Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Mar
28
7 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 2 stars, Horror

Book: The Passage
Author: Justin Cronin
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release date: June 8, 2010
Source: Borrowed from local library
Series: The Passage #1
  
Summary from Goodreads: It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born. 

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey spanning miles and decades towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.

It took me two tries to get through this book. The first 200 pages or so were terrific. The middle section draaaaaaaagged. After 540 pages, with a looming library due date in front of me, I gave up. I decided the last 200 pages couldn’t possibly be worth the effort it was taking me to slog through and returned the book.

Fate wasn’t letting me off the hook so easy. Two days after I returned the book I received an email from the library that my ebook hold for this title (which I’d forgotten I had reserved) was available. I took it as a sign to push on and see if I could finish, so I downloaded the ebook and jumped back in, with a bit of trepidation. 

And I finished! Even more surprising, I actually liked the ending, and I’m curious about the sequel now. I think taking a break to read something quick and fun was a good idea, because I came back to it without the boredom slowly beating me to death as before.

Final verdict: great beginning, good end, horrible middle. 

In the beginning, I didn’t mind the slow pace because the characters were interesting and the story was intriguing. We get a nice setup to this world and how it’s about to change. We get a sense of the players involved and a hint of how they’re going to intersect later. At this point, I was still trusting Cronin to see us through to a satisfying conclusion and was willing to relax and go for the ride.

After the beginning sections end with the release of the virus, we fast forward nearly 100 years to post-apocalyptic life on one of the last human strongholds, the Colony. Here is where things ground to a halt for me. New, bland, barely distinguishable characters live boring and uneventful lives. Each character talks us through their excruciatingly detailed backstories as we learn who’s who in this entirely new setting. It was like starting a whole new book, but it paled in comparison to the one you’d just finished.

When exciting events do occur (which is oddly rare for a world populated by terrifyingly lethal vampires), Cronin delivers the action in narrative shifts that completely remove any trace of tension. One minute the characters are facing down a vampire horde, and the next minute you’re reading one of the character’s journal entries describing the attack. Why take us out of the action and have the character, who obviously lived since they wrote a journal entry about it, tell us how it happened? Why not just let the action happen? Most of these events could easily have unfolded as part of the regular narrative, and the distance created from these shifts made me care even less about the story. 

The characters’ behavior was often inconsistent. Where was the fear in these people? They’ve lived for almost a hundred years in a compound to keep out the vampires, and yet they never seem scared. It was mind numbingly boring to wait for something even mildly tense to happen. After 500 pages, when they finally have an objective, they set off on a quest across the Southwest without hesitation or fear. You can practically see them standing around, shrugging, and then loading up their backpacks.

I also didn’t buy the cultural and linguistic changes that Cronin created for the future-set Colony, either. After only 92 years, we’ve forgotten the concept of the ocean or basic geography? We’re calling kids “Littles” because the word “children” wasn’t working anymore? We’ve invented a new curse word and abandoned all others? We still know how to use stethoscopes and provide medical care, but we’ve stopped telling time? If Cronin had bothered to explain (perhaps in one of the lengthy backstory recaps) some of these influences or how they evolved, I’d have bought in to the world a little better.

Though I liked the mystery around the Amy character and the virus, the boring and tension-free writing made me throw in the towel. I’m glad I finished it, though, because things picked up again in the last hundred pages. The plot moves, big changes occur, and past characters from the beginning sections return. I liked the ending enough that I’m probably going to at least start the sequel, just to see where it’s headed. I find the story really interesting, and I do think it’ll make a great movie, but the hefty length of this one sure made it a chore to get through.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Apr
23
4 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 4 stars, Fantasy

Book: The Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: DAW Books
Release date: March 27, 2007
Source: Bought ebook
Series: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day 1

Summary from Goodreads: Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen.The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

First impressions: I’m not generally an epic fantasy fan, but after hearing everyone and their mother rave about this book, I had to try it. I’m so glad I did! The first few chapters had just enough mystery to suck me in, and once the story-within-a-story kicked in, there was no turning back.

Lasting impressions: Parts of this book were so beautiful I could hardly breathe, but there were times I wanted the pace to pick up a bit. You have to commit for the long haul with this one.

Conflicting impressions: The story Kvothe tells is meant to span three days, and this novel is the first of those. At times, because of the length of this tale, I felt the story lost its focus. I got swept up in the adventures Kvothe undertook, but occasionally got impatient wondering where this was all headed.

Overall impressions: There can be zero doubt that Patrick Rothfuss is a masterful storyteller. His patience and attention to detail, combined with a clear love of words and the beauty they can create, make it obvious that storytelling runs in his blood.

