How to Write Book Reviews

Since I haven’t finished either of the two books that I’m currently reading, I thought I’d step back and put together my thoughts on how to go about writing book reviews.

The first part of this is deciding which books to review. I read mostly science fiction and fantasy, so that is what I feel most comfortable reviewing. I do read in other genres and review some of those books, but in many cases, I’m not the right audience for those types of stories. My reviews may be less helpful to potential readers than a review by someone who actively reads in the genre. So generally pick a genre that you like and are familiar with.

Finding Books for Review

Once you decide more generally what to review, you also need to have books to read. I purchase a lot of them myself, but as you get more experience doing reviews, you may be able to sign up for a site like Net Galley, or get on lists from publishers where you will be sent advance copies. I’ve picked up bags of books at conventions – mostly World Fantasy Con or New York Comic-Con. Sometimes a few minutes spent chatting with a vendor will result in books for you! I also receive email offers for books to review, as well as having friends who will ask me to review their books. I’m never out of books to read!

Books

All that being said, if you accept a book for review, you should really try to read it and review it. Net Galley tracks your percentage of books reviewed and shows it directly on your profile. This also relates to whether you choose to write negative reviews. Different book review sites will generally have a policy about this. If you’re reviewing on your own blog or web site, then you need to decide this for yourself. If you aren’t going to write negative reviews, then it’s okay not to post your comments on a book that you didn’t like.

A Bit on Negative Reviews

I will write negative reviews, but when I do, it’s important for me to explain why I didn’t like the book. It shouldn’t be an attack on the author, but a professional and well thought out critique. Instead of:

This author’s ideas about space travel are stupid and I thought the plot was boring.

A different way of writing this could be:

The explanation of the faster-than-light travel was unbelievable to me, and the plot lacked tension because I never believed that the characters cared about their goal.

An example from a review that I published:

The plot never went anywhere either, and this may be a personal tic of mine. I prefer a plot-driven story, or at least a character-driven one in which the plot has some motion. I kept waiting for the antagonist or some conflict to appear. There were some interesting revelations near the end of the book, but their impact was minimal to me because I had stopped caring by that point.

What to Include

I don’t think that there is only one way to write a book review. I’m just going to explain my process here. You can write longer or shorter reviews that I do. You can go into greater detail about the plot or delve into symbolism and themes. Here is what I try to include:

  • Set the scene: I list the title, author, and any relevant associations, such as whether this book is part of a series, has been made into a television series or movie, or my history with the author’s other books. If I listened to the book as an audiobook, I usually make note of that because I find that the experience can be a bit different.
  • Picture of the cover: I put a picture of the book cover somewhere near the top.
  • Plot summary: I give the basics as far as genre, main character, and the conflict. Try to avoid spoilers. For a later book in a series, this can be tough, so give a warning if this is the case. The length of my plot summary will vary based on the size of the book and the number of point-of-view characters.
  • Likes/dislikes: At the end of my review, I’ll put some of my personal thoughts about the book. What was my favorite aspect? What was I most excited about? Was there an aspect of the setting or the magic that I found particularly unique? You can compare the book you’re reviewing to other books in the same genre.

That’s about it! In general, think about why you’re writing a review. For myself, I’m trying to write something that will help prospective readers decide if this book is something they’d like.

Have you thought about writing book reviews? Do you run an active book blog? Tell me what and where you review in the comments!

Book Review – Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness is Book 2 in the All Souls Trilogy and is one of the books that I recently picked up at New York Comic-Con about 2 months ago. I had read the first book, A Discovery of Witches, back in the beginning of 2015, but with the recent release of the television show based on this series, I wanted to get back to the books.

First of all, I read the opening pages and realized that I had no memory of how the first book ended. I found some plot summaries online and was quickly up to speed. With the way that this book begins, it’s going to be impossible to avoid spoilers, so if you haven’t finished the first book, read on at your own risk.

