Monthly Archives: November 2013

Book Review: The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson)

The Rithmatist is a nearly four hundred page young adult novel by Brandon Sanderson. I guess it’s kind of a steampunk/fantasy hybrid (although I’m not really sure—I don’t read steampunk at all). Anyway, it seems to be a story of a parallel Earth where the technology has evolved to the point where everything is based on gears. Further, there is a discipline of magic known as Rithmatics. Rithmatics is an art that is based on drawing circles, lines, and characters on the ground to summon up mystical barriers, and small two-dimensional beings called chalklings, and using such to combat an enemy. It’s quite intricate and rather interesting.

 

Anyway, the story is focused on Joel, a young student at the school of learning known as Armedia. Armedia is one of the eight schools in the United Isles (a parallel of the United States and North America) where Rithmatics is taught and studied. Joel is a precocious young man totally enthralled by and enchanted with Rithmatics. He knows more about Rithmatics than any other non-Rithmatist, and probably even some Rithmatist students. Unfortunately, he is not a Rithmatist: only a select few are chosen, and Joel missed his chance.

 

Shortly into the story, Joel is delivering a message to one of the Rithmatic professors (Professor Fitch). As fate would have it, a new professor, Professor Nalizar, interrupts the class to challenge Fitch for his position. Unprepared and somewhat flustered, Fitch loses the confrontation. He surrenders his place in class and is reduced in rank. Shortly thereafter, Rithmatic students begin disappearing from off-campus. Is Nalizar involved? The timing is curious, and Joel is suspicious, if for no reason than that he does not like Nalizar at all. Anyway, the principal assigns Fitch to investigate, and Joel to assist. Hopefully, together they can unravel the mystery and not fall prey to the mysterious Scribbler, the perpetrator of the heinous crimes.

 

Strengths: The writing is excellent, the plotline enjoyable, and the magic system involved and interesting. The characters are well-developed and likeable. And the resolution was well-crafted and not easily foreseen. Weaknesses: to be honest, I can’t think of any serious weaknesses. With Sanderson there’s usually some kind of humor that just seems forced, but not in this book. For some reason, I wasn’t 100% engaged in the book, but I was engaged. Whatever it was lacking, I can’t quite put my finger on.

 

Anyway, I’ll give The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson four and a half stars out of five.

Required Reading for the Fantasy Buff

I’m going to do something different today and just give a list of books I think should be required reading for a fantasy buff or a fantasy author. I’ll also give a few brief reasons why I believe such books belong on the list.

 

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (children’s) and The Lord of the Rings (adult) – come on, it’s Tolkien.
  2. C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia (children’s) – another famous author. Christian literature that provides an example of how a religion or specific philosophy can influence a piece of literature.
  3. Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (children’s) – talking animals. Haven’t read it in a while, but it’s a classic.
  4. 4.      Richard Adams’ Watership Down (children’s) – talking animals (rabbits) perfected. The first real book I ever read.
  5. Patricia A. McKillip’s The Riddlemaster of Hed – another childhood favorite. Not sure why I put this on the list, though.
  6. Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman’s Dragonlance Chronicles – classic AD&D style adventure featuring a bad guy everyone loves (Raistlin Majere).
  7. Robert Jordan’s (and Brandon Sanderson’s) Wheel of Time – okay, only the first book should be required because the series is too long to demand of anyone, but it provides a good example of a giant series that I personally found rewarding.
  8. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Series – provides insights on how to make a distinctive magic system.

 

Well, that’s eight. I think they are all deserving. Anyone have any they would like to add?

Movie Review: Thor: The Darkworld (2013) (4 Stars)

Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Thor in Thor: The Dark World. Although I never reviewed it for this blog (the blog didn’t exist at the time), I saw the original Thor movie when it came out; it was okay, maybe three and half stars or so. I definitely think this second movie is an improvement over the first. It stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman (as Jane Foster), Anthony Hopkins (as Odin), and Tom Hiddleston (as Loki). Loki has become one of my favorite characters of the franchise. Tom Hiddleston does a remarkable job at bringing the character to life.

 

Anyway, the story begins with a sort-of prologue that sets the stage. Millenia ago, the Dark Elves existed in a reality before this universe. Then, this universe came into being (how, the movie doesn’t tell us). The Dark Elves, being creatures of darkness, hated the light and this universe it had produced, so their king, Malekith, decided to destroy it with the power of the aether, a dark force of boundless energy. Fortunately, for us, the Asgardians, led by Odin’s father, stopped it. They stole the aether from the Dark Elves and, after destroying the Dark Elf army, buried it where it would hopefully never be found. Fast forward to the modern day and planet Earth. Jane Foster, in the midst of studying a scientific anomaly, is pulled into the place where the Aether resides. Of course, it winds up being absorbed by her body. Now that it has been released, somewhere in far off space, Malekith is revived and he renews his plot to destroy the universe with the remnants of his Dark Elf army. All he needs for ultimate victory is the Aether, which is contained in Jane Foster’s body. Once again, Thor must rise to the challenge and confront unspeakable evil to save us all from doom.

