has couple of strong secondary characters, but keeps them from overshadowing and usurping. I think Giordano does an excellent job here with character development.

When it comes to plot, the story kind of falters in the middle. The writing reeks a bit of amateurish attempts at something meant to be much more exquisite. In the later parts, it picks up with the deft handling of narrative. His writing reminded me a bit of Milan Kundera’s works and maybe he will do very very well with short stories. But all said and done, Paolo Giordano should write more, many more of his stories.

The book can be called, as it has been many times, elegant and melancholic. But for me it will be a read that left me very very sad and yet gladder for the experience. We are often advised not to judge the book by its cover. But if you are someone who judges the book by its title, and if you felt something when you heard the title, I’d say go pick it up. It’s not like you will miss out on one of the best books ever, but you will regret it if you don’t.

 

You can also read the review here.

Review: Turbulence by Samit Basu

Turbulence- Samit Basu
Turbulence- Samit Basu

I’ve rarely been so excited about a book from an Indian author. And I started loving my job a bit more when BookChums got me this book to review. 😀

Turbulence is India’s first mainstream novel talking about superheroes, very Indian superheroes at that. By some freak accident everyone on the BA flight 142 gets powers that reflect their innermost desires and secret longings. Some of them are coming to terms with their newfound powers and some are hatching plans and plots to change the world with their powers while some are disappearing off the face of earth. Our protagonist Aman Sen is trying to piece together the puzzle, get the other heroes on his side and form his own Justice League to eradicate evil, corruption, poverty and all things bad from this world.

Aman, your average Joe, who always felt he wasn’t well-connected enough, gets gifted with the power to control anything that is in a network, yes, even the interwebz. Tia, a housewife from the North-east who wanted to be many things and be at many places becomes a very literal, but better, embodiment of MPD. Uzma Abidi (very very Katrina Kaif-ish), who is on her way from London to make a career in tinsel town starts oozing charm and charisma that can melt a T-Rex. There’s Vir, the noble and handsome IAF pilot who can fly now. Together with Tia, Uzma, Jai and a bunch of other mildly (and weirdly) powered heroes, Aman sets out on his journey to beat the bad guys amongst the superheroes. One of the bad guys here is superman-without-wings, Jai, whose grand plans of world domination don’t seem to go down too well with the other bunch of superheroes and a mysterious character with ability to provoke and control mob rage. With such an eclectic and eccentric cast, Basu weaves a story that is brimming with acerbic wit, zany humor and supercharged exchanges.

One of the things I liked best was the Indian-isms, those behavior patterns and habits that are so typical to us Indians. One of my favoritest parts is when Vir gets a call, while preparing to fly in to destroy enemy camp, apparently from a telecaller about getting a new credit card. Then there’s his brilliant posse of heroes, who are not completely superhero-material but aren’t mere humans either. His depiction of Aman and portrayal through the novel is bound to win over many hearts. And how can one ignore all those glorious superhero fiction references. There was a moment when I was dying to scream out “X-Men X-Men” at the pages before Aman came to my rescue and said it. I do wish the battles and the progression of important events in the book weren’t as chaotic, but perhaps it adds to the book’s unpredictability.

This is the fourth book I’m reading by Samit Basu, having read his Gameworld Trilogy couple of years back. I loved The Manticore’s Secret but didn’t get as swept away by The Unwaba Revelations as I expected to be. When I first heard about Turbulence, I was hoping very hard that this one would match up with my liking for Manticore’s Secret. And I think it has succeeded, well beyond my expectations. I cannot wait to watch its movie version, I cannot wait for its sequel and I cannot wait to get my hands on his other books.
For anyone who loves superheroes, Bollywood, nerd and geek culture stuff and dudes and dudettes who are a bit off their rocker will love this book. If you are someone with time on your hands, you would definitely devour this one in one day. If you are someone with not much time on your hands, best of luck while you attempt to do the cover-to-cover run in one go.

Eldest : Book Review

Eldest - Christopher Paolini
Eldest - Christopher Paolini

Eldest is the second book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. I’d read the first book almost 5 years back and had resisted reading the second one because I thought it would be boring, considering it was a good 700 pages or so and 5 years is too long a break to watch out for series.