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night is set in Elizabethan England (and other parts of Europe). At the end of A Discovery of Witches, Diana Bishop and her new husband and vampire Matthew Clairmont must flee the modern world. Diana needs time to find a teacher who can help unlock her powers of witchcraft, and their relationship is forbidden by powerful creatures who are trying to hunt them down.

One thing that Diana does know is that she is a Timespinner–a witch who can travel through time. She takes herself and Matthew into the past in an attempt to avoid their enemies, find herself a teacher, and to search for the mysterious alchemical book that started it all: Ashmole 782.

Once they arrive, Diana and Matthew meet with his friends from that time. This turns out to be a blend of historical figures and a few imagined characters. While they attempt to blend in at first, it is quickly apparent that they must divulge their secrets to this group. While it is safe for Matthew’s friends to know that version of the vampire is from the future, he must go on playing his established roles in Elizabethan society.

Diana’s relationship with Matthew meets several challenges as she learns about the secrets he has been hiding. In fact, much of this book’s secondary plot revolves around the growing relationship between the witch and the vampire. She must also deal with trying to figure out Elizabethan dress, manners, and etiquette. Danger also follows Diana, with historical witch trials taking place in nearby Scotland and a constant suspicion of anyone new or unusual.

The story takes them to other parts of Europe, and the details from this time period felt very accurate to me. That only makes sense, because the author is a historian who studies and teaches European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California. This book was a lot of fun to read, and has several sections that deal with different aspects of the story. The overarching plot to find a teacher for Diana and search for Ashmole 782 is often in the background, but I don’t think that the book suffered for this, as the other events were entertaining on their own.

I’m hoping to get to book 3 in another couple of weeks and then watch the television show. Have you seen any of that yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Find my other book reviews here


New Releases – Collector’s Editions for the Fantasy Book Lover 2018

I love going into bookstores so much that I’m really no longer allowed to. It has always been hard to leave without a purchase, especially when I can pet all the pretty books. It’s easier to resist unneeded purchases if I simply browse online. E-books are more tempting because I don’t have to find them a place on a shelf, at least, but holding an e-reader still isn’t the same as clutching that physical book.

I’ve never been into collectibles, but I do appreciate special editions of some of my favorites books. I was thinking about that the other day, one thing led to another, and I found myself browsing Amazon endlessly, looking for pretty books. Anyway, I thought I’d share some of my finds here since many people are starting to shop for holiday gifts.

Book of DustIn no particular order, here are some of my most intriguing finds:

La Belle Sauvage is the first volume of the Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. Set in the same world as His Dark Materials trilogy, this book delves deeper into that universe. This collector’s edition contains illustrations and an interview with the author.

Also by Philip Pullman, I found this gorgeous 20th Anniversary Edition of The Golden Compass, the first book in His Dark Materials series. This new edition features a discussion on fantasy literature between Pullman and Lev Grossman (author of The Magicians), and a letter from the author to his fans.Golden Compass

As far as Lev Grossman goes, I also found a boxed set of his Magicians series. While this isn’t exactly a new release, and I was not a fan of his books, it is still pretty. The series is still growing in popularity with the success of the television show on SyFy.

MagiciansOn my adventures through New York Comic-Con last month, I listened in on a panel that was promoting a collection of artwork from the long-running role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. This illustrated history by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer, with a foreword by Joe Manganiello was released in October, but I was not aware of this Special Edition.D&DArt

This special set of Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana includes additional full-color prints, an unpublished version of an adventure module from creator Gary Gygax himself, and other ephemera.

AlphabetteryWhile Anne Rice’s books are more horror than science fiction and fantasy, there is always some overlap in these genres, particularly with more recent crossovers featuring both supernatural and fantastical elements. For fans of her Vampire Chronicles, I found the Alphabettery, a encyclopedic collection that details the many connections between her characters and settings. Read up on the lore and gaze at the illustrations in this book by Becket.

