1990s

Time’s Arrow

Times ArrowTime’s Arrow by Martin Amis was first published in 1991. It has been sitting on my to-be-read mountain since the 2002, I believe. It came up in a discussion back in 2001 with a particular Professor for Ancient Philosophy from K. U. Leuven.  Its seventeen years later and I certainly don’t remember what the conversation was.  I’m participating in a Keyword Challenge this year – I’m using it to read a lot of books that have been getting fat, old, and lazy on the stacks for a long time. In February the word was “Arrow” (likely for St. Valentine’s Day) but I thought of this lurker-of-shelves.

The novel is famous for being a narrative told in reverse. Time goes backwards from our normal way of perceiving it. Therefore, the novel begins at the end of the main character’s life.  The story is narrated by…. a narrator. The Narrator speaks as if he is separate and distinct from the physical character whose story he tells.

Is it a war we are fighting, a war against health, against life and love? My condition is a torn condition. Every day, the dispensing of existence. I see the face of suffering. Its face is fierce and distant and ancient.

There’s probably a straightforward explanation for the impossible weariness I feel. A perfectly straightforward explanation. It is a mortal weariness. Maybe I’m tired of being human, if human is what I am. I’m tired of being human. – pg. 93

So, the story is about a German doctor who participates in the Holocaust activities in Auschwitz. He escapes to Western Europe after the war ends and he then continues to America. He continues working in his profession but with new identities. In the style of this novel, though, all of this is told in reverse. We meet Tod Friendly at the end of his life and follow along as he gets younger, moves to NYC, moves to Western Europe, enters the war, partakes in atrocities, goes to med school, etc.

Telling a story in reverse is really not completely unique. I think a lot of reader-reviewers of this novel bring up works by Philip K. Dick (Counter-Clock World – 1967) and Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five – 1969).  I have not read either work, but I am told these are earlier examples, or have samples in them, of reverse chronology.  Amis, in this novel’s afterword, tells us that he came up with the idea and it was given more motivation after reading a book given him by a friend.

I think one is supposed to not so much “enjoy” this novel as be impressed with the temporal reversal. And then the juxtaposition throughout of love vs. heinous crime surely has some literary value. Throughout the novel, the Narrator puzzles over the main character’s love affairs and relationships. The relationships are never very successful and seem to be fraught with unhappiness or recklessness. As much as segments of the main character’s life are referenced via names and places, the Narrator and reader compartmentalize these segments based on the love interest(s). Irene, Rosa, Herta, et al.

The psychological ramifications of the main character’s wartime actions are mused over by the Narrator, but confusedly. Since we are going backward in time, the Narrator does not know why there exist these ramifications at all. And the main character goes to lengths to keep a part of himself/his past hidden from other characters. There are scenes and hints that there has been something of a realization of the horrors committed, but nothing more definite can be said. Obviously, the main character is a damaged character, but the reader does not feel any sympathy for him. A forlorn sorrow, maybe.

The interesting parts come into play with the little things. For example, since it all occurs in reverse, a bowel movement changes direction in this story.  Instead of paying people for goods and services, we take money from them. Walking and driving is done in reverse – without looking – no wonder the Narrator is amazed by this. Especially, the medical profession seems bizarre – they shove bullets in people, pull stitches out, break bones – all the healing and curative actions in reverse.

The dualism of the Narrator and the main character is problematic. Is this a soul that has been added to whatever is the main character? Is the Narrator a conscience? Is the Narrator the psychological split caused by the main character’s mental traumas? Is the Narrator just a vague storytelling device? It is not worked out thoroughly and none of these answers fit perfectly, which only exacerbates my annoyance with this novel.

Even if appreciative of the effort, I struggled to get through this. Maybe I’m too stuck in my timelines. I was bored, annoyed, I honestly wanted to hit fast-forward (rewind??!) a lot. And Freud….everything in the bedroom, the womb, the oven. Sometimes I wonder how we ever did a blessed thing before Freud told us why we did it. Germans. There is a heavy-hand of Freud in here, I am not even sure it is all intentional by the author.

