Category: Reviews


Review – The Twelve Caesars

Posted 13 May, 2014 by Nikki in / 2 Comments

Cover of Twelve Caesars by Matthew DennisonThe Twelve Caesars, Matthew Dennison

The quote on the cover calling this ‘gossipy’ is right; ‘insightful’, not so much. There’s a lack of meaningful dates and orientation, and Dennison avoids picking a side so much that he immediately undermines any definite point with something else. He talks about Tiberius, for example, presents him as a little reluctant to take power, and then a couple of pages later presents him as a power-hungry tyrant; he talks about his simple, ascetic life, and then repeats gossip about his sexual proclivities and excesses.

It mostly seems as though Dennison is unsure about what the truths are, and isn’t willing to put in the scholarship to figure out how true or false any particular assertion may be. He just seems to present it all.

So yeah, didn’t find this all that entertaining, really. It’s just so vague about actual events.

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Review – The Door into Summer

Posted 12 May, 2014 by Nikki in / 3 Comments

Cover of The Door Into Summer by Robert A. HeinleinThe Door into Summer, Robert Heinlein

I haven’t previously managed to get through any of Heinlein’s work, but I am nothing if not determined, so I finally picked this up and decided to have a jolly good go. And it was okay. The style is easy to read, conversational; matter of fact, even. It’s almost not like reading a story, except of course you know that few of Heinlein’s predictions work out (though he did predict the Roomba).

It’s an interesting take on cold sleep/time travel, and a personal one. Dan isn’t saving the world, he’s just setting some personal wrongs right. Despite that, I didn’t find it particularly driven by character: my sympathy for Dan as a character comes from the situation he’s in, not for any personal qualities.

The best bits about the story are Dan’s cat, who has a personality all his own, and who I rooted for more than anyone else in the book. Cat lovers will appreciate this one, and I think Heinlein got close to poetry in the way he talked about Pete, particularly at the end. It was certainly the best of his prose.

People rightly find the plot with Dan’s friend’s stepdaughter, Ricky, pretty creepy. I mean, he meets her when she’s a kid, she has a crush on him which he knows about but treats as a joke… until the grown woman he’s engaged to turns out to be scamming him, and then suddenly he says that if Ricky had been a little older, he’d never even have looked at Belle. And then follows a whole plot where he wants to track her down and marry her, and ends up going to her while she’s still a kid and telling her to put herself in cold sleep when she’s twenty-one so that he can then marry her when she’s an adult. It’s a bit of a fairytale anyway, a kid that age knowing what she wants and going through with it like that without ever doubting or changing her mind (not that we get to see Ricky’s thought processes or how she grows up). But knowing her as a kid and deciding, based on that, that he wants to marry her, without ever meeting her as an adult — yeah, kind of disturbing.

All in all, it’s an easy read and interesting, but I can’t say it’s converted me to being a liker of Heinlein. I do want to try one more of his, since all I’ve read is this and part of A Stranger in a Strange Land, but it’s the sort of thing where you have to keep the words “of its time” very firmly in mind.

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Review – Jhereg

Posted 10 May, 2014 by Nikki in / 0 Comments

Cover of Jhereg by Steven BrustJhereg, Steven Brust

I was pretty sure I was going to like this, since some people whose taste I trust have mentioned it to me before. (The whole series features in Jo Walton’s series of posts on Tor.com/in her collection of those posts in book-form, and was one of the ones from the list I made while reading it that I have underlined several times as a priority.) Still, I wasn’t sure enough, so I only ordered the first omnibus, which contains the first three books. Ten chapters in, I ordered the rest. Unfortunately, I’ve had them sent to the wrong address, so I am pondering how to pace out reading Yendi and Teckla so that I don’t finish them before I am, one way or another, in the same place as the rest of the books.

At the same time as noting that I loved this book, I will add that knowing a bit about this series to begin with helps. Like, knowing that so much of the series was planned in advance, appreciating the fact that it all plays with time… And knowing people I like love it makes me inclined to extend it some credit. Still, I did very much enjoy it for itself. It’s nice that there’s a whole complicated background to discover in time, over the course of the series, and that Brust avoids any unnecessary info dumps. I did feel a little bit expositioned at, a couple of times, but it was in Vlad’s voice so it still worked.

Very interested to see where this goes, how Vlad develops, and how various things that I know about from reading mild spoilers in reviews come about. And now, onto Yendi.