EarthseaNow going back for a few more classic fantasy picks, I discovered this huge volume (1008 pages!) of The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition.

This well-loved series by Ursula K. Leguin is illustrated by Charles Vess and includes: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, The Other Wind, The Rule of Names, The Word of Unbinding, The Daughter of Odren, and Earthsea Revisioned: A Lecture at Oxford University. Of all the books on this list, I think this is the one that I need the most!RedLotR

Lastly, one of my most cherished books on my shelves is the red leather bound version of The Lord of the Rings.

While this is hardly a new item (and I don’t think you can even get this edition any more), I did find a new boxed set of The Great Tales of Middle-Earth: Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and The Fall of Gondolin.

Great TalesThis collection brings together the most recent short novels published by the Tolkien estate and also features maps and color plates by famous Middle-Earth illustrator Alan Lee.

Are you aware of any neat collector’s editions for your favorites series or authors? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review – A Plague of Giants

I’m nearly caught up with my backlog of reviews, but I’ve noticed that I seem to be developing a bad habit where I read the first book in a series and then move on to a different author and series before finishing the one I had just started. In the next few months, I’m going to make an effort to go back to finish some series that I’ve started so you’ll see a lot of book 2 and book 3’s here. But first… another new series:

I recently read the first book in a new series by Kevin Hearne that I had received as an advance copy at New York Comic-Con in 2017. Yep, 2017, that’s how far behind I am in the to-be-read pile.

Plague of Giants Cover

A Plague of Giants is Book 1 of the Seven Kennings series and takes us to a fantastic realm filled with humanoid races, each having an associated kenning, or magical affinity to something in the natural world – fire, water, air, earth, or plants. At the opening of the novel, only five kennings are known, and I think that the search for other kennings will be part of the ongoing story.

This book is several tales woven into one, and is told as a story within a story. The bard Fintan uses his kenning to take the form of each important character in the development of a recent war and tells their story to the city of Pelemyn. While the people there know how their own city has managed in the war, Fintan entertains them with details from other parts of the world. At the same time, he instigates some political drama, with all of this part of the book being told by a historian sent to record the bard’s tale.

Fintan’s story follows several point-of-view characters through a time when two separate catastrophes strike. The action begins when Tallynd du Böll, a tidal mariner from Pelemyn, defends the city from an approaching fleet of strange ships. Her kenning gives her the ability to breathe underwater, swim at incredible speeds, and manipulate water. Tallynd detects an invading army of bizarre giants approaching the city, and they are clearly aggressive.

The tidal mariner surges into action to defend the city, using water to swamp the ships and drown the giants. She manages to single-handedly defeat most of the enemy, but at a cost. When a kenning is used to perform great feats, it ages the user relative to the power exerted.

The invasion of the Bone giants is half of the book’s focus, alternating with a second group of troublesome giants, the Hathrim.

The giants of the Hathrim clan live on the slopes of an active volcano and have long known that their days of safety are going to come to an end. Their part of the story opens when the volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate. The Hathrim had prepared for this eventuality and managed to get many of their people and supplies loaded on their famous glass boats in time to escape.

However, instead of seeking refuge with another clan of giants, their leader, Gorin Mogen, dares to lay claim to a piece of land along the southern edge of Ghurana Nent. The Nentians see through the giants’ claims that they are only there temporarily, but since the Nentians lack a kenning, they are forced to use political and unaugmented military strength against the fire-wielding Hathrim.

As the plot unfolds, Fintan relates the stories of numerous point-of-view characters, and there is truly no singular protagonist in the book.

The plot came to a more satisfying conclusion that I would normally expect from the first book in a series. One main plot thread is concluded while hinting at further problems from that quarter. However, many lesser political intrigues are just emerging, so I expect that aspect to play a greater role in upcoming volumes.

I had fun reading this book and the world and magic was easy to understand. I read an advance-copy which did not include the map, but I found one on the author’s website to reference. I like to have a visual reference for where different nations are located in regard to each other. Looking at maps also helps me to remember place names at the outset of a book.