When I discovered the book to be lying on my bookshelf, brand new and yet gathering dust, I decided to give it a try.  Eldest begins few days after the events in Eragon’s last chapter. The Battle of Farthen Dur over, the Varden, the rebel group opposing evil king Galbatorix’s reign over Alagaësia  (the fictional continent where the Inheritance Cycle takes place) are busy mourning their losses and preparing to move to Surda, the only place out of the empire’s reach.  Eragon, with the help of Saphira and Arya kills the shade Durza in the ensuing battle and earns the title of Shadeslayer.

When Eldest begins we see Eragon swearing loyalty to all the races- humans, dwarves and later to the elves. Shortly thereafter, Eragon, Saphira, Arya and Orik leave for Ellesmera where Eragon and Saphira will be trained as proper Dragon and Rider.  As the Varden needs his and Saphira’s help, they have to leave their training and fly back to join the Varden in their Battle on the Burning Plains. There he comes face to face with someone he thought was a friend who had died and learns the bitter secret of his true identity.

In a parallel plot line we see Roran considering how to ask for the hand of Katrina, his beloved in marriage from her father Sloan and trying to fight the Ra’zac who are chasing him because of his relation to Eragon. Despite his many attempts to keep the villagers safe, Katrina gets abducted by the Ra’zac and Roran must chase after them to save her.  He convinces his fellow villagers to fight the Ra’zac and rise against the Empire for the atrocities it has committed upon their village. He manages to stir up a following and they embark on a tumultuous journey to find a safe haven from the Empire.  Following a chance meeting with Jeod, who along with Brom had stolen Saphira’s egg from Galbatorix and had helped Eragon and Brom earlier, the villagers of Carvahall, Roran and Jeod set out to go to Surda where Roran meets his cousin, Eragon Shadeslayer.

This time Paolini infuses some maturity into his young characters and depicts their coming of age, their struggles to cope with adulthood and burden of responsibility very well. You can see his characters questioning and learning a great deal of things because of their roles in this war. That Paolini works on this process is very good indeed, but one does wish the process was more elegantly portrayed.

Throughout the book, it’s hard to detect any anticipation. The characters, the plot all seem to wander and roam at their own paces, rushing in places and meandering on unnecessary detours at many places. In attempt to show the cousins Roran and Eragon’s different yet similar struggles, Paolini harps again and again on similar stories and adventures with unexplained miracles and divine intervention sprinkled across here and there.  His imagination goes through sudden spurts but nothing extraordinary comes to the surface. In a tale involving humans, elves, dwarves, Urgals- a race which survives on their love for war and bloodshed and most importantly sentient intelligent dragons, Paolini could have cooked up a much more riveting and gripping work. Instead what we get is a mild mannered account of a war from various narrow perspectives and the occasional interesting insight.

It’s not a bad book, but it’s not a great book either. With Eragon, Paolini was sitting on a goldmine of potential brilliance.  He has pulled off a good second offering, but it falls short on many counts, the first and foremost being any lack of writing style that would stand out and add to the subject matter of the tale. With a good many interesting and eccentric characters, Paolini could have produced much witty dialogue, but all we see are few feeble jabs and exchanges.

In any case, I’m sure anyone who has read the first book will read this one (It’s the curse of reading series- one has to know what happens next) and whether they like Eldest or not, they will look forward to read Brisingr.

 

You can also read other reviews here.

Eragon: Book Review

 

Eragon- Christopher Paolini
Eragon- Christopher Paolini

The first in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, Eragon is the story of a fifteen year old farm boy who discovers a dragon-egg and goes on to become a Dragon Rider. Dragon Riders used to be powerful elves and humans who helped maintain peace in Alagaesia (the fictional land where the series is set).

Eragon, our eponymous hero, is a poor farm boy who stumbles across a blue stone in the mountains and collects it, assuming it to be a precious stone that can buy his family some meat. That stone turns out to be a dragon egg and when it hatches, Eragon names the dragon Saphira. As anyone with a hidden pet would attest, hiding a dragon from your family is even more daunting a task. To add to his troubles, it so happens that this dragon egg was stolen from the Empire and the evil emperor Galbatorix has sent his evil creatures, the Ra’zac to find it. When his house is destroyed by the Ra’zac, Eragon flees the village with Saphira and the old storyteller Brom in order to save his village from further harm.

