Showing posts with label Asian fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Asian fantasy. Show all posts

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi


This is another audiobook experiment which started out strongly, winning me with its improbable events, Indian mythology, and dry humor, but which in the second half of the book, particularly the finale, became so lost and bogged-down in endless exposition and irrelevant descriptive prose that it spoiled the entire story for me. Perhaps I should have paid attention to the initials of the title, which spell out 'A Cow'!

The author's name is Roshani Chokshi which sounds wonderful, but when the audiobook opened, I discovered that the author's name has been so Americanized that it's lost all of its charm, being pronounced Row-shnee Choke-she, which doesn't sound exotic at all, and even sounds abusive: choke she?!

While I can't judge a book on the author's name any more than I can on the cover, I have to confess to disappointment that so rich a heritage has been so badly diluted. Indian names tend to be pronounced as consonant/vowel pairs, so Roshani would be Rho Sha Ni. The 'a' is long and the 'i' is pronounced as 'e', so in Indian, the name would be like Row Shaa Nee. Obviously it's a matter of personal taste (and it's her name to do with what she will, after all!), but to me that sounds so much sweeter than Row-shnee. Schnee is the German word for snow!

Let's move along! In the novel, Gauri is a warrior princess of Bharata, who is imprisoned for reasons which were never clear to me. I listen to audiobooks while commuting, which means I miss things on occasion, as I'm more focused on traffic, as necessary, than I am on listening, so I readily admit this may well have been explained, yet never made it to my conscious mind. It's not really important. Vikram, known as the Fox Prince, is from a neighboring, but hardly friendly nation. Each sees a chance though, of recovery of their inheritance in the other, and so they form an alliance.

If they are to form a team and enter the Tournament of Wishes, then he will need her fighting skills, and she needs his deviousness. The victor gets a wish, although how this works if the victor is two people was not clear to me either! Do they each get a wish or is it shared? The fact that neither of them ask this question to begin with makes me doubt the smarts of either of them, but the story was initially interesting as they navigated the world of mythical creatures and entered the competition.

Unfortunately, while it was fun in parts and interesting in others, the author rambled on far too much about things which seemed to me to be irrelevant and which id nothing to move the story along. I was looking forward to an interesting and eventful contest, yet the contest itself fell flat for me. Either that or, through driving, I missed the best bits! But when I was about eighty percent into the book I became tired of the endlessly rambling tone, and I DNF'd it. I decided that overall it isn't a worthy read, despite some really good bits, because it was slow, tedious, and boring in far too many parts.

In terms of the reading, it was very pleasant, I have to say, to listen to reader Priya Ayyar's voice, which was charming and told the story, such as it was, well. I would listen to her again, hopefully reading better material. Her only misstep that I noticed was when she read "Boughs of an impossible tree" and pronounced it 'bows' of an impossible tree! Language matters. So does pronunciation! Authors - and readers - neglect this at their peril! Overall, I can't recommend this one.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim, Jesse Hamm


Rating: WARTY!

This is a graphic novel which is well illustrated and decently written but I had some problems with it. For one, there is a disconnect between the cover image and the interior images. If this were a novel, I could understand such a difference (between the cover and the character description inside) because the author has no say in the cover and the cover artist (in my experience) either has no clue what the novel is about, or simply doesn't care.

This is why I pay little attention to the cover of a novel, but with a graphic novel, it's different: the creators also do the cover, so why the cover image shows one body style and the interior a completely different one is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable to me. The cover image matches the text in that the main character, Grace, is "chubby" (to use a term employed in the novel). The interior images show a slim main character, which makes no sense when she's described (even vindictively) as chubby. Did the artist not read the novel until it came down to finally painting the cover?! Given this disconnect, parts of the story make no sense.

I'm typically interested in time-travel novels, and this one is a such a story in a sense. Grace is evidently a 2nd gen Korean teen living in the US. Her parents speak an oddball brand of English which I associate with racist stereotypes. Yes, I know the author, at least as judged from his last name, may well have Korean ancestry, but this doesn't excuse him from employing racial stereotypes. The mom and dad also run a convenience store. Seriously? Could we not get away from that and have them do something non-stereotypical or must everyone be pigeon-holed? This story makes the same mistake that stories featuring western characters do: it's all Caucasian, with only a token sprinkle of Asian and African. This story puts that in reverse: it's all Korean, with a token sprinkle of Caucasian. That doesn't make things better; it makes them just as racist.

On her eighteenth birthday, Grace breaks a piñata, and soon discovers that she has somehow unleashed three other versions of herself: a six-year-old, a twenty-nine-year old, and an elderly one. Despite the fact that Grace's life seems to be well on track and she's heading to Stanford after graduation, she seems to be inexplicably in disarray. She's unhappy with her lot, yet we're offered no valid reason whatsoever as to why this is. The only hint comes late in the novel and is embedded in the title: Grace had an older sister, Lily, who died young. I guess Grace felt like she never measured up to Lily, but since Lily died young there never was anything to measure up to in any practical sense, and nowhere in the novel do we ever get any real sense that Grace's problems lie with her parents' love or with her prematurely-deceased sibling.

The novel is very much like the movie Heart and Souls, wherein several recently deceased people attach themselves to a still-living guy and he, resentfully, has to help them complete unfinished business before they can move on in the afterlife. The same thing applies to Grace's three visitors. They have something to do and it's not clear what. At random points in the story, they disappear one-by-one having completed whatever it is they needed to, but the story is so vague about what it is, we get only the haziest notion of what they accomplished that helped them graduate, and so we receive no solid sense of closure for each of these phases of Grace's life.

For me, the biggest problem though, and why I'm rating this negatively, is Grace herself. We're told that she's going to Stanford, but never does she come off as very smart, or creative, or imaginative. Never do we get any idea as to why she's so down on herself and she never tries to figure it out, smart as she's supposed to be. When the school play production runs into a roadblock, she fails to apply her intellect, and fails to solve it. We're never told why so much money is needed to put on this play, or why inexpensive minimalist solutions wouldn't work.

When the school budget is cut and the golf team survives while the arts are cut, no-one organizes any sort of protest. The 'solutions' run to juvenile car washes and bake sales instead of having people simply approach local businesses and ask for donations of time, talent, or necessary items. There's no way they can earn thirty thousand dollars this way, and there's no justification given as to why thirty grand is better spent on producing this play than in being applied to a more worthy or more encompassing cause.

Grace is also pretty dumb about the guy who's interested in her. It's the tired old chestnut of lifelong best friends not realizing they're destined to be together. It's been done to death, and we're offered nothing new or original here: no twist, no great insights, no passion, no creative interactions, no imagination, and no romance. It's boring and uninventive, and I can't recommend this novel.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening Part 6 of 6 by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda


Rating: WARTY!