I’m not sure when the next book in the Seven Kennings series will be out, but I’ll be sure to pick it up.


Graphic Novel Review – Monstress Volume 1 (Awakening)

I picked this graphic novel up at New York Comic-Con last year (2017) and only got around to reading it now. Fortunately, I was able to get the second volume at this year’s event, because this was a beautiful, albeit dark and violent, book. Monstress Volume 1 – Awakening is written by Marjorie Liu with artwork by Sana Takeda.

Monstress 1

I was first interested in this graphic novel because I loved the artwork. The mixture of Egyptian and steampunk themes on the cover and opening pages was enough to draw me in. When the book added demons, cats, and a dark and compelling protagonist, I was hooked.

Monstress tells the story of Maika Halfwolf and initially switches between glimpses of her past and her current scheme to infiltrate the stronghold of the human witches who are experimenting upon the Arcanics (her people). Maika doesn’t remember much of her past, having mysteriously survived the catacysmic end of a great battle between humans and the Arcanics.

As the plot unfolds, I was immediately sympathetic toward Maika because of her mistreatment at the hands of the humans, and the nature of their cruel experiments. When Maika discovers herself to be inhabited by a demon, she gets a pass for what she is forced to do to survive because she is not wholly in control of her actions. She both uses the demon against her enemies, and fights against it, in her journey to find revenge against the humans and relearn her past.

There are definitely some dark moments in this story, ranging from the murder of children to questions about cannibalism. However, cats feature prominently and bring some levity to the rest of the book.

While Monstress definitely isn’t for everyone, I enjoyed it and will be reading Volume 2 in the next few months.


Book Review – How He-Man Mastered the Universe

This was a bit of an unusual read that I picked up through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. The book had actually been sitting on my Kindle for quite a while, but I’m trying to do better to catch up on my backlog of reading, so I picked it to read in the week leading up to New York Comic-Con.

HeManCover

I grew up watching the He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, so I thought that I might like How He-Man Mastered the Universe by Brian C. Baer, and I was certainly familiar enough with the cartoons and toys, even if I could no longer remember the names of every single character. This book was fun to read, but is probably only of interest to fans of the television show or toys, or to people who like to learn about film history, as a good portion of the book discusses the making of the 1987 movie, Masters of the Universe.

The first section of this non-fiction book was a little slow and repetitive, but I did learn that He-Man was a toy (with mini-comics) before he was a cartoon. Toy company Mattel developed the He-Man line of action figures in response to the success of the Star Wars toys by rival company Kenner. When the He-Man toys were a success, the television show was created and brought directly to local television networks at a time when Saturday morning cartoons were just starting up.

The book details several key episodes of the cartoon before delving into the history of the Masters of the Universe movie, produced by the notorious Cannon Films. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book, and I wish I had had time to go back to watch the movie recently, now that I know much more about how the casting, story development, and special effects were all created under the shadow of a failing production company.

HeManMovie

After the movie failed in the box office, a few additional cartoon spin-offs were released, but none of these ever achieved the same level of pop culture success as the original cartoon and toys. Overall, this was a reasonably fun non-fiction book to read, but the subject matter may limit its appeal to fans of He-Man.

 

New York Comic-Con 2018

 

I’m finally recovered from my days spent attending New York Comic-Con this year, so I thought I’d write a quick recap.

Unlike last year, I only had tickets for Friday and Sunday, and ended up working on Saturday, so I missed a couple of panels and guests that I would have liked to see. I still had a great time with just two days!

Exploring on Friday

So for Friday, I only had two panels that I was interested in, and those were both late in the day. My train getting in to the city was delayed, but I wasn’t in a hurry. When I did get over to the Javits Center, I headed to the show floor first to scope out the book publishers. That didn’t take me long because they’re in the same general area every year. I found out who was going to be signing books and made decisions about which ones I’d be back for.

