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Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

“The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis is probably the most famous of the books of the Chronicles of Narnia. Although it is listed as book two in the series because the events that take place within it follow the events that take place in “The Magician’s Nephew” it was actually written first (I believe “The Magician’s Nephew” came out chronologically as around book six or so, and was written as a prequel). Anyway, because of the break in the timeline, there is some discontinuity between this book and the first; specifically with reference to the character of the White Witch.

 

As noted in my prior review, the Chronicles of Narnia are intended to be a metaphorical story used to introduce young children to Christianity. The Lion, Aslan, is analogous to Jesus Christ. Opposed to him is the White Witch, a.k.a. Satan. In this book, the relationship between Satan and the White Witch is a little clearer. In this book, there is a reference to the White Witch previously being in the service of The Emperor Across the Sea (God) as his sort of enforcer. That is analogous to the role Satan has in some Judea-Christian traditions where he played the role of an accuser of a man for his sins before the throne of God. I just wanted to note that because that is a change from “The Magician’s Nephew” in which the White Witch is described as coming to Narnia from a completely different world (a world she destroyed); there is no reference to her ever being in service to The Emperor Across the Sea.

 

Anyway, the main characters of the story are four children: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They discover a wardrobe in their uncle’s (I think it’s uncle) house, that leads them to the magical land of Narnia. There, they find the whole land in the grip of a never-ending winter brought on by the power of the White Witch. And to make matters worse, the White Witch is even preventing Christmas from coming (oh, no!). But with the arrival of the four children—the two Sons of Adam, and the two Daughters of Eve—things start to turn around. Soon, the Great Lion, Aslan is on the move to help the children bring about the ruin of the White Witch.

 

The most important metaphor in this book is the death of Aslan at the hands of the White Witch and his subsequent resurrection by the power of the Deeper Magic. Obviously, this is supposed to serve as a metaphor for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And there’s not too much to be added to that.

 

Overall, this is a good children’s book incorporating the strong moral traditions of Christianity in it. As an adult, I found it entertaining, but of a somewhat light fare. And, after a certain point, because it is geared towards children, it started to get a little tedious; I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish the series.

 

Anyway, as far as a children’s book goes, I’ll give it four out of five stars.

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew

I’ve decided to reread the entire “Chronicles of Narnia” series by C.S. Lewis beginning with the first book in the series: “The Magician’s Nephew.” I read the series several years ago, but remember only highlights. I never read the series as a child, only as an adult. Anyway, I completed this book in three days. All the books are about the same length and are about the right size for a young child. C.S. Lewis is well-known as a Christian thinker and his personal philosophy is woven throughout this book in remarkable and interesting ways.

To begin, let’s start with the players. There are two young children: Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer. There is Digory’s uncle, Andrew. And there are the two supernatural powers: Jadis, the White Witch, and Aslan, the great Lion. Aslan is, of course, symbolic of Jesus of Nazareth, believed by Christians to be the Son of God. The White Witch is symbolic of evil, or the Devil, if you will. This book is a largely metaphorical work designed to make Christianity appealing to children. Christ was big on being open to children, so C.S. Lewis designing an alternative magical universe catering to the spiritual needs of the young is a natural extension of that philosophy. There are other characters in the novel, but those are the big five. As powers, Aslan and the White Witch are the most important. The main character, though, is Digory Kirke. The story is told largely from his perspective, although it occasionally shifts back to Polly, and even less frequently to other characters.

The story is pretty basic. Uncle Andrew is a magician here on earth who has created several magical rings that allow transportation between worlds. Lacking the courage to explore himself, he sends the children in his stead. The first adventure lands the children in the dead world of Charn, a world once ruled by Jadis, but which the horrible woman destroyed. During their explorations there, Digory inadvertently releases Jadis from an enchanted slumber. They flee that world and return to Earth. Fortunately, the children know that Jadis is up to no good and they manage to get her off of Earth and onto a third world at the very day of that new world’s birth. It is, of course, Aslan the Lion, who sings this world, named Narnia, into existence. For those not up on biblical lore, this is kind of a parallel to the notion of original sin: it was man’s fault that allowed evil into the world in the Garden of Eden. Anyway, the story continues from there emphasizing the wonder and magic of Narnia and the great power and wisdom of Aslan. A small mini-quest is set before Digory and Polly, and there are one or two more Garden of Eden allusions in store for the reader.

