Saturday, May 29, 2010

Arty -- The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

After finishing his (dazzling, in my opinion) debut series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Rick Riordan is back with another series about mythical deities - only this time, they're Egyptian in origin, not Greek.

Carter and Sadie Kane barely know each other. They were separated six years ago, when their mother died. Carter lives with their dad, Julius Kane, an Egyptologist who moves around a lot. Sadie lives with their mother's parents in London. The siblings only see each other twice a year. They're practically strangers.

But they don't stay strangers for long. This Christmas, on one of their visiting days, Julius takes Carter and Sadie on an outing to a museum. Sadie isn't thrilled at the prospect, but neither siblings are very happy when their dad blows up the Rosetta Stone. It doesn't get any better when a being from the Stone entraps their father and disappears with him.

Carter and Sadie quickly learn their father released five Egyptian gods from the Stone, and that one of them, Set, has banished Julius to oblivion. Suddenly thrust into a world where Egyptian deities and creatures are alive and well, with a father - and the world - to save, Carter and Sadie have to crisscross mortal and immortal boundaries for a way to defeat the evil their father released.

The Red Pyramid is a fascinating, complex, enjoyable book with deep characters and some good 'curve balls.' However, I think Riordan tried a little too hard to mimic the success of Percy Jackson. It's not glaringly obvious, but deep down, many parts seemed contrived. Mysterious dreams, characters acting oddly, plot twists - it all felt like he was trying to recapture the intrigue of the Olympians far too early in the series. As a result, you're so bogged down with loose ends and character backgrounds, you can barely pay attention to the action going on, wondering who has what motives where.

The characters are typically amazing. As usual, I got more into the supporting characters than Carter and Sadie, but the siblings were likable, with Carter's more serious voice and Sadie's snarky tone. The gods, however, were the ones who really shone: Bast, Anubis, and Thoth, along with other deities. The dialogue was witty, though fans of PJO's more obvious humor may be disappointed.

Action is never lacking. When they're awake, Carter and Sadie are fighting, running, or learning; while asleep, their bas, or spirits, are roaming the earth, seeing helpful visions. It's a wonder they could even stay on their feet. While some of the battle scenes aren't exactly realistic - it's hard to imagine a twelve-year-old girl fending off a thousand-year-old magician, no matter what her bloodline - they still get your attention and make you wonder just who's going to win.

There's really not much more to say about The Red Pyramid. It's not fair to compare it with Riordan's previous series. Still, I don't think the Kane Chronicles will be garnering the same amount of attention and acclaim. Perhaps if the next books are better. But for now, the Red Pyramid is merely an entertaining adventure of Egyptian deities, pharaohs, and magic.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Persy -- The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale

As soon as they started going through portals (transportation by Flume, as the Travelers say), I was positive that I was going to love the book.

The Merchant of Death is the first book in the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale. Judging from the title of the series, you'd think it was about King Arthur or something, but so far in the series it hasn't mentioned anything about him. The series is about Bobby Pendragon (perhaps a descendant of King Arthur?), a normal fourteen year old living a normal life. He's got a best friend named Mark and a girlfriend (sort of) named Courtney. He also has this uncle, Uncle Press.

Uncle Press was pretty much the coolest uncle a boy (or girl) could ever have. He gave Bobby helicopter rides for birthdays, taught him advanced diving skills -- all kinds of amazing things.

But then Uncle Press shows up at Bobby's door (right after Courtney's and Bobby's first kiss, coincidentally) and says it's time to go. He doesn't tell Bobby where, but Bobby agrees to go and they shoot off on a motorcycle. Bobby soon discovers that his Uncle is a Traveler, people who have the power to travel not only through space but time as well. It's their job to keep the balance of the universe and to stop a rogue Traveler, Saint Dane, from destroying Halla (which is pretty much the universe, though they make a big deal about it being EVERYthing...). Oh, but guess what. Bobby is a Traveler too, and it's time for him to step up to the plate and fulfill his duties. Save the world, in other words.

Bobby's first 'mission' is on a Territory called Denduron, an alternate dimension. There, Saint Dane has roused up trouble between two tribes and a dreadful war will happen if Bobby and Uncle Press, and two other Travelers don't do something. But Uncle Press is captured, leaving Bobby alone with Loor, another Traveler. Bobby resolves to save his uncle, but will he stop the war or just make it worse?