This isn’t a good review. I feel only a little bad about that because it’s not a great book. It is a decent piece of literary effort designed to be read for experiment and exercise. And the shocking brutality in parts of it just feels superimposed on an already tedious conceit.

Recommended with reservations. For strong readers, for those who are looking for a sort of edgy quirky read. For readers who need a book to fill a category re: Holocaust or German doctors. Niche reading at best.

2 stars

Advertisements

Green Rider

Green Rider - Kristen Britain; cover:  Keith Parkinson; DAW 2000

Green Rider – Kristen Britain; cover: Keith Parkinson; DAW 2000

Green Rider by Kristen Britain really does not seem like it would appeal to me, but I read it and I do not have a whole lot of bad things to say about it.  It was definitely surprisingly good; I suppose I must have had low expectations?  I only have two complaints about this novel, which was first published in 1998.  It is the first novel by the author and the first novel in its series. One of my complaints is that the novel is too long. The paperback runs to 471 pages, but I feel the story could have been ended closer to the “standard” 430 pages. The cover, by Keith Parkinson, made me really want to hate the main character because the girl looks like that mouth-breathing actress from the Twilight movie series…

I have read two of three of Mercedes Lackey’s “Arrows” trilogy. I did not have very many nice things to say about those two books. Shame on me, but I allowed those novels to color my notions of other fantasy novels by a female author and with a female main character. Bad, bad chauvinist jerk!  However, there are some correlations here – both have strong female leads, both females have strong relationships with their horses, both of these are “epic fantasy” settings (swords and arrows, a king’s road, etc.)  Here is the crux of the matter:  if we compare the two stories, Britain’s is more balanced, honest, and “realistic” than that rubbish Lackey wrote, by a large margin.

I’ve given two reasons, so far, why I should not like this novel. The cover resemblance to the Twilight series and the similarities with the Lackey series. What possessed me to attempt reading this?! Finally, there is another reason.  I am not a wild maniac for things Irish. I have no issue with the Irish. But what else can I say – my heritage is much farther East. Celtic stuff and green stuff and difficult Gaelic words and Yeats and Joyce’s mythologies…. I mean, I don’t even like Guiness! So, with all this green and pseudo-Gaelic feel, I really had no business reading this novel.  Granted, the similarities to things-Irish is only with brief hints.

This is not grimdark, so fans of that subgenre should not expect the grim darkness found in those novels. Further, this novel should not be judged by comparing it to grimdark. I bring this up because this is an “older” novel – and since it was published, fantasy seems to have gotten a whole lot heavier and grittier.  I enjoyed this novel because it was really well-balanced.  There is an evil villain and some grisly monsters, but there are also light-hearted moments and a touch of silliness.

Karigan is at private school, she gets sent home and en route she gets waylaid by a dying Green Rider.  The Rider presses her into service to deliver the message he was carrying to the King.  Karigan does so and meets with assorted adventures. She, naturally, gets help when she needs it and often rethinks what incidents brought her to the path she is on.  She sometimes loses heart, but overall she “does the right thing” because she was raised rightly and is strong-willed.

I actually liked all of the characters. Maybe they are stereotypical and maybe this is perfectly “standard fantasy” fare, but I am very okay with that. The storyline was really quite obvious and almost on the “folk tale” level wherein everyone already knows the story and we are just here to see the presentation. It is like that joy small children get with having a story read to them that they already know by heart.

Around 310 there is a “big reveal” that all other readers will expect, but which, of course, surprised me. This comes late in the novel, and helps re-boost interest in a storyline that is dragging a bit. Another moment occurs on page 343; a villain is revealed! This moment is interesting because should flip the opinions of the reader who fell hook, line, and sinker for a particular fantasy trope. I am purposely being vague to not give away spoilers.

