Monday, 30 April 2012

The Gone Series - Michael Grant

The fifth book in the Gone series, Fear, just came out a few weeks ago and after reading it, I have decided that everyone in the world should read it, as well. Which is why this post can also be titled


Do you like YA dystopian novels? Than have I got a series for you. Trust me when I say that it is definitely more disturbing than The Hunger Games (and I love The Hunger Games.)

The first book begins as, one morning out of nowhere, everyone over the age of 15 disappears in a small town in California called Perdido Beach. You find out later that a dome (known as The Barrier) has formed around a huge chunk of California, about a twenty mile radius from the middle, a power plant. Perdido Beach just happens to be inside. The kids will call the area The FAYZ.

Of course, the first reaction of the kids is what you would expect: no parents, party, eat all the junk food, etc. However, one thing that I think really sets the Gone series about is that it continues past that. For when all the food is gone because no one is planting or harvesting. To when all the water is gone because there is no rain inside the dome. To when the littlest children have to start being looked after because they can't care for themselves. To when they need to install a currency system because bartering has become too dangerous. 

That, in itself, I think is one of the most interesting aspects of the Gone series. Beyond that, however, we have the creepy, dystopia stuff. Because why did The FAYZ come into being in the first place? And why have some of the kids begun forming strange powers? And why are there sudden mutations in the animals inside the dome? There is nothing creepier, let me tell you, than talking coyotes. 

Whenever I try and pitch this to my friends, they always look at me a little strangely when I start mentioning the supernatural elements but let me assure you that they do nothing but add to the book. If there were nothing of that sort, to be honest, it would just be Lord of the Flies. By adding a supernatural element (and an enemy in terms of the Gaiaphage (you'll see)), there is added danger and strategy. 

The books are very dark, as well. It's not easy to survive in this new world and, honestly, a lot of kids just don't. Some go crazy. Some get killed by wildlife. Some just die by weird accidents. And Grant has no qualms about killing off main characters. In each book, new important characters get added but characters you've cared about for maybe all the previous books are just as likely to be killed as a random red shirt. I rather like that aspect of it; you never get too comfortable while reading.

Another important detail that adds a lot to the books is the format it's written in. Each chapter begins with a countdown, usually less than 36 hours, to when the major event in the book is going to occur. Because of such a short time period, the pace is frantic and tense, really pulling you in to each novel. Between books, however, whole months pass so that now, by book five, I think the kids have been in the FAYZ at least a year. Watching them have to sustain themselves for that long, while not knowing if they'll ever get out, is powerful.

All in all, I love the Gone series and am quite upset that the last book, Light, doesn't come out until next year, especially since there was such a dramatic revelation at the end of Fear. If you would like to catch up and discuss the end of Fear with me, well, that would be much appreciated.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Magicians - Lev Grossman

I'm just going to say it right off the bat: I have absolutely no idea how I feel about The Magicians. At first, I loved it. Halfway through, though, it started making me uncomfortable. By the end, I was just completely unsure about life. Was that the point?

The basic plot of The Magicians is this: a senior in high school, Quentin Coldwater, is completely disillusioned with life until by chance he ends up going to a magic school in upstate New York for college. Unfortunately, while magic is cool and everything, it's not the end all and be all of life and Quentin soon battles becoming disillusioned by magic, as well.

Now, the first bit of The Magicians is brilliant. Quentin going to school, learning about magic, making friends (and enemies) and just generally being Quentin is quite good. There is one chapter in particular, The Beast, that I loved and think is a brilliant example of encapsulated fear in a single chapter of a book. All the characters, as well, are well drawn and interesting characterized. I especially love Quentin's girl friend/girlfriend, Alice. 

I understand that the whole bit of The Magicians is that it is not just "Harry Potter grown up." It wants to say more and be deeper than that. I'm fine with that. It's just that, all of the sudden, Quentin has somehow become Holden Caulfield of the magical 00s. It just seemed out of place and odd. Not only that, but he began making weird choices that didn't seem to fit with the character we had been getting to know. 

The last bit of the book, while different from the mid-section, was still not enough to drag me back into caring about Quentin. I feel very ambivalent towards him, now and while I have the sequel, The Magician King, I still haven't brought myself around to reading it. Maybe one day.

The pacing in particular is very strange. The book is split into three parts and while each part makes sense on its own, it feels like they could have been fleshed out and turned into a trilogy. Having all three in one book feels a bit much and definitely confuses a reader at first. Quentin goes through five years of magic school in about two hundred pages. There was so much richness there that was missed. His life outside of school was perhaps the right length but the journey he goes on with his friends, as well, could have easily afforded more pages than it got. 

I really wanted to like this book and in some ways, I did. Would I recommend it to a friend, though? I'm not sure. It wasn't what I expected it to be and although I liked parts, others were uncomfortable. You definitely have to be in a certain kind of mood. Especially the bits about the arctic foxes. That was just … yeah. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

I've always wanted to read The Woman in White because somehow I got it into my head that it was a ghost story. Spoiler Alert: It's not. A friend and I both decided to read it over Christmas Break (although I somehow didn't actually read until a few weeks ago) and this gave me a perfect excuse to finally pick up a book I had always been curious about. 

To tell the truth, I wasn't entirely sure what I was picking up when I started reading The Woman in White. I find it nice, though, to not really be sure what you're reading. It gives it an even bigger air of surprise. The beginning of The Woman in White does not disappoint, either. A young art teacher gets a job through a connection of a friend and as he walks to the train station early one morning, he meets a mysterious woman dressed all in white. She begs him the way to London but makes him promise to ask her nothing. And without another word, the woman vanishes.

How is this not a ghost story, you ask? I know! Still, though, there are definitely enough twists and turns to delight any reader. I know I have given you absolutely no idea of the plot but I think you appreciate it more that way. There are three parts to the novel, the first mostly through the eyes of Mr. Hartright (don't you love old names?), the drawing teacher mentioned previously. The second part is much different from the first and the third altogether different still but I realize that mentioning the narrators will spoil a bit who dies and who doesn't so perhaps I'll leave that out.

It's an old book so there is a bit of wordiness and ethnic stereotyping to be aware of. Nothing is particularly bad, however, and the evil Italian count is evil more because of himself than because of the fact that he is Italian. In fact, I think he may be my favorite character. There is just something delicious about a character that is as sneakily evil as Count Fosco.

This is definitely not a book you get hooked on and can't put down. It's very wordy and it takes itself very importantly. However, there is definitely enough of a mystery for you to constantly want to know what is going to happen. It's a long book at over five hundred pages and around page two fifty or so, I really started to get into it. I don't know if my friend Lizzy ever did. It may not be a page turner but it's not the kind of book you would put down out of boredom, either. It's interesting enough to keep going.

There's intrigue, evil husbands, evil wives, mysterious disappearances, secret spies, expeditions to the new world, a creepy wing of the mansion and everything you expect from the best gothic novels. If that sounds good to you, pick it up.