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All reviews - Books (80) - Music (40)

Troy: Fall Of Kings: 3 review

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 10 September 2013 10:17 (A review of Troy: Fall Of Kings: 3)

It was a tragedy to lose David Gemmell so early. He was one of the best fantasy writers in the biz and even his lesser books were better than most. He also passed away before he could finish his Troy trilogy, but thankfully his wife completed his work. Usually when someone takes over a series, some of the original vision is lost, but Stella Gemmell rose to the occasion and finished the trilogy with an assured hand (although, as usual the body-count was high). Epic, action-packed, and enthralling.


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Troy: Shield of Thunder (Troy (Ballantine Books)) review

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 10 September 2013 09:45 (A review of Troy: Shield of Thunder (Troy (Ballantine Books)))

Another great installment in the Troy trilogy. Gemmell has the admirable ability to make the most minor characters into fully-rendered people, people you often find yourself emotionally-invested in. This can be dangerous, because in these novels, no one is entirely safe. Brutal and tragic events will occur, but there will also be moments of triumph. It's just darn good stuff, and I'm looking forward to finishing the series.


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Lord of the Silver Bow (Troy Trilogy, Book 1) review

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 10 September 2013 09:30 (A review of Lord of the Silver Bow (Troy Trilogy, Book 1))

A highly readable and deftly written re-imagining of the Trojan War, Lord of the Silver Bow crackles with tense energy, vividly-drawn characters, and violent encounters. The author definitely doesn't pull any punches. Terrible things happen to decent people and the story swerves in unpredictable ways. Gritty but engrossing.


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The Histories review

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 9 September 2013 12:49 (A review of The Histories)

Written in the 5th century BC, this is a fascinating snapshot of ancient Greek life and beliefs. Herodotus's narrative of the Persian War and the famous Spartan stand at Thermopylae are worth the price of admission alone, but where he really shines is in his many passages of sheer made up nonsense. For instance: his description of the hippopotamus - highly creative, highly wrong. Also, his ideas about the practices of other cultures are fairly ridiculous in some places, but this is what makes it so fun. He must have been a real hoot to hang out with, the kind of fellow who told fireside tales that kept listeners hanging on every improbable word.

"And there are these flying snakes, right?"

Right, Herodotus, right.


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Ramses: The Son of Light - Volume I review

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 9 September 2013 12:27 (A review of Ramses: The Son of Light - Volume I)

Well... this book is just a heap of silliness.

At first I was ready to lay the blame on translation problems (after all, the author is supposedly an Egyptologist, he surely knows the time period), but that excuse can only cover so much. It cannot cover dialogue that is foul enough to be ranked up there with the likes of the Left Behind series and the movie Troll 2. (Maybe not quite as bad as the latter, but it's certainly cringe-worthy.)

Poor translation also cannot account for cardboard characters and a story-line that plays out like it was either written by a stoned middle-school kid or perhaps a Hollywood producer:
"So.. um, Ramses, Moses, and some other dude are all friends right? And then there's, uh, some murder and stuff.. and Ramses brother hates him.. and there's some trippy stuff with, like, the Egyptian gods.. It's gonna be totally awesome! And guess what? I'm going to stretch a single book's story into a whole series!"

The fact that this was a best-seller in France puzzles me.


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The Broken Kings (Merlin Codex) review

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 9 September 2013 11:38 (A review of The Broken Kings (Merlin Codex))

In the final book of The Merlin Codex, Greek and Celtic myth continue to exist in a kind of vertigo-inducing disharmony. The descriptions are lovely (as they were in the first two books), but the storyline is as elusive as a Will-o-the-wisp.

We finally discover who's been causing the kerfuffle in Ghostland, but that revelation only brings up more questions. Why that particular character? Why do I feel like it was randomly plucked from the mythological grab-bag?

So, to sum up: Ambiguous mythological allusions float past on a sort of poetic promenade and eventually disappear into the fog of a largely amorphous plot.


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The Iron Grail (Merlin Codex) review

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 9 September 2013 11:18 (A review of The Iron Grail (Merlin Codex))

From the back of the book: "Holdstock seamlessly blends myth and history into a fabulous tale of Merlin, hundreds of years before the coming of Arthur."
I can say without compunction that it is indeed a fabulous tale, wonderfully imaginative, pure poetry in places, but seamless? Nope.
The blend of Greek, Celtic, and other myths just does not work. Too many events seem to occur inexplicably. I couldn't immerse myself in the world because there were two many places where the narrative seemed to wander off into a sort of mist. A beautifully-imagined mist, of course, but one that just didn't coalesce into a satisfying story.


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Celtika review

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 9 September 2013 10:48 (A review of Celtika)

This is a strange amalgamation, very ambitious, very imaginative, but not particularly successful.

Basically, a Pre-Camelot Merlin teams up with the Jason of Greek legend to find Jason's children (because it turns out his ex Medea didn't kill them after all.)

It would very helpful for the reader to have a good grasp of Greek and Celtic mythology before reading this, because there are a lot of creatures, spirits, and happenings that aren't going to make a lot of sense otherwise (and Holdstock doesn't really explain them either).

One good point: There's some fantastic imagery in this series. Holdstock is obviously very creative, but all this dreamy world-building is obscured by a frustrating fog of ambiguity. Too much fanciful ephemera, not enough cohesion.


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Black Ships review

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 9 September 2013 09:54 (A review of Black Ships)

This novel revisits the The Aeneid from the engaging perspective of a young girl with the gift of prophecy. Black Ships is a nicely-balanced mix of mythological elements with history and an interesting new variation on an old tale.


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The Odyssey review

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 9 September 2013 09:29 (A review of The Odyssey)

Though most people seem to prefer The Iliad to The Odyssey, I like the latter for its sheer fabulous inventiveness. The story is fairly simple, Odysseus is trying to make his way home to the Greek island of Ithaca after the Trojan war, but he's earned the ire of the god Poseidon so it's not going to be an easy task. Meanwhile, his wife Penelope is beset with a veritable infestation of suitors and she's running out of delaying tactics.

The poem divides itself between Odysseus's ordeals (exciting!) and the troubles back at home with his wife and son (not quite so exciting). Some of my favorite parts:
- the encounter with a certain cranky monoptic giant with a taste for human flesh
- the trip to the underworld and Odysseus's conversations with the recently deceased. (Apparently being dead kind of sucks.)
- the Scylla and Charybdis incident, in which a crevice-lurking multi-headed monstrosity and a nasty whirlpool double-team our hero and his ship. What's not to like?
- The sirens, Circe and her isle of enchanted pigs, and so on.. All good stuff.

PS: I had one small irritation while reading this. Robert Fagles deploys the phrase "dawn with her rose-red fingers" one too many times in this book. He used it quite a bit in The Iliad as well, but The Iliad has a different flow and therefore it doesn't seem quite as conspicuously repetitive. I know it's part of Homer's poetic style, but a bit more variation from the translator would have been appreciated.

One last thought: I felt very, very sorry for Odysseus's dog.


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