The magic system [using contemporary geek-terminology] is a bit wonky and specious. I do not think it is Britain’s area of expertise. Maybe in future novels she works this out better?  In this one, she doesn’t solidify what magic is, how it works, or where it comes from. Its everything it needs to be to whomever needs it.  Overall, the word I keep coming to with this novel is “balanced.”  It is not great literature, but it is interesting and engaging. I did not hate the characters and even though the plot was familiar, it did not feel labored. I was entertained.

4 stars

Hygiene and the Assassin

Hygiene and the Assassin

Hygiene and the Assassin – Amelie Nothomb; Europa; 2010

Amélie Nothomb’s first novel, Hygiene and the Assassin was first published in 1992.  The English edition was published by Europa Editions in 2010.  I read this novel in February of 2013.  At 167 pages, I was not entirely sure what to expect.  Anything I read of the author always highlights her multicultural personal life.

I do not have a lot to say about this novel.  I did not really like it.  First of all, a lot of the novel is vulgar.  It harkens back to Louis-Ferdinand Céline and his writings – off-color, politically-incorrect, and vibrant.   Nevertheless, it is not easy to emulate really good authors and, in many cases, it is not always a good idea.  Oddly, I found this novel even more vulgar than one would find Céline’s.   Yes, the language is vulgar, but so are the topics.  I am an adult, I am not a Puritan – so my concept of “vulgar” is a bit more critical.  When I say vulgar I mean to suggest a work that is vulgar and also does not have to be.  So, language and topic is, at times, vulgar – but when I look at the whole concept of the novel, I do not think this was necessary for the story.  Does it work with the story? Yes. Is it the only way for the story to work? No.  And there you have it.

Second problem:  Jean-Paul Sartre.  I am not a fan of existentialism and I am an even bigger not-fan of Sartre.  I really, really dislike him.  And his “philosophy.”  If I knew him personally – he is not someone I would trust.  Also, I find his “philosophy” to be pathetic.  In general, I find existentialism to be what people who want to pretend to be philosophers talk about. You know, dilettantes and such.  So, you can find people in Starbucks discussing authenticity while a copy of Being and Nothingness sits on the table.  All of this scene is repugnant to me.  Kierkegaard was alright. . . . I will have no truck with Sartre. I mean it:  I am so not sharing my truck with him.

In Nothomb’s novel she is really heavy-handed with the Sartrean concept of bad faith.  If you do not know what is meant by the terminology “bad faith,” you will probably miss a lot of the “depth” of this novel.  However, if you do not, in general, know about this terminology or concept, it’s okay because you are not really missing anything profound.  (Oh I know my dislike of existentialism is dripping here… sorry.) “Bad faith,” like many concepts developed in existentialism, seems to me to just be a pile of empty verbiage.  Yeah, sure, okay, sounds cool….. and then what?!

The main character is an author.  His name is Prétextat Tach.  He has been diagnosed with cancer and has only a couple of months to live.  In the meantime, this Nobel Prize winner is being interviewed by journalists eager to get the scoop on this reclusive and misanthropic writer.  The entire novel takes place in Tach’s “apartment” and almost all of the novel is in dialogue form.  This is all a big conversation/interview.  Again, some readers find this sort of storytelling to be tedious.  I, personally, do not mind it, and I find that it reads quickly.  However, in some places it just seems too obnoxious and fake.  Ultimately, this is the same sense that I got from the usage of existentialism and Sartre in this novel:  seems too fake and forced.  And well, yeah, isn’t that really the overarching scenario; i.e. authenticity.

I read the novel quickly, was repulsed in some parts, was vaguely entertained in parts.  When the ending came along I kind of saw where it was going and felt it was a bit drawn out.   Nevertheless, you can mostly guess what will happen.  Well, it happened, I went: “Huh.” …. and moved on to the next book.  There just is not anything really and truly awesome and deep in this one.  It’s not a wretched concept, but I think there are some pieces that did not come together perfectly.  However, I will be merciful and reiterate that this is the author’s first novel.