Then I explored the floor in a random pattern. Much of what is on display at Comic-Con is the same from year to year. In the past I had methodically walked up and down every aisle. This time, I just went in whatever direction interested me. I looked at some graphic novels from Stephen King (Gunslinger), Game of Thrones collectibles, superhero art work, porg toys, and some fun socks. In the end, I only bought three more of The Walking Dead collections on that round through the hall.

Crowd

Next up was a visit to Artist’s Alley. This location shifted again this year, and was in a much better place than last year: on the lowest level where they formerly had autographs and photo ops. This space allowed wider aisles to accommodate the crowds. I wandered through half of the aisles, met up with a friend, and then bought another comic I had had my eye on.

I headed out for a quick lunch, and for Friday, at least, the lines weren’t bad at all in the cafeteria. I even found a seat with a table! After that, I bounced back and forth between book signings, wandering, and people watching.

DragonballZ

The first book I picked up at a signing was Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel, which is the first in a series. Second for the day was The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, also the first in a series. I made a pretty good circuit through the show floor in between these signings, and then headed to my first panel.

Day 1 of Panels

Art & Arcana: The Visual History of Dungeons & Dragons sounded interesting, but it was held in a small room where I couldn’t get a seat near the front. This was a promotion for an upcoming book, but I couldn’t see most of what they had on screen, so I was disappointed.

I ended up in another panel because I was in line early for A Discovery of Witches. This one was for Tell Me a Story, a new television show coming out soon on CBS All Access. This show takes three classic fairy tales and uses the ideas in those to weave a story set in our era in New York City. The panel consisted of a viewing of a short clip from the show, then a discussion with the cast. From the little that they were willing to reveal, this fairy tale won’t have a happy ending.

TellMeAStory

The next panel for me was for A Discovery of Witches. This is the name of the first book in the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness, and also a new television series. I’ve read the first book in the series and enjoyed it, but haven’t had time to get to the rest of it. Nevertheless, I’ve had my eye on the show since I first heard about it.

This panel was a viewing of the first episode of the show, followed by a brief question and answer session with the author. I liked the characters in the show and the details of the book instantly started to come back to me as I watched. It was a little slow to get started, but I was interested enough in the series that I wanted more. The series has already premiered in the UK, and will be available in the U.S. in January on both Sundance Now and Shudder.

Day 2 – More Panels and Shopping

I made it back to the Javits Center on Sunday for the rest of my Comic-Con excursion. I planned on two panels and a bit more shopping. I looked at book signings again, but no one that I was interested in had a signing at a time I was available.

Spidey

My day started out with more time in Artist’s Alley. Then I met a friend for a photo op before heading to my first panel: America’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers. This panel was intended to feature this year’s volume of the America’s Best series for speculative fiction. Guest authors on the panel included Carmen Maria Machado, Charlie Jane Anders, and Maria Dahvana Headley. Guest editor N. K. Jemisin and series editor John Joseph Adams rounded out the group.

Moderator Matt Kressel led the panel in a discussion of the process of choosing the stories for the anthology, the specific stories by the authors in attendance, and general questions about writing. I haven’t been reading many short stories lately, but I may need to check out this book.

The last panel that I attended was the Science or Fiction panel. This was advertised as a discussion of sci-fi movies, focusing on which aspects were science-based, and which were pure fiction. The guests on the panel included the members of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, as well as Bill Nye (the Science Guy).

I had seen Bill Nye last year, so I wasn’t desperate to get into this panel to see him specifically, but I was interested in the subject. Apparently everyone else also was, and it was a packed room. I was one of the last people to make it in!

Delorean

It turns out that the podcast regularly discusses science in popular media, and they rate movies on a system based around the film Prometheus. While many people liked this movie, I thought that it was so bad that I couldn’t even finish watching it. I agreed wholeheartedly with their system of ratings.