This final part - certainly the final part I plan on reading - continues to have Maika and the monster explore her consciousness (or unconsciousness if you like) while she's imprisoned in the sarcophagus. The monster looks more like a one-eyed mummy here and less like the evil tarry, sticky creature we've hitherto seen. Maika continues to pine for Tuya, who evidently doesn't feel the same way about her!

The artwork is once again remarkable, but this is supposed to be a story, not a coffee table picture book, and the story has become far too bogged-down to be interesting to me. There's a reason that Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 - he's quite literally an action figure, and while he is rather trite and simplistic compared with this story under review, he does move (faster than a speeding bullet!). This story doesn't - or more accurately, it doesn't feel like it moves; it feels mired and stagnant, and this made me lose all interest in it which is sad in consideration of how appealing it was in the early parts of this volume. I can't recommend this one and do not feel inclined to pursue this story any further.

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening Part 5 of 6 by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda


Rating: WARTY!

This one went further downhill for me and I really can't recommend it at this point.

We meet the almost insanely cruel Ilsa, then move to the half-faced "angel" who offers Maika, Kippa, and Ren the two-tailed cat safe harbor, but in the words of Admiral Ackbar, "It's a trap!" Maika becomes confined to a sarcophagus, where she retreats into her memories followed, unexpectedly, by the monster she harbors. The monster tries to convince her to give him control, whereupon he will, he claims, free them.

I can't recommend this because although the art work remains good, the story itself seems to be circling the drain rather than going anywhere interesting, and where it is going is taking forever to happen. Reading this has become too much work for the reward.


Monstress Volume 1: Awakening Part 4 of 6 by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda


Rating: WORTHY!

While the art work continues to be remarkable (which is why this gets a 'worthy read' appellation), the story has begun to fall off somewhat. Initially it was full of mystery and promise and adventure, and while some of the mystery is being exposed, the story has begun to develop a meandering quality like it doesn't quite no where to go. I'm committed to finishing these six parts of volume one, but I am not enjoying this as much as I had hoped and expected to based on the early parts.

It has become difficult for me to figure out who is who and what they're after, and while sometimes that's not a bad thing, I think as this point, the lay of the land ought to have had a lot more clarification in this case. We keep meeting people and they're not often introduced properly for my taste, so I feel left in the dark rather more than I ought to feel by this place in the story.

This is a problem with writing - you may have the plot all mapped out and be intimately familiar with the characters, but your readers are never automatically so well-informed. Without some help they're never going to get to know them like you, the writer, does. Naturally this doesn't mean larding up an elegant story with a massive info-dump, but this graphic novel is quite wordy, so it's not like the writer is shy about telling the story. I just wish it was more informative.

What it looks like to me is that grown-up versions of our main characters (Maika and Kippa) are hunting for them. At first I thought we had leaped forward in time and these characters actually were the grown-up versions of the young ones we first met, but it soon became clear they're not. We meet a bunch of new characters, including a monkey guy and more multi-tailed cats, and we see Maika once again wrestle with her monster, but the story itself hasn't really moved in a couple of parts now. Maika is still int eh dark about what's going on, as is the reader, and it's becoming annoying. I'm recommending this one only because of the art and the fact that it's necessary to read this to get to the next part! For the art, it's a worthy read. The art really is wonderful.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening Part 3 of 6 by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an advance review copy for which I thank the publishers and creators, and I have to say the quality is maintained with great writing and lush art work (lush in the sense of rich and detailed not in the sense of being created by an artist with a fondness for alcohol! LOL!). One thing I was pleased with was how quickly the pages turned. Sometimes with a publication that is heavy with images, the page turns can be excruciatingly slow, but that is not the case with this series. The only issue I had was that some pages were missing the speech from the speech balloons! I've seen this before in other graphic novels, and I also encountered it in part one of this series. In this particular part, it was pages 14, 16 (where all speech balloons were blank except for one which appropriately read >GASP<! LOL!) and 18.

In this part we again meet Yvette and Destria who are fond of wearing bird-beak-like masks over their faces. Yvette was the one who was brought back to life in part two. Apparently she was forgiven, but not to the point of regaining any sort of normality in appearance. The mask evidently hides her disfigurement, but regardless of their physical appearance, these women are not pleasant people.

One thing I have to ask about is why we get the title of Monstress? Why not Monster? It seems to me that the two words do not convey the same thing, irrespective of whatever gender content they might profess. Monster indicates that the bearer of the title is a monster, whereas Monstress, which invokes 'monstrous' could be construed as the way this character, Maika, actually is - a person who has some sort of control over, or link with a monster or monsters? But I have a better question: if we're going to have Monstress, then why not have Inquisitress? But we don't get Inquisitress, nor do we get inquisitor. We get Inquisitrix, which is no more of a real word than is 'Monstress' or 'Monstrix'.

Of course, it's entirely up the the writer what word she chooses, but to me words are important and convey meaning, and this is especially true in a work of fiction where new concepts and ideas are being promoted, so I can't help but be curious about what's being promoted here. On the one hand we have a powerful story, populated with powerful females who dominate the tale (males are highly conspicuous by their absence), yet on the other, we have word forms which are gender specific and which in other contexts are not typically used with respect towards women. Anything ending in 'trix' is unlikely to be complimentary since the one most commonly used is dominatrix, something which these days has strong sexual and perversion connotations. The only other comparable word is aviatrix, which has fallen into disuse.

Words ending in 'ess' are even worse, the most common one being 'mistress' signifying at best, a possession, and at worst, a women of questionable morals. Words ending in -ess and applied to women typically are used to segregate. Is that what we're seeing here in this matriarchical world? It's questions like this which are part of what interests me. I am curious, inter alia, as to whether these words were chosen deliberately to serve a purpose, or thoughtlessly offering nothing more than cheap novelty? I hope it's not that simple! I shall be very disappointed if it is.


Monstress Volume 1: Awakening Part 2 of 6 by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda


Rating: WORTHY!

Part two (featuring the disturbingly foxy feminine profile on the cover), takes up right where part one left off, thankfully. Maika has escaped with Kippa and the two-tailed sentient cat, with whom she definitely does not get along, and her captors are being abused mercilessly for their incompetence by a new faction - the bitches who are witches, evidently. One of the dead is brought back to life to account for her incompetence - that's how evil these guys are!

This is a lot shorter volume than the previous one - as are all the rest in this series - at a more standard comic book length of 32 pages. The trio have taken up with a farmer who is traveling to sell her potatoes and such, but Maika's journey is about to be interrupted.

Before writing this review, I watched a show on Netflix about these guys in Britain who built a robot using only prosthetics developed to replace human body parts. The final thing was worth a million dollars in parts alone. It was weird and creepy and ultimately unsatisfying because they appeared to promise a lot more than they delivered, but one of the guys involved in the show sported a prosthetic lower left arm, and when he removed it, his limb looked exactly like Maika's! I mention this, because it's in this volume that we learn what Maika's arm looked like before.

