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Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians

Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians

8th October 2016

First review - 17 October 2012

In the first of Alcatraz's adventures, the thirteen-year-old boy receives an unlikely birthday present and is thrust into a world he never knew existed, in which he has special powers with which to battle the evil librarians who vie to control the world.

The style is unique, with the first-person narrative taking a very informal tone, and constantly talking directly to the reader in an irreverent manner. Each chapter begins with what seems like an irrelevant rant, which becomes quite amusing as you learn to expect it.

The plot is quite random and in places felt a little slow, though as I was reading much of it aloud this may have affected my experience of the pace. The magic system is, as usual for Sanderson's writing, detailed and well-thought out, and this along with the sense of humour make the book.

Sanderson proves his flexibility in writing a series for children and once again I find myself wishing that today's kids' books were available when I was younger.

Second review - 8 October 2016

I had planned to re-read the first three Alcatraz stories and finally finish the fourth before book five was published this summer, but messed up the timing and didn't even get back through this, the first. Partly I suspect because my copy of the four books are in a single huge volume that I haven't fancied carrying about in my rucksack.

My memory of the story was somewhat sketchy, and didn't really come back as I was reading, and I didn't feel that the story gripped me sufficiently for it to plant itself fully in my mind again this time. Alcatraz is a young teenager who one day meets his grandfather and discovers that the world is much bigger than he thought and that he is living in a massive librarian-controlled conspiracy.

The plot is straightforward and filled with twists that seem inspired by Douglas Adams, but I don't think that's where Sanderson excels, and to me, reading as an adult, it just seems chaotic and silly. The tone of voice adopted by the narrator comes across as irritating rather than amusing, and it didn't drive me to keep reading.

That said, Sanderson's actual expertise does shine through the gaps - he's an amazing world builder and has once again created a system of magic/fantasy which is compelling and perhaps the most amusing element in the whole of the story. There are hints that the world is much deeper than we've seen so far, and that this will be developed in later stories.

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Death Masks

Death Masks

26th July 2015

Death Masks is the fifth book in the Dresden Files series, which tells the story of Chicago’s only Wizard Private Investigator. This time he’s hired by a priest visiting the city from the Vatican to help recover a stolen artefact, which leads to an intriguing and rather complicated plot which I’m not sure I completely followed.

There is the usual mix of apical action and witty banter, and a stronger emotional undercurrent than perhaps we’ve seen before in the series, as events from previous books are followed up and some plot threads are seemingly tied up. At the same time, this book introduces a number of new threads, which look like they are going to spread through the series to come.

While I enjoyed reading this, possibly the most of the books so far, I did feel that it was leaning towards the more implausible end of the urban fantasy spectrum, particularly in some of the detail around the scenario in this book. Additionally, the introduction of a range of new enemies made for a lot of new information to absorb, and I don’t think I managed to digest everything that it had to offer.

Unlike the first few books, which could be described along the lines of ‘Dresden does Vampires’, ‘Dresden does Wereworlves’, etc., this story defies such classification, and I think that’s a good thing - it shows a little maturity of the series that it can start to do its own thing, and begin to build up some of the ongoing plot threads that I hope build into something fantastic int he books I have yet to read.

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Buy book: UK
Warbreaker

Warbreaker

10th July 2015

I'm surprised how nervous I get about picking up a Brandon Sanderson book that's not from a series I'm already familiar with (this is, so far, a standalone). I should have learnt by now that all his books are fantastic, and by the end of them I'm always desperate to pick up another as soon as possible.

Warbreaker is no exception. A story about two princesses in a world of magic, who both visit a neighbouring country in a reversal of their previous roles. Sanderson's exploration of these two characters (and a couple of others) really makes this book, and I really enjoyed seeing them explore who they were and find their places in the world.

The world itself is another marvel of Sanderson's imagination - he's constructed yet another of his detailed magic systems and a pair of counterbalanced cultures that have real depth and layers that keep on peeling to reveal more and more. I find it hard to fathom how he has become so great at creating these places and the stories to go with them.

