Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Hunger Games

“You don’t forget the face of the person who was your last hope.”   

For those few who have been hiding under a rather big rock lately, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is now a pretty big deal. The film is (so far) the biggest release of 2012. And amazingly, the adaptation is pretty much as damn near perfect as you could hope for. But as someone who had never read the book, I decided to give it a go.

A few hours later and I was finished.

Now, the book may be quite short but still... It gripped me tight and wouldn't let go until I turned the last page. Considering I ultimately knew what was going to happen from seeing the film, this is even more of an achievement.

For anyone still not sure of the plot - the novel is set in a post apocalyptic future America, renamed Panem. It is made of 12 Districts, and the oppressive Capitol. Every year the Capitol hosts what they have named 'The Hunger Games'. From each of the 12 outlying districts a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen at random, with all 24 being pitted in a fight to the death on national television with only one winner. The novel follows a member of District 12, Katniss Everdeen who must learn how to fight and survive (physically and politically) if she is to win The Hunger Games.

If I'm being honest, (and a bit snobbish) I really wasn't expecting much from The Hunger Games. A young adult fantasy? Pah. But boy was I wrong.

The book moves at such a pace that to look up from the pages would give you whiplash. The prose is short and precise, with Katniss a constantly surprising narrator. The cliched teenage girl with daddy issues she is not. The book exists in a well conceived post-apocalyptic America, where you really feel a connection. The side characters are constantly entertaining, with the distinctly totalitatrian oppressors in the capitol having a real sinister bite. One senses a certain parallel with the French Revolution, and with this being the Hunger Games I am almost expecting the line 'Let Them Eat Cake' at some point.

A really accomplished novel for anyone who can handle the dark undertones and violent situations it puts to the fore. Bring on book 2: Catching Fire.

May the odds be ever in your favor!

A Song of Ice and Fire (So Far...)

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”

So it seems like a good way to get this blog started may be to write up some quick reviews of the books I have mentioned as some of my personal favourites. I've started with The Name of the Wind, so now it's off to Westeros and the Game of Thrones.

Trying to write a review of ASOIAF is a bit like standing in a crowd of thousands of screaming people, and trying to be heard over the noise. What needs to be said about these books has already been said.

For those who haven't read the books, but have seen the excellent HBO series or have yet to give in to the hype - these books really are the antecedent to the mainstream popular mindset, that if a book is succesfully adapted for TV or film then it must be good and therefore everyone must buy a copy. That is not always the case. (Twilight, I'm looking at you) ASOIAF really is all the good things you've heard, and then some.

It is visceral, shocking, emotional, medieval and downright brutal reading. But rewarding. Oh, so rewarding.

I'm not going to even attempt to give a plot summary, because to try and digest this magnificent series into a few words is doing it a real injustice. The complex political world of Westeros is one that you truly need to experience for yourself.

Yes, the series has its problems - excruciating wait times between novels, one too many POV characters at times and if you have characters you particularly dislike reading about it can be a little slow, especially when Martin expands the cast to around 20 POVs in the fifth book.

But these issues are so minor when really taking into account the superb narrative web that Martin has concocted, with its schemers and players, and characters so grey they might as well be black. The plot and characters of ASOIAF is what most fantasy writers strive for - gripping and densely layered. (Hell, if only any other author in any genre could write half as well as Martin...)

A Game of Thrones by George R.R Martin


A Clash of Kings by George R.R Martin


A Storm of Swords by George R.R Martin


A Feast For Crows by George R.R Martin


A Dance with Dragons by George R.R Martin


The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors...

The Name Of The Wind

“You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way.”

Reading the first page of this absolutely stunning novel by Patrick Rothfuss suggests we're in for a book of subdued beginnings. With the silence of the Waystone Inn and it's three parts we're treated to some of the most honed and perfected writing ever seen in the English language (Do I hear gasps?). It doesn't really matter what you think of the rest of this book, the passage which we see at the start of the novel, and return to time and time again, is writing at it's simplest and most lyrical. It's not until the end of that first page that we get the sense that maybe the silence we're reading about isn't as subdued as might be first thought. Instead, that silence continually comes back to haunt the reader like a brick in the face, or a bang in the night.

Rothfuss is a master of lyrical writing. His prose is deft and skilful, leaving the reader hanging on every word. For a story about a story, perhaps the most accomplished part of the writing in this book is that we don't actually hang on every word of Patrick Rothfuss. We hang on every word of Kvothe. The flame haired narrator. With each interlude in Kvothe's tale we are reminded of the fact that Kvothe does not actually exist. We are reading a book. This is testament to Rothfuss' ability to truly pull us into the tale that his character is telling.

That is not to say that the interludes are any less gripping. On the contrary, Rothfuss tends to unleash his true skills during these brief sections, creating characters we care about easily as much as those in Kvothe's tale in much less time than Kvothe has to create a dramatic story.

Rothfuss teases us with background information in each interlude, suggesting both a bigger tale yet to come in Kvothe's life, and slowly filling in pieces of the past before Kvothe has the chance to speculate any further.

The unreliable narrator is one of the most useful techniques in a writer's arsenal. Doing it poorly is easy. Doing it this well is masterful.

For anyone who hasn't read this novel yet, or who has started and not stayed with it - do yourselves the biggest favour you can all year, and read it now. Fantasy fans have been starved of fresh, literary gems in the genre.

Yes it may be gushing, but the first review on the blog deserves to be something truly memorable, with a standard which all others can be held to.

And the rest is silence...