Again the artwork was outstanding, but in terms of moving the story, not a whole lot happened until the last portion of it, which made me feel a bit like asking why the first part wasn't split into two and this actual part two not shortened somewhat? That said, it was still a worthy read and made me look forward to part three. We got some background and some holes filled in, and met some new characters who proved to be as scary as they were interesting.

In part one, I'd noted two pages where, in this advance review copy, the speech balloons were completely blank! I've seen this in other graphic novels, but in this case, part two was fine with no missing speech. Once again thanks to the publisher and creators for the chance to read and comment on this advance review copy.


Monstress Volume 1: Awakening Part 1 of 6 by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
Two of the pages in this graphic novel had completely empty speech balloons! I've seen this phenomenon before in other graphic novels. There are no page numbers to quote from the graphic novel itself, but on my iPad, Bluefire Reader identifies the page numbers as 52, and 62.

In 1999, the American Library Association found that only 33% of children aged 11-18 read comic books, and when considering girls alone, this was down to 27%. More recently (2014) on Facebook, self-identified comic fans numbered some 24 million in the USA, of which almost half (~47%) were female. These were two different surveys covering different demographics and using different methodologies, but from this it sure looks like women are beginning to feel like they're finally being catered to.

I think that's a very good reason to celebrate by reading this remarkable series which is both written (Marjorie Liu) and illustrated (Sana Takeda) by women. It's also a very good reason to ask why, after over a decade of modern blockbuster comic book-based movies, we have yet to get one which is centered on a female character! I'll leave that question out there!

This is a very richly illustrated series of which I got the first six installments as advance review copies, and for which I thank the comic book creators for this fine work, and the publisher Image Comics, and Diamond Book distributors. The series is comprised of six volumes, all of which are thirty two pages except for the first, which is seventy-two pages long. It is beautifully illustrated in sumptuous detail, and the time and effort which has gone into this is quite staggering to contemplate. But it was worth it! Takenada must really love her work!

The story is well told and begins with teenager Maika, a naked, one-armed female slave, who is part of a collection of 'freaks' being sold to an idle bunch of self-centered and wealthy old white(-haired) men for the purpose of being their property. It's rather reminiscent of a scene from the Australian movie Sleeping Beauty which has nothing whatsoever to do with the fairy-tale, but which is a live-action movie starring the remarkable Emily Browning who at one point finds herself in a similar position, but at least Lucy has a choice in her participation. Maika does not.

This is however, a matriarchal society, and just as the bidding on Maika, who is referred to as an Arcanic, begins, she's quickly snapped-up not by one of the men, but by an influential nun known as Sophia Fekete, who maintains a lab at the Cumaea compound. Maika and her 'companions, a "fox cub, the cyclopean freak, and the stubby one with those useless wings" are transported to the city of Zamora with a sour-faced guardian by the name of Ilsa, who tells them they will be killed. Ilsa tells them that being smart and obedient might keep them alive, but nothing will keep them whole.

For Sophia, the interesting thing about Maika is the symbol tattooed above her breastbone. It has associations with monster worship, and Sophia has never seen a person branded with it before. Most people discount and discredit stories that people can raise the monstra, but Sophia does not. Maika and her 'friends' are incarcerated.

This is not a story for children. The art is beautiful although at times disturbing. The writing is threatening, deadly, and abusive. There are four-letter words and dismemberment, and some weird and crazy characters. But Maika doesn't have that particular tattoo for nothing, and just what it's for? People are going to find out in short order. I recommend this volume one unreservedly.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer by Satoshi Mizukami


Rating: WARTY!

I picked this out at the library because it had a delightfully absurd Manga title, and from a brief look at the first few pages, it seemed like it might be a fun read. Be warned: amusing perusing can hasten the crime of wasting time!

The story is your usual trope bland guy picked out by fate (or in this case a talking lizard) to be the hero who saves the world. Why he's picked out is never made clear despite some five hundred pages (I'm guessing since they're not numbered) of comic. I can't even tell you how this ended because the ending was such a confused mess that I'm honestly not sure what happened. Seriously! The first three fifths or so was ok - not great but moderately entertaining. Unfortunately, the last portion was a complete disaster when it came to intelligible story-telling. Finally I can tell you I found a novel that was three-fifths worth reading! Not really, because the ending sucked and robbed those first three-fifths of all value.

Evidently the bad guy was beaten, and the biscuit hammer did not come down on Earth, but what happened to it was unexplained. Neither did the princess, who was the bland guy's next-door neighbor destroy the Earth herself after she helped to save it. Again, why this was so went completely unexplained - or I missed it somehow, but how and when that happened was not at all clear! It wasn't explained why she ever wanted to destroy the Earth, and why - if that was indeed the case - she was helping save it.

If she so desperately wanted to destroy it, why waste all those days fighting the owner of the biscuit hammer (who we never met, unless it was blond super dude, but this wasn't at all clear - not to me, the reader, anyway, but why would an author care about keeping readers happy?!). Instead of wasting all that time fighting it, why not simply destroy it herself first? Or just stand back and by her inaction be the agent of destruction she wished to be.

Yes! None of this made sense but the first part was entertaining - for the most part. The biggest problem I had with it was the author's clear and present - and creepy - obsession with young girls' panties, a pair of which, in situ on the girl, were exposed every few pages. That was perverse at best. At least I didn't pay for this! Except with my valuable time.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Crossing Midnight Cut Here by Mike Carey, Jim Fern, José Villarrubia


Rating: WARTY!

This graphic novel made little sense. It looked interesting in the library from a quick flick through, but when I got it home and sat down to read it, it didn't hold up well, and was not very entertaining, although the artwork by Jim Fern and coloring by José Villarrubia were not bad. It's the tired trope of split twins, with nothing really new or original added.

It's supposedly set in Japan, but the characters nearly all look curiously western. It begins when someone makes a wish to the house spirits for a healthy child without knowing that the mom was bearing twins. The spirit who took the wish returns later after the children have grown some, to claim the daughter for his own. This spirit has power over knives, which makes for some excessive gore here and there. This is one story in which the pet dog doesn't make a miraculous escape.

From that point on, the story is a mess. There are claims not only on the daughter, but also on the son, from another quarter. There is a bizarre incident at the Nagasaki shrine which is also a portal to the other world. I managed to finish this volume and since I had taken two other volumes from the library (The Sword in the Soul and A Map of Midnight), I began on the next one, but I found I could not continue reading it very far. The story seemed to dwell on gore and obscurity and appeared to be going nowhere, so I gave up. I can't recommend this based on what I read.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Zen Ghosts by Jon J Muth


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the third of my children's Halloween book reviews for today. This one is a fine-looking work of art illustrated by the author. When Karl says there's a ghost outside, Michael hardly believes it, and he;s smart not to because this is Stillwater, the giant panda who wears a tiny wolf mask on his head. Karl explains to Still water that he's going to be a monster for Halloween, while Michael is still trying to choose between an owl and a pirate. Perhaps he could be both if Karl didn't object to that so strenuously.

