Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review: Silverthorn by Feist

Silverthorn (The Riftwar Saga, #3)Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(To view spoilers, please highlight this redacted text.)

With the closing of the rift at the end of Magician, I wondered where Raymond Feist would take me in Silverthorn, the next novel in the Riftwar Saga series. The three brothers (Arutha, Lyam and Martin) spent a year touring the Kingdom and returned to Krondor to plan Arutha and Anita's wedding. Jimmy the Hand, a young full-of-himself thief and rising star in the Mockers, foiled an assassination attempt upon Prince Arutha. Because Jimmy aided both Anita and Arutha in escaping Krondor during the Riftwar, he chose to warn Arutha before reporting to the Mockers, and for his divided loyalty he was branded a traitor by his Guild. Arutha haggled with the Upright Man, the leader of the Mockers and, unknown to Jimmy, his father. Arutha agrees to make Jimmy his Squire and the Mockers agree to hunt for the Night Hawk assassins. With the Mockers' assistance, Arutha invades the Night Hawks' hideout in Krondor, but what should have been a rout, instead turns into a zombie apocalypse melee until Jimmy burns the place down around them.

Thinking the threats to his life abated, Arutha and Anita proceed with their wedding. Jimmy gets a bad feeling and restlessly searches the upper galleries of the hall, stumbling upon a former high-ranking Mocker now turned assassin. Despite being knocked senseless, gagged and restrained, Jimmy manages to divert the assassin's shot, which misses Arutha but strikes his bride-to-be Anita. Even the great Pug can't cure Anita, so he places a spell upon her that slows time down to a barely perceptible crawl, allowing Arutha time to find an antidote for the poison. An interrogation session with the assassin reveals the name of the poison (and also the antidote) to be 'silverthorn' but no one on hand in Krondor has ever heard of it.

Thus, a quest is begun. Pug returns to Stardock to search Macros' library and eventually discovers a way to return to Kelewan, where an even more comprehensive library exists founded by the Tsurani Assembly of Great Ones. Predictably, Pug is detained as a result of his last acts at the Imperial Games before closing the rift. Meanwhile, Arutha and a small party, including Jimmy, head to the Kingdom's own repository of knowledge at Sarth.

Eventually, knowledge of the silverthorn is gleaned and Arutha's party seeks it through elven territory in the west and the far northern reaches of Midkemia. Pug extricates himself from detention and goes on his own quest for the Watchers, also in the far northern reaches, but on Kelewan. Both storylines include action, adventure, danger, puzzles and more walking dead. Jimmy provides some sidekick humor to lighten the mood.

Arutha returns with the antidote and saves Anita. Jimmy continues his campaign to become Duke of Krondor. Pug finds the Watchers and agrees to be instructed in magic for a year.

Silverthorn delivered an almost typical quest adventure, focusing on Arutha's obsessive need to save Anita and Jimmy's transition from thief to trusted companion and squire to Arutha. Even though Pug only popped in for a few chapters, I am positive his quest will result in further adventures in later novels. Tomas appeared only in a couple of brief cameos, but at least he's settling in nicely among the elves and fatherhood agrees with him. Princess Caroline, twice bereft of lovers in Magician, sets her sights on Laurie and I see another royal wedding in the near future.

Probably not quite a four star rating, but definitely better than three or three and a half. Stop in at Fantasy Book Club Series group to review discussions of Silverthorn (with a Q&A thread monitored by Raymond E. Feist) from April 2011.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut

Just a few quick words, thoughts and questions about last night's Doctor Who Season Six premiere 'The Impossible Astronaut' (if you're looking for a synopsis or re-cap of the episode, click on the episode name link). The Doctor, Amy, Rory and River hop across the pond to late 1960s America, unraveling (without alerting the younger doctor) the mystery surrounding the two hundred year older Doctor's demise (yes, a bit of a spoiler but it happens within the first few minutes of the episode).

I enjoyed the nostalgic references to the space program (go NASA! to the moon and beyond!) and Nixon (as Doctor Who states 'so much more happened in 1969 than people remember), but Moffat's latest aliens didn't seem as creative as his extremely creepy weeping angels (see the Hugo and BAFTA award winning episode 'Blink' for further creepiness).