Once again a great read and one that I can easily imagine me returning to re-read in the future. Easily the best thing I've read for ages - to the extent that the books I picked up afterwards felt bland and lifeless by comparison.

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Shaman's Crossing

Shaman's Crossing

5th April 2015

I've enjoyed everything I've read by Robin Hobb (including some short works under her alternative name - Megan Lindholm), and so when a friend said that she'd found the Soldier Son trilogy hard going I was unconvinced. However after giving up a fair chunk of time to it I'm afraid I've had to (at least temporarily) admit defeat after only a couple of hundred pages.

The story focussed on a young boy - the second son of a newly created noble, and therefore destined to become a soldier. We follow his life through some key formative experiences and as he travels off to begin his military training. It sounds lil there's promise, and a little similar to Fitz in the author's other trilogies, but I was unable to become gripped by character or narrative and it felt bland and shallow in comparison to Hobb's other work.

Often I found that I was unable to focus on the words on the page and my mind would drift even while my eyes continued to scan the page and my hands continued to turn them, such that when it came back into focus I would have to turn back several pages to find out what was happening. Ultimately this was why I felt the need to stop reading and move on to another book - my reading time is precious (especially so for the first few months of this year) and I've decided to be quite brutal about dropping books that don't grip me sufficiently.

I will try to go back and have another go at this series later, but for now I've set it aside.

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Summer Knight

Summer Knight

11th February 2015

Book four: Faeries. Jim Butcher's series about. Chicago-based wizard detective Harry Dresden feels by this point to be cycling through the list of available magical creatures to put the protagonist against.

It's an enjoyable trip into this world again and it's nice to see that the characters are living with the repercussions of the previous story rather than being like toys taken back out of the box for a new day.

A good chunk of back story is also revealed for the main character, although I couldn't tell if all of it was a sudden surprise revelation or something that I'd read before in the earlier books.

There were elements though that didn't grip me as much. I'm not sure if it's just that the genre doesn't quite excite me enough, or whether it was that there are a few similarities to other books that I've read from other series. I think that the naming of some of the characters didn't help - there are a set of six new characters here that all seemed to have similar names and I kept getting lost as to which the narrator was talking about.

Overall, I thought that this was okay. I'm not sure I've got enough invested in the series to make it really gripping, and perhaps I need to ensure I don't leave such a long gap between episodes in future.

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A Dance with Dragons (2: After the Feast)

A Dance with Dragons (2: After the Feast)

21st December 2014

The second half of the fifth book of A Song of Ice and Fire really does work as it's own book. Each chapter of the whole series really comes across as its own episode and they could easily be strung together in one long story or split between almost any one. Martin splits his novels at particularly shocking places though, and this follows that trend.

A reminder - this is the increasingly diverse story of a group of factions each trying to invade or defend a land mass from invasion, insurrection or supernatural attack. The characters who have survived this far are almost all ones that I enjoy spending time with, although because of the structure of the narrative at this point, there are some who go completely without mention.

One thing I did find with this volume though is that the chapters have become somewhat formulaic - or it's just that I've read enough now to recognise the formula. The chapter begins by updating us on a character's situation since the last 'episode' in which we saw them, then they make a plan for what to do next, attempt to execute it, and something goes horribly wrong. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this structure, but the repetition meant that I started to expect it and try to predict the ending rather than just enjoy the ride.

Still a fantastic series though and I'm now desperately waiting for the next instalment - the first that I'll be able to read in hardback as soon as it's out, regardless of how long it is.

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Buy book: UK
Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon

24th August 2014

The first book in what looks to be a vast series of novels by two authors, Gardens of the Moon’s introduction suggests that it’s not a book for everyone, and that many people drop out at the start. The author’s position is that he has thrown the reader straight in without introduction, and that in doing so some readers are alienated. If you get to page 250, he says, you’ll be hooked forever.