Thus begins Eragon’s journey into the world of magic, elves, dwarves, Varden (the rebel army against the empire) and a destiny that he’s fated to fulfill. Armed with an old sword bequeathed to him by Brom and a few magic spells, Eragon has to fight many evils of the powerful empire before learning that he’s the only free Dragon Rider in the entire empire and that in his hands rest the fate of whole Alagaesia.

It is clear that there are many derivations and influences in Paolini’s first work, but that doesn’t come in the way of this book being an entertaining read. Paolini might not be the most accomplished writer, or a very original one at that, but he does a good job balancing the various plot lines with his fantastic characters. Dragons are one of the most grand and exciting creatures in the pantheon of mythical beasts, and Paolini has created a great formula with the Dragon Rider concept. Plus with his assortment of elves, dwarves, Urgals and humans, he’s put up an ensemble that can rank with some of the most loved fantasy series.

For a first book, Eragon is really good. Now one can only wait and see if Eldest, the next in the series can match up with the first installment.

 

You can also read other reviews here.

Review: The Chamber

 

The Chamber by John Grisham
The Chamber by John Grisham

This is the first John Grisham book I ever read. I had no idea about his other bestsellers. And this was the book that propelled me into diving headlong into a deep pile of thrillers and fish out Mr. Grisham’s works hereafter.

The Chamber here is the gas chamber in the Mississippi State Prison, where Sam Cayhall, former klansman and unrepentant racist is facing the death sentence. Our protagonist is Adam Hall, a twenty six year old facing a brilliant legal career ahead of him. And he also happens to be the grandson of Sam Cayhall.

While Sam Cayhall tries to ready himself for death in the Chamber, Adam is trying to get his act together and save his grandfather from the poisonous chamber. What follows is a tale of drama and intrigue into their pasts.

John Grisham has a natural flair for writing. He doesn’t struggle to write differently. He seems to deal with moral dilemmas as deftly as he does with legal whodunits. His characters are as real as they can get in a book. One can actually feel for the man-boy Adam Hall, trapped between two difficult choices.

For regular readers of Grisham, this book might not go down as well on account of the slow pace and abundant doses of sentimentalism strewn across the pages. Despite all of that, it’s an equally engrossing and compelling read.

At shut of evening flowers

>Florets of sinopia and xanthous,
On a bed of smaragdine.

Stains of solferino and ferruginous,
In a cyaneous sea.

Nankeen feathers on a columbine tail,
Aubergine blooms on lovat floor lie.

An aeneous blaze on a waking star,
Leads the son under a cerulean sky.

Dreams in Prussian Blue- Book Review

 

Dreams in Prussian Blue - Paritosh Uttam
Dreams in Prussian Blue - Paritosh Uttam

I have some bias against Indian writers and writing. It was with much reluctance that I agreed to read Dreams in Prussian Blue. I didn’t have much hope from it and struggled through first quarter of the book. And somehow against my will, I started relating with its characters. And even more unwillingly, I felt affected by the fate of its doomed protagonists.

The novel begins with a simple, and somewhat clichéd, premise- that of a young naïve girl falling in love with a mysterious, somewhat obsessed artist. Love blossoms, and the odd couple struggles to set up a happy life together. Naina, the young feisty art student shoulders responsibility far beyond her age and Michael, the brooding painter immerses himself in his art while leaving his partner to make ends meet. Fighting against the world at large, and with each other, the pair still learns to love and live. Then calamity strikes and their already wobbly world breaks and shatters.  Michael is robbed of his eyesight in an accident. An accident that might not have happened had Naina not given him an ultimatum.  Naina fights with the guilt, but little does she know of how many more burdens she will have to bear in the near future.