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Review – Astonishing X-Men: Torn

Posted 9 May, 2014 by Nikki in / 0 Comments

Cover of Astonishing X-men: Torn by Joss WhedonAstonishing X-Men: Torn, Joss Whedon, John Cassaday

The copy of this I picked up has no indication of where it might come in a series. I was sure it was probably in the middle of something anyway, but I thought I’d give it a go, see if X-men is something I’m interested in following (’cause you know, it’s not like I’m following enough already).

If you’re already invested in the characters and know what’s going on the story, then I think this would be a gut punch of a volume. There’s some amazing stuff going on with Kitty Pryde, and all of the X-men are affected in one way or another by what happens here. Unfortunately, for me, I just don’t know enough of the background — everything I know about Kitty I know from Ultimate Spider-man, everything I know about Scott I remember from a cartoon when I was little, and a lot of them I don’t know at all. It looks like an interesting storyline, and the art is good, but I just can’t say I enjoyed it when I was so at sea for most of it.

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Review – Warbreaker

Posted 9 May, 2014 by Nikki in / 2 Comments

Cover of Warbreaker, by Brandon SandersonWarbreaker, Brandon Sanderson

There were some flaws for me with Warbreaker — like many other reviewers, I felt that the wrapping up at the end went way too fast — but all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve found that I like Brandon Sanderson’s world-building a lot, no matter what he’s doing: he seems to bring a flair to it, seems to be able to make it that bit different from the rest of the fantasy fare around. I wasn’t sure anyone could pull off some of the stuff in Warbreaker, like the princesses whose hair changed colours with their mood — it seemed like something right out of some kind of wish fulfillment fanfic, which generally doesn’t do much for me. I mean, it’s usually changing eye colour in those stories, but the super specialness applies.

The other thing is that Sanderson manages to keep things consistent. None of this felt like a deus ex machina, even when it kind of was: the various sacrifices, discoveries, etc, all seemed perfectly foreshadowed by the text. I didn’t find all of it terribly surprising — I figured out some people weren’t as trustworthy as they seemed to the princesses, for example — but I did enjoy it, and I felt it makes sense. The storytelling, too, works for me: it goes along at a great pace and kept me interested and going ‘just one more chapter, just one more’ again and again.

One thing I didn’t like so much was Vivenna’s character development. Or Siri’s, in a way: I liked that Siri became capable, learned to value herself, learned what she could do. I wasn’t enamoured of the way they basically swapped roles, though. And we spent an awful lot of time with Vivenna being self-important and self-righteous, neither of which are traits that appeal to me. I wasn’t, in general, very attached to Vivenna and Vasher at all; their stories were necessary for the plot, but emotionally I didn’t get attached. I suppose really, I was mostly attached to Lightsong and Llarimar: Lightsong’s character development was something I really was interested in.

The ending wraps up extremely quickly, and leaves things wide open for another book, but the story itself is self-contained as well, which is rare enough in this time of trilogies (and trilogies of trilogies). I loved that it wrapped up within one book, leaving things open and uncertain in the future for the characters, but without leaving any big gaps.

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Review – Uncanny X-Force: Let It Bleed

Posted 7 May, 2014 by Nikki in / 0 Comments

Cover of Uncanny X-force: Let It BleedUncanny X-Force: Let It Bleed, Sam Humphries, Ron Garney, Adrian Alphona, Dexter Soy

I liked the art of this TPB, liked what little I gleaned about the characters and the line-up, but… I finished the book wondering what the heck happened here, whether it has any relevance to any other Marvel plotline I can think of, and whether I would have understood what was going on better with more X-force context. I agree with people who say it was a really fast read, etc, but that’s because little is happening. Maybe with some more emotional hooks, like knowing in advance what Fantomex and Psylocke’s relationship was, or more about Bishop, or… just about anything.

It’s a lovely looking book, but it doesn’t seem to be a good starting point. Which is odd, because I thought that was somewhat the point of Marvel Now. Alternately, it’s just not a very good comic anyway.

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Review – The Bluffer’s Guide to Rugby

Posted 6 May, 2014 by Nikki in / 1 Comment

Cover of The Bluffer's Guide to Rugby by Steven GaugeThe Bluffer’s Guide to Rugby, Steven Gauge

I was at the Wales vs England game during the Six Nations in 2013. I know enough about rugby to know that other Welsh people will often want to kick me when I declare this, given that Wales won. Especially when I point out that my grandfather’s seats are just over the centre of the pitch, at a nice height to see everything but still close enough to pick out the individual players and feel the heat from those enormous flares they set off. Apart from all that, however, I pretty much rely on the other spectators to keep me vaguely orientated towards what is actually going on in the game. (The last game I attended was Wales vs Italy with my sister, and she helped me figure out precisely when to scream at the ref, etc.)

