Parting

“If I ever want to get any work done, I will have to get out of this all-consuming relationship. Do you understand…?”

No answer.

“I’m thinking I’ll be better off with something short-lived, something lighter, more fun..”

No answer.

Finally I put it back in its place and picked up a collection of short stories.

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: 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.

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.

The Manticore’s Secret- Book Review

 

The Manticore's Secret- Samit Basu
The Manticore's Secret- Samit Basu

This one is my favorite book in the Gameworld Trilogy. And I absolutely love it. If I could, I’d wrap up my review here-This book is brilliant, go read it. But no, professional obligations require me to wax eloquent for longer, and I must admit, I like the prospects.

The Manticore’s Secret begins with the hush-hush arrival of Ravians back into the world and our hero Kirin trying to do good as the new Dark Lord. There’s chaos and confusion in the world, each race trying to seize control and set their grand plans of world domination into action. Basu plays upon the various conflicts while keeping the reading thoroughly entertained with his eccentric and smart heroes and heroines. If earlier there was the love triangle of Maya, Asvin and Kirin, now it has expanded into a love parallelogram. And if you count the villains in each sub-love-story, oh boy, it is delicious drama.

Basu introduces more plotlines and subtexts into the second installment, the best of them being Maya meeting the unwaba, who tells her about the gods playing with this world. You know all those times when you’ve had the feeling that the gods above are playing with your lives and treating it as a sitcom that they can manipulate according to their various whims? Well, Basu proves that to be the case in his tale, with the many powerful deities creating this Gameworld and each one trying to win it, by hook or crook. That has to be one of the most entertaining and pun-ny concepts I’ve come across in a long long time.

If you were delighted by his characters last time, this time you’d be overjoyed when you meet some more creatures of Basu’s mind. One of the most interesting one is Red, the shapeshifter. The many small battles fought between her various alter-egos will trouble and amuse you throughout the book. Better even are the names Basu gives her and her alter-egos. They help you imagine her in all her fictional glory. I think that’s one of the strong points for his characterizations- they are enormously helpful for people who have this compulsive visual imagination. And while most series, begin to start doing the “for the greater good” rigmarole, SB strays from the normal path and lets his characters make decisions that will work out for their good, with the greater good being an accidental positive outcome. And that is what makes them so much more relatable and more importantly, likeable.

All in all, a fabulous read. Go pick it up now. And after you’re done send it over to me. I’d like to re-read it.

 

You can also read the review here.

The Simoqin Prophecies – Book Review

The Simoqin Prophecies - Samit Basu
The Simoqin Prophecies - Samit Basu

Imagine all of your favorite myths and legends, fantasy series, science fiction pulp and the mish mash of all that and more is The Simoquin Prophecies. And a ruddy brilliant mash-up it is, brimming with puns and references and an underlying subtle current of humor that restrains it from becoming an outrageous parody of all its constituents.

First in the GameWorld trilogy, the book begins in the year of rebirth of the greatest rakshas Danh-Gem and the revival of another hero who will bring his downfall. That is a quite standard premise for most tales of fantasy fiction, we agree, but Basu makes this a much more interesting plot with his unexpected twists and a host of magical creatures and eccentric characters. The book has all the magical creatures ever explored in Greek, Egyptian, Hindu mythology (some characters and sub-plots straight off from our beloved Ramayan), and some are his own inventions. There’s the ravian Kirin, the good-looking prince Asvin and Maya, our feisty and sharp heroine who’s the daughter of one of the most powerful spell-binders Mantric. While the Chief Civilian of Kol, the most powerful city in the world, worries about the rising amount of magic in the world and increasing number of rakshas sightings, Mantric is busy in Bolvudis (oh, don’t you love such wordplay?) setting up the world’s first magical movie studio.

Thus, Asvin, Maya, Kirin and Spikes (a pashan), the Dagger(under the name of Amloki), a centauress Red Pearl, and a vaman Gaam set off for Bolvudis to meet Mantric. Much adventure and drama happens on this eventful journey and they come to a parting of ways with Kirin.