There are only two pages that I was able to draw anything worthwhile from.  I want to share what the main character says here about people who read:

There are a great many people who push sophistication to the point of reading without reading.  They’re like frogmen, they go through books without absorbing a single drop of water.  Those are the frog-readers.  They make up the vast majority of human readers, and yet I only discovered their existence quite late in life.  I am so terribly naive.  I thought that everyone read the way I do.  For I read the way I eat:  that means not only do I need to read, but also, and above all, that reading becomes one of my components and modifies them all.  You are not the same person depending on whether you have eaten blood pudding or caviar; nor are you the same person depending on whether you have just read Kant (God help us) or Queneau.  Well, when I say “you,” I should say “I myself and a few others,” because the majority of people emerge from reading Proust or Simenon in an identical state:  they have neither lost a fraction of what they were nor gained a single additional fraction.  They have read, that’s all:  in the best-case scenario, they know “what it’s about.”  And I’m not exaggerating.  How often have I asked intelligent people, “Did this book change you?” And they look at me, their eyes wide, as if to say, “Why should a book to change me?”  . . . . . .  Most people do not read.  In this regard, there is an excellent quotation by an intellectual whose name I have forgotten:  “Basically, people do not read; or, if they do read, they don’t understand; or, if they do understand, they forget.”

The character who says all of this is convinced he is never read – and certainly never read by the readers who actually are changed by reading his works.  The character is really a complete psycho who utilizes sophistry and who snarls and insults everyone.  But finally, at the end of his life, he is met by someone who has truly “read” his works and who sits across from him representing the things that he despises, doubts, and denies.  Bad faith. etc. the end.

2 stars

The Golden Compass

THe Golden CompassThe Golden Compass by Philip Pullman was published in 1995.  In the UK the novel is titled Northern Lights, but The Golden Compass is the USA title. It is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy.  In 2007, a major film was released starring Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards, Daniel Craig, et al.   The edition of the novel that I read is the Del Rey 1997 edition.

In my edition, the famous author Terry Brooks (Cp. The Shannara series) wrote a short one-page introduction.  I was rather unenthused about reading the novel, but after Brooks’ introduction, I was drawn into reading it.  I do not always read introductions, but I have to say that Brooks’ intro was so encouraging that I plowed right into the book.

I have said this so often during the past year that I am beginning to sound like the oft-mentioned broken record, but here it is again.  You are going to love The Golden Compass.  It is a claim you have heard about other books, and it hasn’t always turned out to be true.  So why should you believe it this time? What makes this such a great book? Let me give you some reasons.

The novel is divided into three main parts with a total of 23 chapters.  The parts are locations wherein the story mainly takes place.

  • Oxford
  • Bolvangar
  • Svalbard

The novel is written with a mellow tone and style that definitely makes it seem like it is fit for young adult audiences.  However, I really do not think this is a book for children or for young adults. I do feel it is a book for adults. My big worry that I was reading some lame children’s book was set aside.  However, the main character of the book is a young girl.  Lyra Belacqua is a twelve-year old orphan of sorts living at Jordan College as something of a ward, but more like a pest.  Her whole life changes because of her penchant for mischief and curiosity; she sneaks into the Retiring Room at the College wherein the masters and scholars are about to receive an important guest:  Lord Asriel.

The story takes place in a parallel universe to ours, in which exists the Magisterium, a body of the Church in that world which guards against heresy.  The neat gimmick of the novel is that human souls exist externally in the form of a “dæmon,” an animal which constantly accompanies his master.  Due to some of these considerations and some other elements, the Church and many Christian organizations decried this novel (and film) calling it atheistic or subversive.  For example, the name of Lord Asriel is probably a reference to Azrael, a name of the Angel of Death in mythology.  However Asriel is also an anagram for “Israel.”  In this manner one can interpret the novel as a criticism against the Church and/or the Magisterium.  After having read the novel, I feel to do this is a bit absurd.  This novel is pure fiction – a fantasy novel.  It does not purport to be anything else.  While some of the terminology or concepts might seem to be allusions to real world organizations and beliefs, ultimately, it is our own perspectives seeing tilting at windmills.  The associations between the items in the book and the supposedly connected items in the real are tenuous and vague.  I sincerely doubt this book was supposed to represent a great treatise against any religion and I doubt it will affect anyone’s faith in any way whatsoever.