Sadly, I’m one of the group who didn’t reach page 250. I got just past page 200 before deciding, reluctantly, that I didn’t have enough motivation to continue reading, and realising that the dread of this specific novel was putting me off reading in general.

I disagree however with the author’s suggestion that being thrown into the deep end of the plot was the problem. I didn’t feel that this novel threw plot straight at me any more than any other I’ve read. What I felt was missing was any sort of connection with the characters. The characters that seemed there to develop into starring roles came across as blank - empty of personality and just there for the plot to happen to. I thought that the story entered at the right point - it didn’t explain a load of background (but what novel does?) - instead allowing the reader to pick things up as the characters encountered them.

I can’t say it’s a bad book - clearly it’s a popular series and the story is well built, but I didn’t engage with the characters and couldn’t bring myself to continue reading something I wasn’t enjoying at the expense of time with other books. As such, it’s really hard to attribute a star rating to the book.

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Other reviewed books

Elantris
The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince
A Dance with Dragons (1: Dreams and Dust)
Apocalypse Cow
Grave Peril
The Dirty Streets of Heaven
The Magicians' Guild
The Inheritance
The Emperor's Soul
Hounded
Fool Moon
A Feast for Crows
Raising Steam
Blood of Dragons
Steelheart
Pulling Up Stakes (part 2)
Legion
Storm Front
A Storm of Swords (2: Blood and Gold)
Terra
The Amber Spyglass
City of Dragons
Guilty Pleasures
The Stuff of Dreams
A Storm of Swords (1: Steel and Snow)
The Subtle Knife
Dragon Haven
Pulling Up Stakes (part 1)
A Memory of Light
The Dragon Keeper
A Clash of Kings
The Woman Who Died a Lot
The Long Earth
Northern Lights
Fool's Fate
A Game of Thrones
The Golden Fool
Fool's Errand
Ship of Destiny
The Alloy of Law
Snuff
The Hero of Ages
The Mad Ship
Ship of Magic
The Blade Itself
The Final Empire
Assassin's Quest
Royal Assassin
Assassin's Apprentice
Towers of Midnight
Anansi Boys
I Shall Wear Midnight
The Gathering Storm
In Your Dreams
Knife of Dreams
The Antipope
New Spring
The Portable Door
Crossroads of Twilight
Winter's Heart
The Path of Daggers
The World of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time
A Crown of Swords
Unseen Academicals
Lord of Chaos
The Fires of Heaven
The Shadow Rising
The Dragon Reborn
The Great Hunt
The Eye of the World
Wintersmith
American Gods

Unreviewed books

Carpe Jugulum
Changes
City of Golden Shadow
City Watch Trilogy
Cold Days
Dragonflight
Dragongirl
Equal Rites
Eragon
Eric
Exile's Return
Fearless
Forest Mage
Furies of Calderon
Going Postal
Good Omens
Hogfather
Interesting Times
Jingo
Lords and Ladies
Magician
Making Money
Maskerade
Monstrous Regiment
Mort
Mountain of Black Glass
Moving Pictures
Night Watch
Orcs: Bodyguard of Lightning
Orcs: Legion of Thunder
Orcs: The Taking
Orcs: Warriors of the Tempest
Proven Guilty
Pyramids
Reaper Man
Renegade's Magic
River of Blue Fire
Sea of Silver Light
Small Favour
Small Gods
Soul Music
Sourcery
The Big Over Easy
The Colour of Magic
The Dragonbone Chair
The Eyre Affair
The Fifth Elephant
The Folklore of Discworld
The Fourth Bear
The Last Continent
The Last Hero
The Light Fantastic
The New Discworld Companion
The Silmarillion
The Truth
The War of the Flowers
The Way of Kings (part one)
The Way of Kings (part two)
The Way of Shadows
Thief of Time
Thud!
White Night
Witches Abroad
Wyrd Sisters

Top books

  1. Royal Assassin
  2. Blood of Dragons
  3. Raising Steam
  4. A Storm of Swords (2: Blood and Gold)
  5. The Woman Who Died a Lot
  6. Hounded
  7. Terra