Several movies were mentioned in this panel: Gravity, The Martian, 2001, Interstellar, Armageddon, Star Wars, and Arrival. After the panel, I was able to pick up a copy of the panel’s new book, and had it autographed by all of them.

Overall, I felt like I was able to see most of Comic-Con this year, even though I only had tickets for two days. It helped that I was already familiar with how the even was run. I didn’t take as many cosplay photos this year, and I probably bought more books than I needed. But I’ll be back again next time.

Book Review – Foundryside

Foundryside is the first book in a new fantasy series by Robert Jackson Bennett. The author is best known for his Divine Cities Trilogy (City of Stairs, City of Blades, City of Miracles) which was recently nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Series.

Foundryside RD4 clean flat

In his newest release, Bennett embarks upon an ambitious fantasy series that follows a street smart thief caught up in the schemes of the Merchant Houses in the city of Tevanne. The world in Foundryside features a fantasy setting with a few elements that feel like steampunk, even though the devices are powered by magic rather than steam. Carriages are horseless, lights hover in the streets, and weapons are enchanted to have greater speed or to explode. All of the magic in the story is controlled by scrivings, symbols carved into objects that tell them how to circumvent the laws of nature. These scrivings are writing in the language of the lost civilization of the Hierophants, and the Merchant Houses are always searching for new symbols.

The four Merchant Houses in Tevanne are powerful family-owned miniature cities with their own vast economies. Each house is physically walled off from the rest of the city, where law enforcement is unknown and poverty is widespread. The miraculous devices powered by scrivings are rare outside of the Merchant Houses, but there is always a black market for valuables.

Sancia Grado is a thief from Foundryside, one of the poorest sections of Tevanne. However, she has a unique ability to sense the physical nature of anything she touches. This lets her work as a successful thief, but is also a curse because she has to keep most of her skin covered to avoid being overwhelmed. Sancia’s power comes from a scrived plate in her head, and she dreams of the day that she can afford to have it removed. When she takes a job to steal something from a safe at the waterfront, Sancia never imagines that her plans will go so far awry. She breaks into the safe and takes a sealed box, but inadvertently sets the entire waterfront on fire, attracting the attention of Gregor Dandolo, self-appointed head of the new city watch.

After Sancia escapes the scene, she decides to open the box to find an artifact with unusual powers. She decides to deliver the stolen goods at the prearranged location, but nearly falls into a trap. Whoever set the trap has powers and devices that Sancia’s never seen before, and seems determined to see her dead.

The plot spins into a complicated chase from there, and Sancia tries to figure out who is her enemy and who might be her friend. The tension never slows for very long, and as more details about the stolen artifact emerge, the stakes get higher. Foundryside was an action-filled tale that drew me in with both the characters and the plot. The magic of scriving was unique and fascinating, although I thought that it was used in a few ways that felt far-fetched to me by the ending.

Without giving any spoilers away, I have to say that the ending of the book did a nice job in resolving the current dilemma while opening up a larger story. Even though Foundryside is the first book in a series, you can read it without being left with a cliffhanger at the end.

Disclaimer: I received this book through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review – The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season is the first book in N. K. Jemisin’s newest series, The Broken Earth. I have read all of her previous novels, and like her other work, The Fifth Season brings a truly unique world to life. The world-building is fascinating, but for some readers, may be confusing in that the author never dumps any long explanatory passages into the story. This requires the reader to piece the information together while suspending many questions, but everything you need to know is in there. The book also contains a glossary at the back for many of the terms.

Fifth Season Cover

Once the world of The Fifth Season starts to become clear, it is one of the most bizarre and mesmerizing settings I have ever encountered. Civilization flourishes between Fifth Seasons, each one a devastating volcanic winter in a world plagued by frequent seismic and geologic upheaval. During a Season, anarchy reigns, and only those who follow the ancient stonelore and are willing to take extreme measures to defend their homes and supplies survive. The people who live in this land are not quite human, and other non-human denizens, mysterious obelisks, and fragments from lost civilizations lurk across the surface and below.