I was really surprised to see many of the steampunk elements in the novel. At first, I expected some sort of Hogwarts/Roke Island sort of story.  And, of course, I expected the main character to be entirely too headstrong and foolish.  Also, I was unsure what to make of the dæmons.  In chapter 4, Lyra is enticed by Mrs. Coulter to go to London.  Mrs. Coulter is one of those immediately dislikeable characters that somehow we all know in real life.  She’s conniving and manipulative, but shines in her role as socialite and gadfly.  Of course, as a reader I was drawn into the story at this point, really not liking what Mrs. Coulter was trying to turn Lyra into.  After this section of the book, I realized that Lyra was not going to be the bratty, dim-witted child that I thought I would have to suffer.  Instead, Lyra develops into a really well-balanced, courageous, and reasonable creature.  And maybe that’s actually the biggest fantasy in the book – it is probably impossible for any twelve-year old to be so reasonable.

As the story progresses, more elements of steampunk occur.  There are a number of noble-souled individuals who help Lyra along, but she is often left to her own devices relying on her own wits to problem solve.  I really like the characters of the bears and the witches. (I did mention this is fantasy, right?)  Bears who talk, run kingdoms, build armor, and who have a deep code of honor are really neat things to read about.  And I admit, I got attached to the character Iorek Byrnison, an exiled bear.  I think the book had a great balance of steampunk, fantasy, realism, and science in it.  Around halfway, I was thinking I might be giving the book four stars.  However, after finishing it, I realize I would be withholding a star for no real good reason.  Compared to the other books I have read and rated, I think this deserves the five stars – even if it is not a story that would interest every reader.

5 stars

 

Roman Blood

Roman Blood

Roman Blood

Roman Blood is the first novel in Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series.  It was released in 1991.  The novel takes place in Rome in the year 80 B.C.   The main character is Gordianus the Finder who is something of a detective, but honestly, he’s quite a bit more like a busybody.  He has earned a bit of a reputation for helping “lawyers” dig out the truth in criminal cases.  In this novel, Gordianus is hired by the character Cicero, who represents the actual historical character.  Cicero is defending Sextus Roscius who is accused of patricide.  Real life Cicero wrote about this case.

In ancient Rome, there was a lot of sex, violence, and greed. There was also a love of civic pride and posturing. And there was an unofficial/official caste system – so there were slaves. If any of this is disturbing, you probably should not read this book.  Saylor obviously knows his history and is a good writer.  The more “ribald” sections were not necessarily graphic and detailed, but the reader is not kept in ignorant bliss, either.  There is a scene early on, where Gordianus comes upon a slave having sex with the daughter of Sextus Roscius.  And the daughter has been the subject of incest.  (Thankfully, we are spared details of that.) However, this is a story about criminals in ancient Rome… this stuff happened. So man up and read onward or toss the novel aside.  Ultimately, this book is hardly more graphic and disturbing than anything on TV currently, so the majority of readers should not feign shock.

The storyline is pretty long.  There are a number of mystery novel misdirects, but usually it just seems that Gordianus is not very good at his job.  In fact, while Gordianus does a lot of footwork in the employ of Cicero, he does not really get to the truth of the matter any sooner than anyone else.  Nevertheless, it’s amusing and interesting to tag along with Gordianus as he interviews country folk, citizens, politicians, whores, and lawyers.

Cicero is supposed to be THE Cicero.  But I disliked the Cicero in this book immensely.  He’s really not what I, after all of my history studies, want him to be.  So I just pretend that this is some other Cicero in Rome.  As a reader, once I could do that, novel-Cicero did not bug me as much at all.  Readers who are devotees of Cicero and fancy him a hero might not want to read a book that does not present Cicero as an awesome guy.

The reader meets Sulla and Cicero and a whole cast of people that make up most of the facets of Rome’s populace.  Sometimes it seems that Saylor just wants to run us around the city meeting people and introducing us to Roman life.  While the plot struggles a little, due to sluggishness, it’s worth the effort because Saylor makes the characters we meet interesting and fairly representative of Rome.  Overall, I was pleased with the book and am going to continue onward in the series.