When Addy joins them, Stillwater tells them of a ghost story they could hear after they're done trick-or-treating, and if they meet him by the big stone wall. The giant panda leads them back to his house and illustrates a story for them with some fine brush strokes. It's the story of Senjo and Ochu, two youngsters who were destined to be married until Senjo's father became so ill that he could not work. Senjo would have to be married off to Henryo instead. Ochu: Ouch!

Ochu decides to leave the village, but Senjo discovers his plan and abandons her father and leaves with him. I guess she was that kind of girl. On the other hand, he was going to sell her off to the highest bidet. It wasn't until the had married and had children that Senjo started to feel bad about deserting her sick parent. What will they find when they return? Well, I'm not even going to tell you, but it's awesome. I thoroughly recommend this one.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Eden Volume 1 by Bash


Title: Eden Volume 1
Author: Bash (no website found)
Publisher: Gen Manga
Rating: WARTY!

Well, Eden qualifies as the most incoherent comic I've ever read without any question, which is sad, because it actually succeeds where far too many comics fail by actually having the text large enough to be legible on an iPad without destroying the quality of the image.

It begins with a young girl getting a ride on a wagon, and the wagon-driver rambling on about proposing to his girlfriend for no apparent reason, and suddenly there's this bird-person coming out of nowhere and wanting to kill the wagon-driver, also for no apparent reason. The passenger fights to save him, and then is suddenly on trial for fighting to save him.

Meanwhile, there are these obscure symbols drawn in almost every frame which I at first took to be some sort draft scribblings (since this was an ARC copy). For example, on page six, it looks like measurements were written down, and then changed: 11" is apparently written in the first frame, and then crossed out and changed to 17, and in the third frame it looks like 19 is changed to one.

These seemed to make some kind of sense until I finally realized that they were not notes to be removed before the final copy was released, but actually were intended to be a part of the image. I could only conclude that this comic was originally written in some Asian language which was changed in the speech bubbles to English, while the original image outside the speech bubble was left unchanged. Kudos at least for having the comic read the regular way for the western world.

On page nineteen this girl - or maybe it's a guy, I can't really tell- actually says this: "He used a deadlier poison than I thought". I am not kidding. I'm sorry, but deadly is kind of an absolute. It means it will kill you. So in effect, this character is saying, "It looks like he killed me more than I thought". I'm sorry but that's just plain stupid. The writer could have said something like - "He used more of that poison than I thought" or, "He used a stronger dose than I thought", or something along those lines.

Suddenly this guy (or girl) named Tehra is hanging out with a wolf who appeared from nowhere (and the expression on its face suggests it was just as confused as I was!). Page thirty-one is nothing but name-calling - no I mean literally - what appears to be two names are called back and forth for the whole page which does nothing to move the story or even to tell a story.

On page fifty eight, the character says, "I'm not moving forward," which is exactly how it felt for me, and that's when I gave up - at just over a quarter the way through. He used a more deadening story than I thought! I cannot recommend this, especially not some two hundred pages of it. Although the artwork isn't bad at all, the story is non-existent. Either that or it moves so slowly that life is not detectable.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Ming Li and the Charmed Phoenix by Marina Bonomi


Title: Ming Li and the Charmed Phoenix
Author: Marina Bonomi
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WORTHY!

If you think this sounds like a Chinese rip-off of a Harry Potter Story, think again. It's a nicely-written tale set in a fantasy land where there is a war of wills between two magical beings, one of whom is the feared Dragon King of Dongting Lake, and poor Ming Li is trapped in the middle of it.

For someone as smart as Li, you would imagine he would be able to keep himself out of trouble, but when he passed his exams with flying colors and then some, he naturally went out to celebrate with his friends, and who can blame him for wandering home late at night and a little worse for wear?

Even so everything would have been fine except that in a deserted street, Li finds himself kidnapped and taken to a cavern in the forest, where someone asks for his help and Li, not remotely sober yet, volunteers it. He wakes up in the morning expecting to have fond memories of a weird dream, but in practice, he's still in the cavern and now he finds himself bound by honor to go up against this dragon or suffer the shame of having his word taken to be worthless.

There's an error in the text where someone offers Li to do their "outmost" to help. What's really meant is that this person will do their "utmost". There were also some instances where a word ran into the one preceding it because there was a comma after the previous word, but no space after the comma.

The story resorted to a really old challenge presented to Li, whereby he can leave an area only by one of two doors. One of the doors leads to safety, the other to death, but the doors are guarded and of the two guards, one on each door, one always lies, the other always tells the truth. Li can ask only one question to determine which door he may safely choose. This is a well-known (although perhaps not by this author) 'Fork in the road' type of puzzle. It was also used in the movie Labyrinth.

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That aside, the story is inventive, charming, warm, sweet, and beautifully written. I recommend it.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Kabuki Dreams by David Mack


Title: Kabuki Dreams
Author: David Mack (no website available)
Publisher: Image Comics
Rating: WARTY!

According to Wikipedia, kabuki is a word made from three Japanese kanji characters ( 歌舞伎 ) which in English mean sing, dance, and skill, but the word itself may be more closely related to ‘kabuku’, which is taken to indicate what we in the west might term ‘experimental theater’. None of this has anything to do with the story being told in this graphic novel, however.

This is a sequel to Kabuki Circle of Blood, a relatively long graphic novel which I did try to read, but which turned me off by its vague rambling sparsely-written text and a story which seemed to be going around in circles. This graphic novel I viewed differently, however. It is much shorter and is depicted in full color, and it's very well illustrated. It featured the woman who was badly wounded at the end of volume one, who now lay across her mother's grave marker, lost in reverie.

I decided to treat this as an illustrated poem, because it really wasn't a novel in any meaningful sense. Viewed in this way, I was able to enjoy it and this is why I am rating this positively despite having rated its predecessor negatively. The art work was beautiful. Much more effort had been put into this than had been expended on the first volume, which consisted, pretty much, of black and white sketches.

The story really doesn’t go anywhere, as I've indicated, but the art in Dreams was really well done, very true to life in some instances, while being much more abstract in others. There was something really appealing about it that I did not find in the first volume. It’s for this reason that I recommend this, and you might want to try it at the library before you decide if you want to buy it. There are many images from this series available online, too, so you can check them out there before you even decide if it’s even worth a trip to the library for this!