In any event, I enjoyed the story. It’s a good tale for kids and as such is fairly morally sound. Just because it is oriented toward Christianity it is not necessarily unappealing to non-Christians. It can be a little preachy in some areas, but not to the extent that it ruins the work.

Overall, I’ll give it four stars out of five.

This review originally appeared on Shelfari.com on 12-30-12.

Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula” by Bram Stoker is a well-regarded classic of horror literature. I’ve read this book about four times, now. The first three times through (years ago) I liked it, because I liked vampires and was very interested in the part this book played in the legends that have grown up around them. I walked away from the book thinking it was okay, but kind of tame by modern standards as a piece of horror fiction. This last time through, however, my view of this book has changed. It is a masterpiece.

I think in my younger years, I was too much enamored by sword fights and spell battles, the typical fodder of fantasy fiction. This book doesn’t really have much of that. It is all about a developing plot and building suspense. It is one part mystery, one part horror, not so much a fantasy action book. The prose throughout, although somewhat dated—it was written in 1897—is still remarkable and fluid. It’s a little difficult adjusting to the diary narrative, but once you do so, it is a remarkable read. Having read the story before, I pretty much knew what was going to happen. Even so, I enjoyed pretty much the whole thing. I picked up on a number of different aspects of the story that I don’t remember noting before (of course, it has been several years).

I’ve read here and there that this book is really all about sexual repression or what-have-you. I totally didn’t get that. The only elements that might indicate that, that I picked up on, where as follows: 1) the penetration of flesh by vampire teeth, which is true of all vampire stories. 2) Lucy Westenra kind of idly comments in one of her letters that she kind of wished she could marry three different men because she didn’t want to break any of their hearts. 3) Later in the story, a tacit connection is made between love and blood transfusions and Lucy winds up getting transfusions from four different men in an attempt to save her. Taking all these things together, I think you can interpret the work as promoting polygamy if you want to go that way, but I hardly think it is definitive. There is no connection whatsoever between romance and blood transfusions; maybe at the time it was written, it was thought that there was, but really? You’re trying to save a woman’s life. What else would you do? I’ve also read that the work promotes homosexuality. Throughout the work the male characters are described as “manly men” or something along that route by the other male characters (and the female characters). It’s kind of odd from a modern perspective, but I think that was largely the manner of speaking of the time period. It’s another: if you want to go that route, I think you can, but I, personally, did not think that that was the point Bram Stoker was trying to get across. I just thought it was a mannerism of the time period.

Basically, I’m kind of the opinion that all these literary critics and analysts go looking for things in the books they read, and whether the author intended the work in that way or not, the critics interpret it as they see fit. The critics also enjoy the “shock-value” of their interpretations of classical works. Once upon a time, our society would have been “shocked” by polygamous and homosexual themes being present in Dracula. That’s no longer true today, but by now, it’s become accepted that that is what Dracula is all about. Heaven forbid someone just write a cool story.

Anyway, the book’s great, but I think it was intended for a more mature audience. I don’t think a young adult audience would fully “get” it. I know I didn’t when I first read it. I’m not going to review the plot because I think most people know it already. The Francis Ford Coppola movie from a few years back followed the book pretty closely, although it kind of went with the over-sexualized theme and changed some of the characters around to suit that end. Whatever. If you don’t know the story, and you can put up with some of the older-style language (it’s certainly not as bad as say “Canterbury Tales,” but every once in a while the language may stump you), get the book and read it. It’s well worth it.

Before I part, I’ll list the cast of characters: Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker, Lord Arthur Godalming, Quincey Morris, Dr. John Seward, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, Lucy Westenra, and, of course, the esteemed, renowned, and rapacious Count Dracula. There’s also three other unnamed vampire chics, and a host of minor characters spread throughout.

Anyway, I’ll give this book four and a half out of five stars.

This post originally appeared on Goodreads on 10/15/12.

Book Review: Elantris

“Elantris” is the very first book Brandon Sanderson ever had published. It has blurbs from no less than Orson Scott Card and David Farland. I went into this book expecting great and wonderful things, a tome oozing with brilliance. Having read it now, I’ll say it was good; I don’t know if it was as good as I expected, but it was definitely worth reading.