4 stars

The Moor

MoorThe Moor is the fourth book published it the Mary Russell series written by Laurie R. King.  The Moor was published in 1998.  I read the first three novels in the series in 2005, but when I read this novel I hardly remembered much from the previous novels except that I really enjoyed them.

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes investigate strange goings-on on Dartmoor. Reprising the setting and some of the plotlines of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes and Russell come to the aid of the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould.

This novel will probably be either loved or hated.  I tended to like the book quite a bit. The main thing about this book is that its plot and the storyline are really not very good. Holmes and Russell are in Dartmoor and if you know anything about moors it’s that they are not very nice. (Think about Wuthering Heights.) Moors are cold, desolate, scary, threatening, challenging, and vicious. I have never been to a “moor” but every time I read about them, I see the same characteristics. I picture terrain that is choppy, difficult, and jagged. I picture weather that is foggy, windy, and cold. It seems anyone that hangs out on moors gets lost, injured, or goes a bit off their rocker. That The Moor is set in such a place takes some stamina from the reader to get through because you know most of the book will be dealing with the challenges the setting places on the characters.  In fact, straightaway we are familiarized with this as Russell travels at night by train to the nearest train station in Coryton and then has to carry a rucksack two miles on uneven ground on a moonless night to meet Holmes who is at Lew House.

For the next 270 pages, most of what happens is inessential to a fast-paced, tension-ridden mystery. Luckily, I do not think The Moor is such a book.  Russell and Holmes truck about the moor looking for information – they don’t find any. This will probably annoy the reader as we are given chapters and chapters of storyline in which we do nothing but familiarize ourselves with the locals, learn some anecdotes, but the characters really do not seem to gain ground on their investigation.  After every foray onto the moor, Russell returns to the Reverend Baring-Gould’s home for warming baths and teas. She’s also usually muddy and highly bruised. In fact, for the majority of the book, it can seem like Russell drinks ridiculously copious amounts of hot tea and takes an inordinate number of baths.

On one of these forays, Holmes and Russell are out on the moor together, and Russell comments on Holmes’ uncanny skill in negotiating the terrain in her witty manner:

“He looked as if he were returning from a gentle day’s shooting; I seemed to have spent the day wrestling a herd of escaped pigs through a bog.”

However, I did not mind this seemingly pointless clambering around the moor. And I was not irritated by the teas and baths. Russell is such a charming and confident character that I love just “spending the day” with her. There is a lot of good writing skill when the author is able to make you enjoy just spending time with the character without the pressure of a storyline or plot. Very, very few authors/books can do this. But something about Russell is just pleasant to be around. One of the things I like about Russell is how she is not the some wilting flower woman overwrought with emotion or squeemishness. Russell thinks nothing of trekking around the countryside alone, handling rifles, falling off of horses, or hanging out in the local pub.  This is not to say that she is some sort of brash ruffian. Somehow, Russell is able to pull off being both educated and intellectual while being adventurous and durable. It’s fun to read a female character like this.  Holmes is a supporting character in the series, but he adds to the goodness of the novel. He does not coddle Russell – though he shows concern for her. I guess, in some way, the relationship and interaction between the two characters is really interesting and fun. I do not seem to mind what Russell and Holmes are involved with as long as I get to spend time with them.

The Reverend Baring-Gould starts off as an enigmatic character, but halfway through the novel he just turns into a sort of focal point:  Russell and Holmes crash at his mansion and consult him when they want to know some folklore or geographic fact. Baring-Gould is a ninety year old churchman who has summoned Holmes because of the recent appearances of a “haunted” carriage and dog on the moor.  One of the things the reader learns from Baring-Gould is about these tors that populate the moor.  A tor is a large, free-standing residual mass (rock outcrop) that rises abruptly from the surrounding smooth and gentle slopes of a rounded hill summit or ridge crest. In my mind I pictured Stonehenge sometimes.