It should be no surprise to see a family of storytellers at the heart of this book. Kvothe is the son of a traveling band of performers, and learns most of life’s major lessons from plays, literature, and stories. As he grows up, and suffers a devastating series of losses, he vows to research the history of his world’s most dangerous stories – those surrounding the mysterious and deadly Chandrian.

Rothfuss juggles between Kvothe’s present and past, with the past related to the reader by Kvothe himself as he recounts his journey to a transcriber known as Chronicler. In the present, Kvothe is a man of many secrets, and the action is nailbitingly tense. I was desperate to know how this man’s life had shaped him into the innkeeper so many refer to as a “king killer.” Meanwhile, as we listen to the incredible tales from his childhood, I rooted for this boy of poverty and heartache to find his way in the world and realize his strengths.

Kvothe has remarkable abilities – his intelligence is quick and sharp, he can make music that causes even the most hardhearted men to weep – and at times he has an ego to match. He’s grounded by his extreme poverty and a hard life, however, and as often as his mouth gets him into trouble, he usually has the sneaky grace to get himself out of it. As he starts to learn magic, make friends, and fall in love, we get the pleasure of seeing how the smallest of stories can create a hero. Intentions do not generally find a way into history books, and though Kvothe may have reasons or circumstances that affect his actions, the stories quickly become larger than life. Actions speak louder than words, remember?

This is a dense book that took me nearly two weeks to finish, but it was absolutely worth it. Rothfuss has a gift for words, and he can spin them into scenery that fills the mind. Rarely have I felt so transported into the world of a book. Though the story is long, it is certainly not boring. I had the feeling that I was simply experiencing one part of a long journey, that would come to a full and satisfying resolution by the end of the trilogy. That doesn’t mean there was not a definite conclusion to this part, which had a great ending of its own. Instead, I was being prepared for an epic tale that required the patience of a good setup to give me the payoff of a glorious ending.

Well, if this book is any indication, that ending is going to be magnificent. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Review: Hounded by Kevin Hearne

Feb
13
4 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 4 stars, Urban Fantasy

Book: Hounded
Author: Kevin Hearne
Publisher: Del Ray
Release date: May 3, 2011
Source: Local library
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #1

Summary from Goodreads: The first novel in an original, back-to-back three-book series The Iron Druid Chronicles–introducing a cool, new, funny urban fantasy hero Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old–when in actuality, he’s twenty-one “centuries” old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power–plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish–to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

First impressions: Knowing absolutely nothing about Celtic mythology, this book threw me into a madcap new world full of hilariously entertaining gods and mortals.

Lasting impressions: This one lives up to the hype. Atticus is a charming protagonist with plenty of opportunities to dazzle us, both in this book and the rest of the series.

Conflicting impressions: I didn’t get a good sense of the danger involved with this plot. Atticus seemed to have an easy fix for everything, and although the final battle was realistically short, things resolved themselves a bit too quickly for my taste. I wanted him to have to work a bit harder to keep Fragarach from the bad guys.

Overall impressions: Don’t even ask me to use names other than Atticus, Oberon, and the Morrigan. There are so many Irish names and places that the book has to start out with a pronunciation guide, and even then I mostly made it up as I went (good thing Mr. Hearne suggests that as an excellent solution). I think Missie had the right idea with the audiobook.

Atticus is thousands of years old, but currently living as a 21 year old occult bookstore owner near the Arizona State University campus. He’s accompanied almost everywhere by his Irish wolfhound, Oberon, whom he has magically charmed into the ability to communicate through a kind of telepathy. Atticus can bind himself to Oberon’s mind, and the two trade a fair amount of dialogue throughout the book.

And let me tell you – Oberon is fecking hilarious. He knows how to push Atticus’s buttons, he has snarky comments about everyone and everything going on around him, and yet he remains sweetly dog-like so as to remain believable. If my dog could talk, I would hope she’d sound like Oberon.

The plot moves quickly and is pretty straightforward. Atticus has a magical sword that one of the unpronounceably-named gods wants for himself, and the rest of the gods are picking sides and forming unwieldy alliances among themselves, a coven of local witches, and even the demons of Hell. Lots of betrayal and mystery, thrown in a blender with copious amounts of action and battles. Add in the colorful side characters (like the possessed bartender and the vampire/werewolf lawyer team) and you can’t help but fall in love.

Despite the too easily achieved resolution and what I found to be an inadequate backstory for us Celtic mythology-challenged readers, any urban fantasy reader will gobble up this series. I’m excited to continue on to the next book, and thank you, my fellow bloggers, for convincing me this was a must-read.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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A fan of historical, dystopian, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, mystery, steampunk, and young adult fiction, as well as any book that thinks smartly and imaginatively.

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