A few people are born with the ability to sense and manipulate the earth, giving them a sort of geology-magic. Of course, this power comes with a price, and these orogenes are feared because they can freeze and destroy anything or anyone around them if they lose control. If they choose to, they could trigger earthquakes or worse. Set in place to control the orogenes are the Guardians, with their own set of strange powers. The book brings up the question of who is really in control – the orogenes, the Guardians, the Emperor, or someone or something else, and even the characters in play don’t know the answer.

The story is told through three different point-of-view characters. As the plot emerges, it becomes clear that each thread of the story is set at a different time. Essun is an orogene in hiding, having somehow escaped her Guardian. When a massive quake hits, she returns home to discover that her husband has murdered their son and disappeared with their daughter. Essun is determined to track down and kill her husband before he can hurt their daughter.

Damaya is a child who has just exhibited her orogene powers for the first time. In small villages, these children are often killed out of fear, superstition, or prejudice. Fortunately, Damaya’s parents have sent for help, and a Guardian arrives to take charge of her. Damaya trains in the Fulcrum to learn how to control her orogeny, but delves too deeply into its secrets.

Syenite is a trained orogene of the Fulcrum and is sent on a mission with the not-quite-sane Alabaster, a ten-ringed orogene who is supposed to mentor her, as well as father a child with her. Everything in their lives is controlled by the Fulcrum, but Syenite soon learns that Alabaster has been quietly subverting that control whenever he can.

One strange aspect of The Fifth Season is that it lacks an antagonist. While each character encounters physical obstacles or people who may post a danger or serve to slow down their progress, there is never a true enemy. In many ways, the greatest threat to all of them is the volatile earth itself. Even without an antagonist, the plot works well and remains engaging until the end.

The conclusion of the book was abrupt, and I felt like I was left hanging and was a little uncertain about what I was supposed to infer from one character’s revelation. The Fifth Season is only the first book in the series, so I hope that my questions are answered in the next volume.

Book Review – How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig, is a bit outside the type of book that I would normally pick up. I acquired an advance copy at New York Comic-Con last year, so I thought I’d give it a try. This novel is a more literary treatment of a concept that I identify mainly with the movies and television show, Highlander.

Tom Hazard isn’t exactly an immortal, but he might as well be. He is one of a rare breed of humans who stops aging at a normal rate around his early teen years. In How to Stop Time, Tom is over 400 years old and appears closer to 40. Unlike Highlander, no one is  running amok with swords (unfortunately), looking to take out the other immortals.

Stop_Time

Tom had a rough childhood – his mother was killed for witchcraft once the villagers realized that Tom was different. He fled his home and had no understanding of his condition, thinking himself alone in the world. Years later, Tom discovers the Albatross Society, an organization of others with the same affliction. The society helps members move and hide, find jobs, and helps Tom realize that he is no longer alone. The head of the society, Hendrich, simply asks members to do an occasional job for him, and there’s one rule for the Society: you aren’t allowed to fall in love.

At first this sounds great to Tom. He had lost his wife to illness hundreds of years ago and has been grieving her ever since. The pain of this loss makes him realize he doesn’t want to become attached to anyone like that again. However, Tom also had a daughter, and he knows that she is an immortal like him. His main goal throughout the book is to find her and reunite with her.

The storytelling in this book alternates through different timelines, but was pretty easy to follow, with Tom always the narrator. Most of the plot follows the events of Tom’s life and how he has been dealing with his emotions. Little action or suspense is present through the story. For me, this was the weak point of this book. Tom’s despondency with his life becomes apparent early on, and he doesn’t seem to want to change.

The intrigues with the Albatross Society finally fuel some excitement by the end, but for me this book was not a page turner. However, it was easy to read and relatively short, so it may be something to pick up if you like a more literary treatment of a story that questions human mortality with a dash of time travel.

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