What is a painter without his eyes? What is a relationship without trust? Paritosh Uttam weaves a story of conflicts that will sadden and trouble you, make you wonder what you would have done in their stead.  I personally hated the character of Naina. I could relate to her, understand her, even empathize with her to some extent, but I still hated where and what she had led herself to become. On the other hand, I felt more deeply for Michael, in a distant detached way, mourned for him. But after all of this, I can’t deny I was shocked at the end. For a small breezy read, the ending sure doesn’t hold back any punches. It can knock the wind out of you and leave you wondering, with a small knot of unease inside.

The story could have been paced better and characters given more depth I feel. But, it makes for an engrossing read nevertheless, once you get beyond the first few chapters. The writing style gives the impression of a strong current being held with much restraint. There is a lot explored within few lines, one only needs to look at it in the right way. The book might appeal a lot more to women than men I think, but that again is a very personal assumption.

Dreams in Prussian Blue came out from Penguin’s offering of “Metro Reads”, pegged as fun, feisty and fast reads that will go down with the temperament and taste of the burgeoning Indian urban middle class readership (or as Penguin says, for “readers on the go”).  In that league, Dreams in Prussian Blue fits almost perfectly. Readers who have grown up to city clatter and noise, rocky relationships and issues, the passions and dreams fuelled by a city like Mumbai, will be able to relate to the match that is Michael and Naina. But I wouldn’t categorize this one as a ‘fun’ read, where I count fun as something that will make you laugh, rollick and giggle at each turn of page. I won’t mark it for those who are “on the go” either. This one is meant to be consumed on a warm lazy weekend.

So would I recommend the book? I think yes. I think some folks, who enjoy reading about shifting dynamics of relationships, will like this book. It will give them much satisfaction to mull over what happens when love kills.

 

Psssstt.. I also interviewed Paritosh Uttam for BookChums. My first proper “interview” as such. You can read the interview here.

Book Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird-Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird-Harper Lee

There are some books that have a very profound, a very strong , or a life-altering effect; they teach us a way of life.  To Kill a Mockingbird is one such book, that adults will always ask their kids to read when they are growing up.

The narrator is six year old Scout Finch who lives with her older brother Jem and widowed father Atticus Finch. Jem and Scout are joined by another boy called Dill and three of them explore the town and try to understand the events that have all the adults riled up. One such event is the case that Atticus Finch has been ordered by court, to defend a black man Tom Robinson. Tom Robinson has been accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a young white woman and the town is convinced of his crime because of his race. Atticus manages to prove that Mayella and her father are lying and trying to frame Tom but the jury convicts him and he’s shot while trying to escape prison.  The injustice of it all rankles Scout and her companions and they try to make sense of the world around them. The story takes place during three years of the Great Depression in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama.  Lee targets the racial discrimination that pervaded the Deep South and brings it out very well through the voice of her innocent narrator.

I was just entering my teens when I’d first read the book and I have never yet ceased to remember the effect the book had on me. One knows that racial discrimination is a fact, that there’s injustice in the world, that there are some who will stand up to truth and fight, but to be introduced to such concepts again through Scout put things into perspective. Atticus Finch was a man who gained your trust and respect, not just because the integrity he showed in his profession, a profession which isn’t too well known for their ethics, but also for the way he brought up his children without a mother. You see Scout and you feel for her, and love her guts. What has still stuck with me is the fact that she called her father by his name, Atticus. I remember how I though that it was such an odd and yet individualistic thing to do, to recognize a man for a man, and not for his role. I found that metaphor to echo throughout the book. Tom Robinson was not punished for being who he is, but for being seen in the role of a black man in a white society. Boo Radley was perceived to be eccentric and given a wide berth, not for being who he was, but for what they made him out to be.  Atticus Finch, was the man he was, as in his life as in work, courageous, noble and honest, a man who became a hero for being who he was, for that is the true measure of integrity.

The world seen through the eyes of six year old can sometimes show more truths than an experienced eye bothers to notice. The confused and eager to learn children show us what we fail to understand when we abandon our curiosities and our search to find the truth. One can read the book time and again and only find their respect for the characters burgeoning with every passing year that our world falls into hands of Madoffs and Haywards.

This is a classic that everyone should read at least once in their lives.  It is Lee’s only published work, but one that has a secured her a place in history that will be difficult to dislodge for many years to come. Nothing compares to the impact this book has had on its readers and modern literature.