Meanwhile, back on Second Earth, Courtney and Mark are receiving updates, or journals, from Bobby via a ring that was given to Mark by yet another Traveler. They follow the story of Bobby closely, and help when they can. But there's only so much you can do to help a friend who's not even in your world anymore...

The plot really isn't insanely complicated, it's just hard to explain because there's so much going on in different places with different characters all at the same time. Basically, Bobby's off in Denduron trying to save the world, while Courtney and Mark are back on Earth trying not to totally freak out. Believe me, I have not covered all the details.

What really intriques me is the way the book alternates between Second Earth and Denduron. Denduron, or the part 'written' by Bobby, is in a normal font. But the parts on Second Earth with Courtney and Mark are written in an irregular (but still perfectly legible) font, which gives the impression that Denduron is the reality, while what's happening on Earth is just a story. It's very interesting.

The writing is not the most amazing thing, but The Merchant of Death is engaging, funny, and even fairly realistic. It's a great start to a (hopefully) great series. I'm actually reading the second one (The Lost City of Faar), and it's just as interesting. I'm still hoping for something King Arthur-related (I'm thinking Arthur was a Traveler?), but I suppose the name could just be a coincedence.

The Pendragon series runs along the border between science-fiction and fantasy, so whether you prefer daring quests with a band of travelers or reality-hopping aliens, I would definitely recommend this series. There are currently ten books in the series, plus a graphic novel that should be coming out soon, but I've found mixed dates for its release, so who knows when it'll actually be available (anyone know?). It also looks like MacHale is writing a prequel (?) series with Carla Jablonski, but I'm not really sure what that's about. I also haven't found anything official about a Pendragon movie, but one might pop up after a while.

Lis le livre-ci!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Arty -- Kiss by Ted Dekker and Erin Healy

Adult novels aren't my forte, especially (as much as I hate to admit it) Christian adult novels. There are good ones, there are bad ones, and there are really, really bad ones.

And then there's Ted Dekker.

Shauna McAllister argued with her father the night she drove over the side of a bridge, taking her little brother Rudy with her. When she wakes up after a six-week-long coma, she doesn't remember anything that was once of importance to her. All there is is 1) charges of drug possession and use, 2) a boyfriend she can't remember, 3) a hateful stepmother and an estranged father (who is also running for US President), 4) a little brother with brain damage. All of which is, apparently, Shuana's fault, and none of which Shauna can explain. Naturally, Shauna wants - needs - to find out more.

Cue scandals, conspiracies, death plots, and paranormal activities.

There are many, many books out there, I know, that hinge on amnesia, the rush to remember what desperately needs to be remembered. But this is why Ted Dekker is successful - he can take a cliché and make it throat-grabbing, as he did with Kiss.

That said, most of the characters don't have a great amount of fleshing out; we don't see too deeply what makes them tick in their usual lives. We're told, not shown. Of course, we don't really need character development; there's too much character action going on. And this is not a change-the-MC-into-a-better-person book. Regardless, knowing the characters, especially Shauna, a little better would have made it a more enjoyable experience.

Shauna did have her shining moments; except for a few instances near the beginning, she's not a flimsy, teary heroine always needing her knight in shining armor to hand her a Kleenex. Speaking of whom, her knight in shining armor was better developed, more dynamic than most of the others. If you're a female, be prepared to fall in love. I do wish, though, that Dekker had kept a certain photographer and Shauna's brother Rudy more in the spotlight. They were good characters that deserved more attention, along with Khai's little subplot that went woefully underdeveloped.

The ending of Kiss also left something to be desired. The secret was unraveled; Shauna knew everything; now to apprehend the bad guys! Except, the bad guys weren't really as bad, as it turns out - when it comes to defending themselves against a twenty-something amnesiac woman, at least. Too easy. As was Shauna's development of her paranormal ability that crops up about a fourth of the way into the novel - why did she have it? How did it work? Had she always had it, or was it a product of her coma? All unanswered question.

Despite all the things I put above, I really do love Kiss. It's the kind of fast-paced thriller that I've come to expect and enjoy from Ted Dekker. Was it perfect? No. Was it awesome? Most definitely yes. (And who can't say the cover art isn't amazing?)

As a sidenote, Erin Healy just published her own first novel, titled Never Let You Go. I haven't read it, but if she worked so well with Ted Dekker, I'd imagine it has some merit to it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Persy -- Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

Astrid Llewelyn's mother is certifiably insane. She raves about killer unicorns at all hours of the day, and seems to think that, if the unicorn population every resurfaces, Astrid is going to go off and kill them. And be great at it.