Anyway, this book helps somewhat with that, explaining amidst the humour what each member of the team does and a few of the rules. Mostly, though, and unhelpfully, it advocates not bothering to know the rules and just playing it by ear. It’s true that I suspect most teams of doing that, but I would like to acquire a vague idea of why the referee is awarding penalties, assuming he knows why he’s awarding penalties and isn’t just doing it because he doesn’t like the look of the hooker (not that kind of hooker).

It’s funny, and somewhat helpful, but not really substantial.

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Review – Market Forces

Posted 4 May, 2014 by Nikki in / 0 Comments

Cover of Market Forces by Richard MorganMarket Forces, Richard Morgan

I’m torn between the fact that I like Morgan’s writing — it’s slick, tight, packs a punch — and the fact that his world is just too ridiculously ultra-violent for me, and the characters I like don’t come out well. I liked Chris’ wife Carla, but of course, she loses her husband in the worst of way: he’s not dead, but he’s thrown himself into a life she hates, and refused to accept her help in getting him out of it. And he’s cheated on her, of course: let’s not forget that.

I find the world-building interesting, though in this case not entirely convincing (duels in cars? how does that really come about? it doesn’t sound like something top executives would realistically end up doing), but of course all of it is a way of examining capitalism and the free market, of making brutally clear the way that competition can ruin lives.

If the point then is to take a guy who seems decent at the beginning, like Chris, and watch as that competition warps him, then Morgan does a great job — but it’s hard to enjoy it as a story, particularly given the bodycount. Very much a case of not-really-my-thing, though, and I’m sure that people who’re less squicked out by violence will enjoy this a lot more than me, assuming our tastes are otherwise the same.

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Review – The Rithmatist

Posted 3 May, 2014 by Nikki in / 4 Comments

Cover of The Rithmatist by Brandon SandersonThe Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson

I haven’t read much of Sanderson’s work yet, but I have a generally good impression of it. I was hesitant about The Rithmatist (I think I preferred the original title, Scribbler) because it’s YA and some people have made comments about the magic system being too complex, some even feeling it’s boring. But! I actually loved it.

In a way, it’s nothing new. It’s essentially set at a wizarding school, there’s a Snape-like character, there’s a red-haired sidekick (more Ron than Hermione, despite being a girl), there’s people who can do magic and people who can’t, and various divides between them… I was also reminded of Garth Nix, somehow; something about the world-building, I think.

There are differences, too, of course: it’s definitely a world of its own, and I liked the magic system a lot. I didn’t find it boring at all — beyond me, at times, yes, but not boring. I loved Joel’s enthusiasm for it, his boundless wonder for the whole thing. His interest made what could have been boring, all the detail of the magic system, quite interesting.

I loved that some things weren’t typical: a second chance at something doesn’t always make you special and fix what went wrong the first time, I didn’t see Joel’s conclusions at the end coming, I don’t feel that romance between Melody and Joel is inevitable at all (possible, I guess, but definitely not so clearly telegraphed that it warps their personalities and the plot)…

All in all, I read this in a couple of hours, and even stayed up late when I really shouldn’t to finish it and get my work done. I thought it was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I did pick it up to fill out a three for two offer way back whenever!

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Review – Green Lantern Corps: Fearsome

Posted 2 May, 2014 by Nikki in / 0 Comments

Cover of Green Lantern Corps: FearsomeGreen Lantern Corps: Fearsome, Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna

On the one hand, this is a heck of an introduction to the Green Lanterns. There’s so many characters and concepts packed in, and I had to play a fair amount of catchup. I was never sure what was a New 52 innovation and what was established canon, how I should be judging the storyline. So I couldn’t tell you if someone was suddenly overpowered or turned into an enormous asshole.

I did enjoy it, though. It’s a bit thin on character because there are so many Green Lanterns in the story, but it gives us an introduction to the Corps and who they are, what they believe in. There are some interesting character moments for John Stewart, which I found intriguing: he makes some rough decisions and has to live with them, and does so honorably, to my mind.

I actually enjoyed this enough that I will pick up other Green Lantern comics in the future, at least to try.

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