Kabuki Circle of Blood by David Mack


Title: Kabuki Circle of Blood
Author: David Mack (no website available)
Publisher: Image Comics
Rating: WARTY!

I found this in the library, and a quick flip through the pages made it look interesting, so I took it and the companion volume home to read. I was very disappointed. Actually the companion volume was not bad if you thought of it as illustrated poetry which is how I decided to treat it, but this graphic novel was a complete mess.

It’s rooted in Japanese culture. According to Wikipedia, kabuki is a word made from three Japanese kanji characters (歌舞伎)which in English mean sing, dance, and skill, but the word itself may be more closely related to ‘kabuku’, which is taken to indicate what we in the west might term ‘experimental theater’. None of this has anything to do with the story being told in this graphic novel, however, which is more along the lines of Yakuza and gang activities.

I honestly can’t tell you what the story was really about because it was scrappy and disjointed, and it made no sense to me, so I quickly lost interest in it, but in the beginning we’re introduced to eight young, highly sexualized Japanese women who are evidently assassins, but who have western names, so the story already started downhill, yet managed to go further downhill from there.

Like is aid, by this time I’d pretty much lost interest, so I skimmed the rest of it, and I have to say that the art work, black and white line drawings for the most part, is really rather good, but then the creator had to offer something to make up for the fact that the tale-telling is sparse and far more like poetry than prose, yet it wasn’t improved for all that. It explained very little, and that’s why I gave it very little regard. I cannot recommend this.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart


Title: Jade Dragon Mountain
Author: Elsa Hart
Publisher: MacMillan
Rating: WORTHY!

Possible erratum:
Page 272 "indicate" is used where "implicate" would be more appropriate. Either can be used here though, so maybe this isn't an error.

There was a prologue which I skipped as I do all prologues. Chapter one begins on page seven, so the book is some 315 pages long. It's set in China either at the beginning of the nineteenth century, or the beginning of the twentieth, thinks I, depending upon which Prince Frederick of Saxony is referred to in the text. There were three. I was wrong: it was actually set in 1780.

There is nothing in the text per se to show in what year this takes place, not until page 131, where we see a letter which was dated December 1707. We're told that this letter's date is "...only several months ago...", yet the book blurb assures us that this is taking place in 1780! One character mentions Prince Frederick of Saxony. The Kingdom of Saxony existed only between 1806 and 1918, and the only prince Fredericks were: Frederick Augustus I 1806 - 1827, Frederick Augustus II 1836 - 1854, Frederick Augustus III 1904 - 1918.

There was an Electorate of Saxony prior to this, and there was an Elector Frederick Augustus III was in power around 1780, but not in 1707 and anyway, to call him a prince is mistaken and misleading, but aside from that, I noticed no other glaring errors - and they would have had to have been glaring for me to see them since my knowledge of eighteenth century China is non-existent!

Author Elsa Hart is a genuine Roman! She was born in Roma, Italy and has lived in Russia, and in the Czech Republic, the US, and China. This novel was actually written in Lijiang, which used to be known as Dayan, the setting for this story.

It begins with Li Du, a once respected librarian who fell into disgrace because of his association with malcontents in Beijing. He was exiled from the capital by the Emperor himself, evidently lucky to have retained his head. Now Li Du spends all his time traveling alone, and on the very edge of the Chinese borderlands, he stops at the city of Dayan, an outpost which is becoming ever more crowded as people gather to see the all-powerful god-emperor hide the sun. Li Du has to report in to the magistrate, who happens to be a cousin, who is none too pleased with the disgrace Li Du has brought upon the family.

His cousin would normally send him on his way into the mountains, but the emperor is coming to the city to perform his miracle - seemingly to precipitate this eclipse which in reality he knows is coming because it was predicted by Jesuit scholars. Li Du's cousin doesn't trust all the foreigners crowding into his city, and demands a favor of Li Du: spend a few days here, talk to the foreign guests, find out what their attitudes and purposes are, report back, and then he can go on his way with his cousin's blessing.

The first night he's there, one of the two Jesuit Priests, an elderly astronomer, is murdered. Li Du discovers that he was poisoned, but no-one seems to care, not with the emperor due to arrive in only six days. Li Du's cousin becomes annoyed at Li Du's potential for stirring up trouble over this murder, so he signs his papers early and pretty much runs him out of town without even giving him the courtesy of providing him with a rail.

Unable to live with the idea of someone getting away with murder, Li Du abruptly halts his journey and resolves to return to the city from which he was ejected by his own cousin, and solve this murder. He has less than a week to do it and he risks of the wrath of the Emperor should he fail.

As writers we're told to write what we know, but no writer really ever does that when you get right down to it. Joanne Rowling never met a dark lord and she certainly never attended a school for witchcraft and wizardry, yet she wrote seven best sellers in the subject. Jack McDevitt never traveled between the stars, yet he wrote not one but two (mostly) excellent series of novels on that very topic! Elsa Hart never lived in China in the eighteenth century, but she sure lived there when she wrote this, and I think that shows.

You don't have to be Chinese or to have lived in the eighteenth century to write a good novel on the topic. You don't even need to be accurate to write it well, not for me, at least. The truth is that very few people would be in a position to call you out on errors - unless, of course, those errors are glaring. Typically I really don't care that much because for me, she's written it convincingly, regardless of how spot-on accurate or how far adrift from the truth she actually is. That's what's important for me. The only reason I looked up the prince was to try and figure out exactly when this was supposed to be taking place!

Unable to live with the idea of someone getting away with murder, Li Du resolves to return to the city he's effectively been tossed out of by his own cousin, and solve this murder. He has less than a week to do it and the risk of the wrath of the Emperor should he fail.

What follows is a really excellent story, which I enjoyed immensely. The author is a skilled writer and while she did drop into a bit too much detail for my taste here and there, overall the story moved well. It moved intelligently, and the plot definitely thickened! I'm usually bad at figuring out who dunnit, so I was rather thrilled in this case to narrow it down to two people one of whom was the actual killer. I even figured out what the motive was, but what I didn't see coming was not one, but two twists at the end, one of which was big, and both of which I really appreciated. This was an excellent and speedy read, and I fully recommend it. I'd love to have read more about Lady Chen and Bao, but that's a minor complaint.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall


Title: A Crown for Cold Silver
Author: Alex Marshall (no website found)
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Erratum:
Page 26 (in ADE - no page numbers in the book itself!) "...bad at that road is" Should be "...bad as that road is"

This is your standard fantasy, and it runs to some six hundred pages of very dense text, so I was prepared for a hard slog, but in Adobe Digital Reader although it shows itself to be 606 pages, when I clicked from one page to another, for example from page 290, the next page showed as page 293, so I have no idea what's going on there. Clearly it's not six hundred pages. It just feels like it is.