Astrid just wants to finish high school and go into medical science. Not become a unicorn slayer.

When Astrid finds out that her mother isn't insane and unicorns really are deadly, and that they've returned from supposed-extinction, she is shipped off to Rome where she's to be trained as a real unicorn hunter.

Rampant has an excellantly built world, with wonderfully detailed history of the unicorns and the unicorn hunters. I loved how Diana Peterfreund incorporated myths, Alexander the Great, and nuns into her story, and, for me at least, she made it work.

That said, we'll move on to the characters. In my opinion, none of them had a lot of depth. A few of them seemed like they were supposed to, but it just didn't quite work. Plus, Astrid's life sucks. Everyone sort of tramples over her all the time, and her mother is a... well. I really don't know why Astrid loves her so much. I mean, her mother hurts her, badly.

But anyway.

The one character that was freakin' awesome, was, of course, a unicorn. He had depth, brains, and was edgy enough to be cool but still in a very... unicornish... way.

Along with the history, I also love how the unicorns are the bad guys in this book. They are very dangerous creatures (with fangs) that would kill a man in a heartbeat. There are various forms of unicorns, ranging from little, relatively "gentle" zhis to the giant, dangerous karkadonns (which are even more "extinct" than the rest of the unicorns).

To sum it all up, the writing itself isn't all that spectacular (though the fight scenes, which I have trouble writing, were done very well), but the story was brilliant. In the beginning, you kind of have to make yourself keep reading, but about halfway through it starts to get good enough to where you don't really want to put it down.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Arty -- The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

First, a quick note: I've never been a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland. I love the Disney movie, but Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have always been of middling interest to me. Maybe I just enjoy stricter logic than Carroll presents. In that respect, it feels like The Looking Glass Wars was written for people like me.

Alyss Heart, Princess of Wonderland, lived in a land that every little child dreams about. Anything - anything - she imagines comes true. That's the way thing works in Wonderland. And even though she's only seven years old, Alyss already has one of the most powerful imaginations ever seen.

Then, on the day of Alyss's seventh birthday, her murderous Aunt Redd reappears. Redd was exiled after a bloody civil war with her sister, Queen Genevieve, over the queendom. But now, with an army of card soldiers and the power of Black Imagination on her side, Redd attacks and murders Queen Genevieve, King Nolan, and almost everyone else... except for Alyss. She escapes, with the help of Hatter Madigan, the Queen's bodyguard, through the Pool of Tears. The Pool of Tears leads to Earth, in the middle 1800s. There, Alyss and Hatter are separated. Hatter searches vigilantly for Alyss, but Alyss slowly succumbs to the idea that Wonderland never existed.

Of course, that's just the first half of the book. The second half centers on the Alyssians, the Wonderland freedom fighters, getting Alyss back to Wonderland and back to saving the land from Queen Redd, 'Her Royal Viciousness.' But I don't want to give the whole book away.

I'm really at a loss at how to describe the Looking Glass Wars. One side of my brain says that I really loved it, that it was fascinating, enthralling, original but just enough like Alice in Wonderland to be recognizable. The other half says - what exactly did they do for nigh on three hundred pages?

I guess one way to put it is that Beddor excels in creating believable characters, realistic situations, attractive settings (or unattractive, whichever is the goal), and the overlaying idea of the whole novel. What he doesn't excel in is the actual action that follows the exposition and setting-up. The psychological conflict between Redd and Alyss and the Alyssians is nicely done; the physical conflict, the final battle, isn't. The former is well-paced, gradually rising in intensity, satisfying; the latter isn't.

Where Beddor excels, he really does excel. The characters taken from (or for) Alice in Wonderland - Bibwit Harte, Alyss tutor, Hatter Madigan (the Mad Hatter), the Cat (the Cheshire Cat) - are all recognizable but just foreign enough. The ones Beddor created - Dodge Anders, Jack of Diamonds - feel like they should have had a place in Wonderland. In my humble opinion, anyway.

If you're not afraid of an almost disappointingly easy conflict resolve, I would recommend the Looking Glass Wars to anyone with the patience for a lot of great world- and character building. This is the first book in a trilogy - the second is Seeing Redd, and the third is ArchEnemy - so I'm assuming there'll be less setting-up and more action in the next books. I also just discovered a comic series called Hatter M, an elaboration on the thirteen years Hatter Madigan spent on Earth looking for Alyss. Definitely one I'll try to get my hands on.