On these Russell comments:  “I personally decided were the result of near terminal boredom on the part of the natives, who would have found heaving large rocks into upright lines an exciting alternative to watching the fog blow about….”

In any case, the author makes the moor easily imaginable for the reader and though a moor is a desolate and dreary place, the book is still engaging.  Unfortunately, the plot is not very captivating and the author loses her hold on several threads throughout.  One of these is Miss Baskerville, whom Russell interviews and then basically dismisses. The villain, Ketteridge, is easily identified the first moment we meet him, the ending is absurdly simple in its brevity.  The plot just is not very well managed. However, it’s all made up for with giving the reader time to roam around with Russell and, yes, take baths and drink tea. (By the middle of the book, I was ready to just go and make tea for the heck of it.)  Baring-Gould has an indefatigeable maid/cook named Miss Elliot who seems to think she can fix all the problems in the world by providing consumables to Russell, Holmes, and Baring-Gould himself.

In the end of the book in chapter twenty four, Baring-Gould is having one of his rambling sessions of conversation and I found this section rather interesting:

“I am sure you have heard of this crystal wireless set which seems certain to achieve popularity; I imagine that the resultant instant communication will complete what modern education and quick travel have begun, and we will soon see the death of regionalism and individuality.  Haven’t you found this, Holmes?  The world is becoming filled with sameness, with men and women as like as marbles. Not a true eccentric in sight.”

I suppose instead of calling this novel a mystery, one should consider it a meandering description of the isolated folk who dwell on or near the mostly inhospitable moor. I recommend reading this novel in the winter. When what you are reading combined with the outside weather makes you chilled, you can draw a bath and brew some tea.

4 stars

Subterranean

SubterraneanI finished another novel today. I read Subterranean by James Rollins. Hopefully, someday, somehow, the computer (aka: hate machine) will magically be fixed. Otherwise, I will soon run out of books to read. Seriously. And I have a lot of books.

According to the author’s site, this is his first novel, published in 1999. The synopsis is:  Beneath the ice at the bottom of the Earth is a magnificent subterranean labyrinth, a place of breathtaking wonders – and terrors beyond imagining. A team of specialists led by archaeologist Ashley Carter has been hand-picked to explore this secret place and to uncover the riches it holds. But they are not the first to venture here – and those they follow did not return. There are mysteries here older than time, and revelations that could change the world. But there are also things that should not be disturbed – and a devastating truth that could doom Ashley and the expedition: they are not alone.

Well, I was not thrilled with the book because the “bad guy” is the Egyptian Muslim dude. He’s a terrorist. Shock. And he has no qualms about killing a Navy SEAL, a young boy, or womenfolk. This stereotypical characterization is annoying.  Anyway, the other major problem that I had with the book was a mystical device. One of the main characters has an undeveloped innate ability to communicate telepathically with a species of natives in the underground world.  Its straight out of Darth Vader-meets-Spock. And, basically, while I can suspend a lot of skepticism, this was too much. For this story, anyway. There was plenty going on without having to bring in more “stuff.”

As far as the setting – the scenery and the descriptions are vivid, but I couldn’t get a mental image of anything. I felt like anytime the characters were in a tight claustrophobic place, I had mistook it for a wide open canyon. And vice versa. It was hard to negotiate the subterranean world – although I suspect the author had the place all laid out nicely in his imagination. There were some minor storyline problems…. the main character, Ashley, falls in love with the other main character. They only really know each other for a short time before they are madly in love with each other. And frankly, with them being lost, stranded, and embattled deep underground, I really doubt this is a valid plot device. Its understandable, but it does make the reader go: “oh c’mon!”

Finally, my last complaint is that it sort of just ended. There was a page and a half of “epilogue” which is way too hasty. I guess, there were a bunch of obvious questions that were not answered (e.g. is Ashley pregnant?)  Still, for a first novel, this wasn’t too bad. It just had some things that I wasn’t prepared to swallow hook-line-and-sinker.

3 stars