The novel is written rather oddly. It starts ought as though it's an eastern fable, with Chinese or Korean or Japanese influences (it's hard to tell from the wild mix of names used), but these are also mixed in with more western names, so it's a bit of a mess, like the author couldn't decide which fictional culture he wished to be influenced by which real culture, or maybe he wanted it mixed on purpose, but it was too jarring for my taste.

Also some of the phrasing he used was odd, such as "more princesses at the ceremony than stars in the sky". This made no sense since the number of stars in the sky is traditionally used to indicate a massive number. Clearly there were not that many princesses. Obviously the author is trying to indicate a very large number, but this felt like a really poor choice of metaphor and flies in the face of traditional usage. Sometimes it's good to break a mold or two, but in this case it simply did not fit with the culture we were supposed to be in.

The story was very rambling, and I couldn't get into it. It went off at tangents, and it jumped around from one thing to another, and one character to another before you ever get a real chance to get to know them, and to understand or empathize with them. Consequently they all remained strangers to me, and I had no real interest in what they were trying to do, what they thought or felt, or what became of them.

Some chapters, like chapter four, for example, begin as though they're written in first person, whereas they're not. In this case, the chapter began:

Goatsdamn, but grandfather was a pain in the arse. Or rather, the small of the back.

Instead of beginning:

"Goatsdamn, but grandfather was a pain in the arse. Or rather, the small of the back," thought Sullen.

This didn't help me to feel comfortable with the novel, and the apparent random use of terms made for confusion about what the writer was trying to do, or say. In the example just given, you see the use of the English word "arse', whereas in and earlier phrase, the term "ass-end" was employed rather than "arse-end", and also the phrase "punk-ass' which seemed completely out of place, as did the phrase "in cahoots" used elsewhere. This kind of thing made little sense to me, and contributed to my sense of this novel being a mess.

This problem went further than that though, because although while it appeared to be set in a country reminiscent of one of Earth's Far East nations, the language, terminology and speech patterns were very much western, so they failed to fit the ethos. This was jarring and kept reminding me that I was reading a story. I could never become immersed in it because of this.

I gave up on the novel at chapter five, where in rapid succession I got the names Duchess Din, Maroto, Purna, Cobalt, Diggleby, Hassan, and Zosia. It felt more like United Nations than ever it did ancient culture and I couldn't take it seriously any more. I cannot recommend this novel.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein


Title: Daughter of the Sword
Author: Steve Bein
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Rating: WORTHY!

We have a new strong female character in town: Mariko Oshiro – and I love her! This is the start of a series, of which Year of the Demon is the sequel. I'm not a fan of series, but of this one, I could become one based on volume one. Series, too me, seem like a lazy and convenient way of milking money out of readers by offering nothing more than retreaded stories, bypassing any real creativity. Whether this series will end up that way remains to be seen.

Mariko is a Japanese detective – the only one in her elite police unit, and her life isn’t easy. Since only about 10% of the Japanese police force is female (officers and civilians) this is entirely credible. She doesn’t automatically command respect as a man would in her position, and her boss really doesn’t like her. Nor does he believe she belongs there, but there's a reason for this other than mere chauvinism. He will not cut her a break, but she gets a break in disguise when she’s moved against her will from the narcotics squad to take on the investigation of an attempted theft of a sword.

There are three known Inazuma swords extant in the world, and these are named: Tiger on the Mountain, Glorious Unsought Victory, and Beautiful Singer. One of these is owned by Professor Yasuo Yamada, an aging and almost blind scholar, and a master swordsman. Mariko isn’t thrilled by the investigation or by Yamada, but he grows on her as she learns more about him and the sword. It seems that an ex pupil of Yamada’s, known as Fuchida Shūzō, works for the 8-9-3, which is what ya-ku-za means (based on the worst hand you can get in a card game). This criminal organization works hand-in-hand with the police, the latter turning a blind eye to some of its business activities as long as the organization does not let, hard drugs like Cocaine into the country. Fuchida has other ideas and believes he can trade a deadly and valuable ancient Inazuma Samurai sword for a cocaine shipment, and launch himself into a criminal career of his own.

What Mariko doesn’t grasp to begin with - and only reluctantly comes to accept - is that there are three swords in play and each of them not only has a name, but magical qualities associated with it. She sings to him when he draws her and she wants to control him. She will not tolerate rivals. Fuchida is literally in love with her. He refers to his sword as a female and sleeps with it in his bed at night. When the drug dealers under his oversight become a bit too loose-tongued about Fuchida’s plans, the city of Tokyo starts seeing a body here and there which has evidently run through by a sword, and Mariko begins to realize there’s more going on here than a simple sword theft.

There are some technical problems with the writing. I saw "straitened" instead of "straightened" at one point, and a phrase like "Mariko’s re-read the same paragraph" which made no sense, but in general the writing was good. Also I had issues with the flashbacks. There are several of them and the first one really annoyed me. I wanted the story here and now, but the author insisted upon retreating multiple times into various points in Japanese history to tell stories of these swords.

These really brought the story to a grinding halt, and were not nearly as interesting to me as the story told in the present. It was annoying to get repeatedly torn out of a story I was really into and flung back into the past for tens of pages. After the first flashback, the others were not nearly so annoying, but rest assured you can skip them and not miss anything - with the exception of the last of the flashbacks, set in World War Two, which is important if you want to fully understand the main story's conclusion. That said, the flashbacks were intrusive and too long.

Another annoyance was the goze - a blind female "seer" - whose "predictions" were - just as with modern charlatan psychics - so useless as to be a parody. I don't mind psychics in stories where they fit (as she does here), in a fantasy story, but it's such a ridiculous cliché that they can never actually say anything clearly, that they're usually more annoying than they are beneficial from my PoV, and are practically worthless.

Those quibbles aside, I very much enjoyed the story overall, and really I liked the main character Mariko who seemed totally realistic to me. I loved the way the ending was written, so in the end, I fully recommend this novel.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Eon by Alison Goodman


Title: Eon
Author: Alison Goodman
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Rating: WARTY!

Read acceptably by Nancy Wu

This was an oddball audio book - on its own discrete device. You can see from the images on my blog the recto (shown as the cover above) and the verso (below). I had problems with this device - of control and of volume, which was very low. This was on loan from the library - the borrower to supply battery and ear-buds - so perhaps I wasn't seeing it at its best!

Eon is twelve. Eona is sixteen. They're the same person! Her master is desperate, and the only way he can get someone into the dragon training with a hope of getting a position as one of the highly esteemed and powerful dragon-eye lords is to go with the flow, which in this case means maintaining Eona's deception that she's four years younger and of a different gender!