 

It is set primarily in the land of Arelon on the continent (or is it world?) of Opelon. In the heart of Arelon is the looming city of Elantris, once home to a god-like race of beings called, not surprisingly, Elantrians. They once lived openly in the city and interacted with the humans of the nearby smaller city of Kae. They wielded great power through the use of AonDor, a magical form of writing that allowed the Elantrians to inscribe potent symbols in the air or on objects and channel tremendous energy for healing, transportation, and what-have-you. Then, the Reod came and the Elantrians were cast into ruin. They became as walking dead men, bereft of power and unable to die, living a life of truly endless suffering. Against this backdrop is set the political struggles of the nation of Arelon; it is but one of two nations that have not fallen under the oppressive rule of the theocratic nation of Fjordell. Embroiled in these struggles are three individuals. First, there is the much-beloved Prince Raoden, now cursed to live in exile among the Elantrians. Second, is Sarene, his wife through political arrangement who never even gets to meet her husband. Lastly, is Hrathen a devoted servant of the Fjorden Empire, gyorn and high priest.

 

The book tells the tale of these three individuals and how they interact. Raoden begins all-but-damned, and must crawl his way up from the pit of the now-cursed Elantris to try to salvage what meager existence he can in the city. While he’s busy doing that, Sarene and Hrathen are squaring off in the political arena of Kae, each trying to outwit the other and determine the fate of the nation. It’s an intriguing read, with a lot of good points. Again, like in other of Brandon Sanderson’s books, the magic system is half the fun. I’m familiar with the use of runes and sigils from other works, so it wasn’t unique in that sense; but it was well-developed and handled superbly. I enjoyed reading how Raoden pieced bits and pieces of the system together. My only complaint is that it really didn’t come into play until about the latter third of the book. Prior to that, it was impotent and sterile. Then, when it did come into play, it wasn’t quite as overwhelming as I hoped it would be. Sanderson built it up so much, I was expecting explosions and utter chaos. There was some of that, but I wanted more. I guess I’m too much of an action junkie.

 

Another problem with the book is that the villains weren’t well-defined. They didn’t really show their stripes until the very end of the book; everyone else was developed fine, but the evil warriors at the end just appeared too abruptly for my tastes. Lastly, I think the climax went on too long. It reached a crescendo and peaked, then Sanderson tried to continue at that level for maybe thirty pages longer than he should have. I mean, he had to, to wrap up all the loose ends, but it detracted from that last final punch the book should have delivered. Still, it was a well-developed world and I liked all the major characters.

 

Overall, I’ll give the book four stars out of five. Definitely worth reading.

 

This review was originally posted on Shelfari.com on 9/24/12.

Book Review: Warbreaker

“Warbreaker” by Brandon Sanderson is another well-crafted piece of fantasy literature. It tells the story of two kingdoms: Idris and Hallandren. Although in the beginning of the story, the two kingdoms are not at war with each other, tensions are still high and close to the breaking point from the get-go. The bulk of the story takes place in the capitol of Hallandren, a city by the name of T’Telir. There are four main characters in the book: Siri, Vivenna, Vasher, and Lightsong.

 

Siri and Vivenna are both princesses of the kingdom of Idris; one is sent to be the bride of the Hallandren God King, the other sneaks away to cause mischief in T’Telir. Lightsong is a “god” living amongst the other divinities that rule T’Telir from their grand court. Vasher is, well, Vasher. He’s something of a rogue agent with his own plans and abilities. He carries the deadly sword Nightblood, which is another character in its own right, as the sword is sentient. The story is an intriguing mix of politics, mercenary mischief, and treachery. Again, Brandon Sanderson has devised a clever magic system which he incorporates throughout the story. The system is based on Breath and color. Yep, color. The Breath comes from people: us mere mortals are born with but one Breath. Breath can be bought and sold, as one wishes. The Breath is used primarily to animate things—non-living material can move and act according to the wishes of the individual using the Breath. Color is used to power the Breath, draining away to grey when it is expended. It’s an intriguing, and creative system that Brandon Sanderson gets a lot of mileage out of in this book. He uses it in a number of ways that would not be apparent at first.

 

Overall, the book was decent. It took me a while to really get into it, but I wouldn’t say it was boring by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe the beginning was slow, but that could have just as well been a result of adapting to the unusual magic system. It picks up nicely at the end. There are a number of clever twists and turns (although I did pick out one of them in advance—ha ha J). I did have a problem with the ending though. There were basically two story-threads going. One resolved nicely with a big climactic sword fight. The other… not so much. It built up nicely, but then almost skipped over the part I really wanted to read about, describing it only in passing. Anyway, the story formed a complete logical whole; I didn’t notice any loose ends worth mentioning at the end of the book; everything was wrapped up nicely.

 

Overall, I’ll give this book three and a half stars, or even four on a good day.

 

This review was originally posted on Goodreads on 9-4-12.

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