Where does Kirin’s path lead him and what further adventures do Asvin and Maya tackle? What happens to the love triangle of Asvin, Maya and Kirin? Well, to know all of this and get some more entertainment, you must go read this book.

Basu pulls off an amazing and delightful debut, bringing a first off fantasy genre novel in India that would appeal to those brought up on Star Wars and Harry Potter and those who grew up listening to Indian folk tales and legends. Basu wrote The Simoquin Prophecies when he was 22 and got it published when he was 23, making him India’s youngest author at the time. A much laudable feat, especially when you compare it with the ambiguous rise of Indian writers in English. His work might not be the most original, but at least it doesn’t show any signs of colonial burdens and hang-ups or any of the quick chick-lit types coming out in the market. Instead he gives you a story made up with elements from your favorites, adds his own charm and creativity and dishes out a book that will have you wanting to read the second one very very eagerly.

You can also read other reviews here.

The Devil You Know (A Felix Castor Novel)- Mike Carey

 

The Devil You Know- Mike Carey
The Devil You Know- Mike Carey

Mike Carey is an acclaimed British writer who’s worked on comics like Lucifer, Hellblazer, X-Men, Crossing Midnight and The Unwritten. His debut novel, The Devil You Know centers around Felix Fix Castor, your modern-day exorcist who has to banish the occasional spirit, ghost or demon to pay his bills.

The novel begins with Castor pondering over his ill chosen career and trying to give it up. While trying to make ends meet, he takes up a seemingly simple exorcism in a museum at the heart of London. To his surprise and deflated ego, the blood-veiled specter seems reluctant to respond to tactics that would have ensured Castor a good quick fee. Castor probes deeper and finds himself making some more enemies which includes a rapacious succubus. How Castor manages to save himself from the dead, while not pissing them off too much makes for an immensely exciting read.

This is not your typical brooding horror book, thanks to our hero Felix Castor who can’t himself from blurting out wisecracks while facing his many nemeses. He’s your anti-hero in a hero, one who knows he’s a mean bastard and seems to enjoy it. But he’s also your savior of souls and you will like him and girls reading this will definitely find him very, very attractive.

Mike Carey brings the elements of horror and detective thrillers and combines them effortlessly to give us a supernatural adventure that gives the chills and tickles the funny bone too.

You can also read the review here.

Book Review: Diary A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk

Diary - Chuck Palahniuk
Diary - Chuck Palahniuk

Diary is Chuck Palahniuk’s sixth fictional novel, following the success of books like Fight Club, Invisible Monsters and Choke.

Diary is written in the form of, well, a diary, by the leading character Misty Wilmot, a one time promising artist, now working as waitress in a resort hotel on Waytansea Island, where she landed after marrying her art school boyfriend Peter Wilmot.

While looking to sort her life and come out of it alive, she has completely given up art, any hope of becoming a renowned artist, any promise of returning to her old talent. Misty seems to think the whole town is urging her to start painting again so that she can restore the family to their old grandeur and wealth and also save Waytansea island from being turned into a tourist dump. She seems to be able to paint only when she’s under extreme duress.

The diary shows her journey through her days, from when she reluctantly picks up the brush, how she copes with her miseries and how she comes to face the reality which turns her world upside down.

The novel is short, precise and cuts across like a sharp knife. Palahniuk always claims to write in verbs i.e. his story is told in action, his characters are talking and acting, he doesn’t waste much time describing background, settings, and other elements of the bigger picture. This style works very well for his writing and his plots- he keeps the reader focused on the main story and uses his characters to channelize the emotions from a first person voice, which obviously is more engrossing for the reader.

Some parts of the novel will elicit very strong reactions; one almost cringes at the cruelty she has to suffer to produce great art. That’s one of the distinctive features of Palahniuk’s works, they have scenes of physical, mental and psychological violence which can remain frozen in your memory for a long long time. Though he has been criticized for employing violence and disturbing imagery with excessive force and frequency, one can’t deny that it lends a distinctive and vivid touch to his writing.

Diary will keep you engrossed, cringing and breathless throughout its 270 odd pages. A must read for Chuck Palahniuk fans and for those who’d like to experiment with horror and satire concocted in a heady blend.

 

You can read the complete review here.