She and her rather cruel task master, whom she later idiotically mourns, hope for success but don't really believe it, especially not when the ascending rat dragon that year turns away from her. No one expects that the mirror dragon will put in an appearance given that it's not been seen in 500 years. And now it's adopting Eona despite her gender, despite her badly injured leg, and despite her inexperience.

This novel seems to have had more titles than Prince Charles. It originally started out as Two Pearls of Wisdom before becoming Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye or just plain Eon. This just goes to show that Big Publishing™ really knows how to screw up a good book. Or a bad one in this case. Having said that, even in their self-righteous ineptitude, they can sometimes blindly stumble onto a success.

I think Eon is actually a better title than Two Pearls of Wisdom ever could be, even though it’s way over-used in the sci-fi and fantasy worlds, and so it follows that Eona is the perfect sequel title, even as I have to observe that within an Asian context, simply removing an 'a' from a name to render it male really has no meaning. This business of mixing-up Asian and western culture sometimes works in this novel, but it often does not, and instead ends up rendering the story nonsensical.

I've seen some delusional reviews which pretend that the author is pushing some sort of transgender agenda(!). Clearly these reviewers are ignorant of how true to life this story is when it comes to certain cultures, such as the Hijra and Kathoey cultures in Asia. They seem to fail to grasp that gender is not a binary thing. It’s not one or zero, on or off, plus or minus, either / or. Gender is a sliding scale with female at the start and male at the end, and anyone can find themselves anywhere along that scale as a result of genetics, biochemistry, hormonal influences, and other processes.

It’s not just a matter of whether you have one X or two; it’s far more complex than that, especially in the animal world beyond that of our limited and largely ignorant human perspective. There are organisms in nature which can change gender based on environmental cues. It happens in plants, but also in animals. For example, amphibians such as the common reed frog, and fish such as believe it or not, clown-fish (Nemo finding?), as well as gobies, moray eels, Parrot-fish, and wrasses. The blue-banded goby, Lythrypnus dalli can change either way. Other animal groups also display these features, or are outright hermaphrodites - that is, intersexed, such as some gastropods and jellyfish.

If you're mistakenly coming at this from a designer or a creator PoV, then you need to understand this and realize that this creator of yours had no sexual preference whatsoever. "Ah," you say, "but the Bible says…" - nothing! The Bible was not written by any god. It was written by a host of primitive men who were scientifically ignorant, and who had been brainwashed under a strict patriarchal society all of their lives - a society where a woman could be bought for a few cows. They are as far as you can get from a reliable source, and you're truly foolish if you take their blind words as gospel.

This is not a children's book - it’s a young adult book and it's dishonest to try and portray it as some sort of pedophilic subterfuge, as some have done by hand-waving at characters such as the eunuchs and at mixed gender people such as Lady Dela. This is a wo-man who plays an important role. She befriends Eona, and in the same way that humans serve as conduits to transmit dragon energy into the human world, so Lady Dela, a 'contraire', serves as a conduit for Eon to understand that women are not as powerless as society tries to render them. The fact that it takes Eona forever to get this isn’t Dela's fault.

In passing, I do have to say that I didn’t get the 'contraire' thing. Yes, I know what it meant - Lady Dela was a man living life as a woman - 'his' natural calling as it happens - but why use the French word 'contraire' instead of the equivalent Japanese or Chinese word? This novel evidently prides itself upon melding Japanese and Chinese culture to establish its Asian ethos, so why a French word? That made no sense to me.

Moving on. I seem to have read a lot of stories lately where the Chinese zodiac came into play in one way or another! This is yet one more, because there are twelve dragons, plus an additional Mirror Dragon which adopts Eona - and for good reason. Indeed, the reason is so good that Eona simply cannot figure it out. She's not the smartest smartie in the box, unfortunately.

Nor is she at all proactive. She knows, at one point, that one of her friends is being poisoned, but she does nothing. She has the ear and good will of the emperor and the emperor's son, but instead of any of them taking charge and dealing with known threats, Eon and the son are cowering like they have no power and they're on the verge of extinction. I am not a fan of royal privilege or any privilege which comes through accident of birth alone, but in the context of this novel, the emperor's power is absolute, and for these idiots to act like they're powerless is pure bullshit and not remotely credible.

At one point, Eona plays down a known theft, under the stupid position that there's no evidence, when there is certainly enough to support an investigation at the very least. At a later point, she plays down the death of that dear friend who was poisoned, and there's almost no investigation into his murder, with everyone flapping their hands and almost saying "woe is me for there is no evidence". Yet she refuses to take a book of power that we know will be misused under the position that it will be investigated! It's either one or the other.

This novel is an example of what a writer does when they have an agenda (and not the one of which the fundies have accused it), but no good idea on how to get there. The whole point appears to be to show how Eona grows and becomes her own person, but there's no sensible or logical effort to get her there. She's very needy and whiny to begin with, which is hardly endearing, and it didn't improve in the part to which I listened. On top of this, she's unjust, which is exemplified embarrassingly when she inherits a home and servants.

'

One of these servants was cruel and physically abusive to Eona, and it's clear that she has not changed, yet Eona fails to punish her and so very effectively lets her get away with this abusive behavior - indeed, by her inaction, condoning it. She gives freedom tokens to two slaves and makes a developmentally-challenged child her heir, which is ill-advised at best. I'm sure the author thinks this is a wonderful way to show how generous and just she is, but it doesn't work! At the same time as she's doing this, Eona keeps on all of her other slaves as slaves. That's hardly endearing. Not to me, anyway.

In the end, what defeated this novel for me was its ponderous length and tedious narrative. It's a first person PoV which isn't pleasant to listen to when the narrator (not Nancy Wu, the reader, but the character: Eona) is so self-centered, so clueless, and so whiny, but worse than that, the story just goes on and on with very little happening, and that very little is padded with acres of descriptive prose that's just not that interesting. I can't recommend this and I won't be reading the sequel.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly


Title: The Great Zoo of China
Author: Matthew Reilly
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Errata:
page 42: "CJCJ" should be simply "CJ"

"They have a top flying speed of one hundred and sixty miles an hour...-That's one hundred miles an hour for those of not used to the metric system…"
(page 53) - someone's getting miles and kilometers mixed up! Unless "metric miles" are shorter!
"A Chinese woman joined Hu on stage"? They're in China - why specify a 'Chinese' woman?!

The first thing I noticed about this novel was how many trees it was wasting! You can see form the sample page on my blog that only about 40% of the page is used for print - the rest is white space.

This is a chapter start page, so it leaves more white space than usual, and no one on in their right mind would try to suggest that every inch of the page be covered in minute text. Indeed, in ebooks, it's not even relevant, but if a book is going to run to a print version, then it's worth expending some thought - nboth by writers nad publishers in considering how many trees are going to die for this fiction to appear on a bookshelf in this era of catastrophic climate change. Every little helps.