 

Strengths: I’ve already mentioned that I love Loki. Tom Hiddleston does a wonderful job. Chris Hemsworth did a great job, too. As did Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman. The story was engaging and interesting. The special effects were superb. There were a number of well-timed humorous lines. Weaknesses: this is a minor one, but I feel inclined to point  it out: they kind of took a shot at America in one so-called “clever line” which I didn’t appreciate, although I’m sure some people will. The ending was a bit confusing. I’m still not sure how Thor defeated Malekith, or rather, why things he did worked the way they did. Finally, and this is the most important weakness, I really don’t like mixing the science fiction with the Norse mythology. I mean, really, a sci-fi adventure where Dark Elves are the bad guys? I hear elf, dark or otherwise, and I think Tolkien or D&D or whatever. Also, the science in the science fiction was bad and confusing. I still don’t know what the Nine Realms are. Are they nine planets? Nine solar systems? Nine Galaxies? You get a view of them at the end and they look like planets … so in the entire universe, there are only nine planets that are habitable? Add to that all the gravimetric and other scientific-sounding gobblydegook, and it gets an F in basic science. But it’s based on a Marvel Comic, so I suppose you really can’t hold that last bit against them much.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Thor: The Darkworld four stars out of five.

Book Review: King of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence continues telling the story of Jorg Ancrath that the book Prince of Thorns began. You can read my review of Prince of Thorns here. Anyway, King of Thorns starts some four years later. Jorg is now eighteen and is king of his captured kingdom, Renar. As the story begins, his castle is about to be besieged by an army led by the Prince of Arrow, a well-regarded, “well-meaning” conqueror who wishes to bring order and stability to the hundred kingdoms. He’s brought an overwhelming force to accomplish the task: 20,000 troops to defeat Jorg’s 1000 behind castle walls.

 

The entire book consists of the story of that day and a series of flashbacks to important events that occurred in Jorg’s life that impinge on the present … most of these happening when he was fourteen (after he’d won himself that castle from his uncle). The central theme of the book revolves around a magical box that Jorg keeps at his side at all times. Part of him wants to open the box, and part of him knows he shouldn’t. That box holds a piece of his memories—a group of memories so horrific and painful he had a wizard take them from him and place them in the box, because he, Jorg Ancrath, could not deal with the horror of them. What memory does the box contain? What secret is so terrible it threatens to destroy a young man like Jorg Ancrath, a young man who has seen and committed more atrocities than most men experience in their entire lives? The only way to truly answer those questions is for Jorg to open the box and regain his memories. But, as it was at his order that the memories were incarcerated in the first place, is that really a wise decision? Once done, it cannot be undone. Much like Pandora …

 

Strengths: the writing was excellent, the story creative, and the plot engaging. I normally prefer to have “good” characters to root for, but Jorg is fun in his own way and is starting to grow on me. Besides, it looks like Mr. Lawrence is using Jorg’s basically evil side to show growth and change in the character as he matures into someone a little less cruel and ruthless. We’ll see where it goes. Weaknesses: other than the evil nature of Jorg (which I mentioned in my previous review), the only weakness I can think of is the large number of Brothers in Jorg’s company. I really can’t keep any of them (or very few of them) straight. It’s too confusing.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Mark Lawrence’s King of Thorns four and a half stars out of five.

Old Movie Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific Rim is the latest film directed by Guillermo Del Toro who is known for other fantastical movies like Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy series. Pacific Rim is a sci-fi story set in the not-too-distant future. It tells the story of a time when the Earth is being besieged by gargantuan creatures from another dimension called Kaijus. Of the actors involved in the film, the only one I recognized was Ron Perlman who had a minor, supporting role. All the others were new faces to me.

 

Anyway, the story begins with an introductory preamble that describes the first assault on planet Earth by the first Kaiju. One lone creature destroys three cities and nearly exhausts the U.S. military. But it was dead and defeated, and life moved on. Then, six months later, another appeared. And another after that. Realizing that more drastic measures must be taken, the countries of the globe unite to build a series of weapons to use against the Kaijus: massive robots called Jaegers that stand as tall as buildings and required but two people to pilot through a neural link. The main character, Raleigh Beckett, played by Charlie Hunnam, is one of the first Jaeger pilots. He is teamed up with his brother, Yancy, and they are sent out to destroy an impending Kaiju. In the ensuing battle, Raleigh’s brother is killed, leaving him devastated and barely able to destroy the horrid creature. Once the battle is over, he leaves the service and begins a life in construction. Someone has devised a new method of defense: an enormous coastal wall will be built to protect humanity from the Kaijus in the sea. Then, his old commander, Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba), comes looking for him with an opportunity to get back in the action. Can Raleigh overcome the trauma of his brother’s death and once again rise to the occasion? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

 

Strengths: the acting was good, the storyline was engaging, and the special effects were superb. I recall no logical loopholes nor do I remember any other kind of glaring flaw. It was a good smash-em-up movie. Basically, if you like watching humongous creatures getting in fistfights in the middle of cities, you’ll like this movie because there was plenty of that. But there was also a decent storyline about handling personal difficulties and overcoming trauma. Weaknesses: I can think of no huge weaknesses, although there were one or two quotes that came direct from Star Wars. That said, it was an enjoyable movie, just not fantastic. It lacked something. Maybe I’m just outgrowing smash-em-up movies.

 

Overall, I’ll give Pacific Rim three and a half stars out of five.