That aside, let's look at the writing.

This novel, very much a redux of Jurassic Park (we even have male and female siblings, but in this case they're adults) is a somewhat different take on dragons. It’s set in contemporary times, and begins with a reptile expert, CJ Cameron, and some other people, including her brother, being sent on a visit to a zoo in China - a new zoo wrapped in secrecy. It turns out that the secrecy was because the zoo was set up solely for one type of animal: dragons!

An oddity about his novel is that it's replete with illustrations - not of the dragons, but of the facilities! There's even one illustration of a trace on a computer monitor! The illustrations were reasonably well done, but I'm not sure I got the point of them. It actually seemed rather insulting - that we readers wouldn’t be able to grasp what we were told, so here’s a pretty picture to help? Either that or the author wasn't sure of his ability to write adequate descriptive prose. It was just a little weird.

The worst thing for me however, was that the science was really poor. To begin with, the dragons are impossible even by fantasy standards. They come in three sizes, the smallest of which, we're told, weighs about a ton and the largest of which is the size of an airliner, yet despite these hefty sizes and weights, the dragons seem able to break the laws of physics and become airborne by means of inadequate and rather flimsy wings. The largest flying creatures of which we're aware were some species of the pterosaur order which have long been extinct. The biggest of these was only 150 pounds in weight (~68 kilos), and to get this human adult scale creature airborne, they required a wing-span approaching forty feet (~12 meters).

That's not even the most absurd part of it. These dragons are supposed to be related to dinosaurs, but they’re hexapods (the author got the prefix of the name right at least!): four legs plus two wings. The problem is that there's no precedent for hexapod vertebrates - let alone dinosaurs - on Earth, so the evolutionary history of these creatures is nonsensical at best. Your problem going into this then, is that you have to leave science at the door if you're going to have a hope of enjoying the story. That's not a nice thing to do to a reader, but it’s a requirement here.

We're told on page 87 that crocodiles are the only surviving members of the archosaur line (which includes dinosaurs and pterosaurs), but this is wrong. Even if we assume 'crocodiles' includes alligators, caimans, etc, this still excludes birds, which are also archosaurs. Despite the size of the pterosaurs, the largest creatures on earth have never been flying creatures, and herbivores tend to be large and grounded. What would be the point of their evolving an ability to fly when what they eat is on the ground and they're large enough to avoid being prey animals themselves? It made no sense. Ostriches, for example, are evolved from birds which could fly, but as soon as they grew large, they stopped flying.

The dragons' only "weakness" is saltwater, we're told, yet we’re offered no reason at all why a reptile would be scared of, or vulnerable to brine. It’s especially nonsensical given that we’re expressly told that one species loves water. Other than that, it seems that the dragons are larded-up with one super-duper trait after another to such an extent that the story becomes a pretty much a parody of itself. I fully expected one species to be named 'Mary Suasaurus'. These dragons don’t breath fire, but that's the only thing they don’t have. Had it been an Austin Powers story, they would undoubtedly have had lasers on their heads….

We’re told that they can see in pitch-darkness, which is completely ludicrous, tapetum lucidum or not. No being can see in pitch darkness if they're relying on an organ which processes light, since the definition of pitch-dark is that there's literally no light to process! If we’d been told that they can detect infra-red, or process sound, then that would be a different matter, but we’re specifically told that it's light.

Few people have truly experienced pitch-darkness because we’re such an energy-profligate world that there's always some stray light, spilling out from somewhere. Once, I was in a cave in Virginia and the guide had us hold onto the rail on the walkway as a reference point, and then she turned off all the lights. Now that's pitch darkness! You quite literally could not see your hand in front of your eye. The darkness felt almost like a substance you could actually grasp in your hands. It was downright creepy, and the reason for this is quite simply that we are not at all used to being without any light at all.

When CJ the "scientist" is told that dragons can see magically, she accepts this with a simple nod of her head. At that point I lost all faith in her credentials as a scientist! Neither does she have issues with the dragons having ampullae, which are the electrical organs which sharks, platypuses, and other aquatic creatures have, enabling them to detect living things by their electrical output. This only works in water, yet we’re expected to believe the dragons have them! Author Brad Thor is quoted on the cover describing this author as the king of hardcore action, and while that isn’t the same as science, it did make me seriously disinclined to read anything Brad Thor has written if he thinks this novel worth raving over.

It’s not just the science that's bad, unfortunately. Bad science with a good story might just be readable, but the story has dumb woven deeply into its fabric. One thing CJ does notice is that the dragons are being controlled by some kind of electronic pain-infliction device. We're later told that there's a chip grafted onto their brain which can send a signal directly to the pain center, so if a dragon tries to breach the electromagnetic dome within which they're confined, it gets hurt so badly that it will black out and plummet to the ground. This is supposed to teach them to stay within their confined area, but if you have an animal weighing upwards of a ton, and it blacks out while in flight and ends up plummeting to the ground, it’s not going to learn anything, because it will splat and that's the end of that! How come any of the dragons are still alive?

This is the kind of novel you end-up writing when you're so hell-bent on 'dramatic' that all it gets you is 'drama queen' (which is the ridiculous CJ saving the world single-handedly). Sometimes that can even work, but here it just makes me sad that something like this could get published, and the powers that be cynically expect it to sell because it's hitching a ride on the coat-tails of something much better that came before it.

Of course once you know that this is to be a cross between Jurassic Park and Jaws, you also know exactly what’s going to happen, so all of the mystery goes flying out of the window (as indeed do some of the characters). So what's left? Well the only things to look forward to would be original situations, really great characters, and humor, but none of that was evident in the part of this novel that I read (which was about one third of it).

The biggest problem once the creatures let loose is the same problem shared by all of this kind of predator story: why are the predators suddenly insatiably and perennially hungry, and why do they instantly think humans are prey and pursue them to a brain-dead extent when easier prey is readily available? It made no sense. Despite the animals being very well fed, they attack the humans for no reason and start to feed as though they've been starving for weeks. It makes especially little sense given that, as we’ve been inanely told, these dragons can 'hibernate' for a thousand years in their eggs! So at that point it pretty much fell apart completely for me.

The only thing which kept me reading - at least for a short while, was that we’ve also been told how intelligent these animals are, so I was curious to see if there was some other motive at play here other than the author's desire to simply write a gratuitously graphical blood and gore-fest of the quality of a B-grade slasher flick. It turned out to be the latter, because the writing made no more sense than such a picture does. For example, we’d been told earlier that the emperor dragons - the largest - are largely herbivorous, yet when the escaping group of humans encounters one, they're scared that it will eat them! Worse than this, it becomes very territorial yet it’s defending neither food nor mates!

I made it to page 117 and that was all I could stand to read. This novel was far too cartoonish to take seriously, and that's all there was to it.