And it begs that question, if these aliens have the ability to make you forget them completely after you are no longer looking at them, why would one of these aliens command Amy to tell Doctor Who something? Don't they realize she'll forget whatever they told her as soon as she turns her head? Here's an excerpt from Amy's conversation with one of the aliens in a White House restroom:
Alien: You will tell the Doctor.

Amy: Tell him what?

Alien: What he must know and what he must never know.

Amy: How do you know about that?

Alien: Tell him.
After which Amy runs gasping from the restroom and immediately forgets what just happened. She did snap a photo of the alien with her cell phone, after she determined that humans forget the aliens as soon as they look away (thanks to a poor woman caught in the conversational crossfire as collateral damage). And was I the only one who that thought the electrifying moaning alien consuming said woman reminded you of Pink Floyd's 'The Wall'? Ew.

An intriguing above-average episode of Doctor Who (more than three, probably close to four out of five stars). I'm still having David Tennant withdrawals as I just can't relate to a Doctor Who played by an actor born just a year before I graduated from high school. I loved having Mark Sheppard, one of my current favorite British (or is that Irish) actors who pops up on many of the shows I watch. The preview for next week's conclusion entitled 'Day of the Moon' look suitably time-twisty and action packed.

Thank goodness BBC America saved science fiction television from complete extinction. Heaven knows, I can't count on Syfy for anything except fantasy (because what else do you call WWE or reality TV)?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Review: Magician: Master by Feist

Magician: Master (The Riftwar Saga, #2)Magician: Master by Raymond E. Feist

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second half of Magician became increasingly dark as I approached the climactic end to the Kelewan-Midkemian Riftwar. I observed definite growth to full maturity between Pug and Tomas, and perhaps that growth from boyhood through young adult into adulthood is what I lament - the rite of passage of most normal young boys, though Pug and Tomas could never be mistaken for normal. While everything seemed wondrous and adventurous in the first half of the novel (also known as Magician: Apprentice), I felt the oppression of circumstances, the collision of events and the machinations of a magician previously thought trustworthy. Not all was dark and gloomy, yet I didn't walk away from this book thinking it ended on a resoundingly happy note.

A couple of scenes stood out as a bit over-the-top and stretched the envelope of believability: Milamber's reaction to the Imperial Games and Tomas' ability to overcome a dead dreaded god-like being with his boyish mental fortitude. And I can't deny I felt gut-punched by the eleventh-hour betrayal by Macros. (to view spoiler, please highlight this paragraph).

For a debut work, I applaud Raymond Feist for a magnificent tale and the beginning to a well-loved fantasy epic. I'm continuing the Riftwar Saga by reading Silverthorn this month.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review: David Levy's Guide to the Night Sky

David Levy's Guide to the Night SkyDavid Levy's Guide to the Night Sky by David H. Levy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good, but somewhat sporadic, book on astronomy by one of the astronomers who discovered the comet Shoemaker-Levy (yeah, the one that crashed spectacularly into Jupiter). The information seems a bit dated, even though this is a second edition (or a reprint ten years later). I went in search of astronomy books on the shelves of my local library and gave this a whirl.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Starset, Kingrise ... a Book Title Poem

Starset, Kingrise

First and second stanzas of Starset, Kingrise

Crossroads of Twilight
The Last Light of the Sun
The Wise Man's Fear
To Ride Hell's Chasm
The Way of Kings

The Forge of God
Out of the Silent Planet
The Eye of the Hunter
Memories of Ice
Best Served Cold

Third and fourth stanzas of Starset, Kingrise

That Hideous Strength
Silent in the Grave
Flesh and Spirit
Fugitive Prince
Surprised by Joy

If Not Now, When?
To Green Angel Tower
Stormed Fortress
The Return of the King
By the Sword

Final stanza of Starset, Kingrise

Five Hundred Years After
Fall of Angels
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Circle of the Moon
Under Heaven

* * * * *

I composed the above poem using books found on the shelves in my home. Since I favor epic fantasy as a preferred reading genre, I sought a saga of epoch proportions in answer to the call for a book title poem from the Kansas City Public Library's celebration of National Library week. See my earlier post for details on how to participate in the fun.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Currently Reading (Apr 2011): The Mill on the Floss by Eliott

The Mill on the FlossThe Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

I'm reading this, my third Victorian literature, as part of the KC Public Library's 'A Taste of Victorian Literature' reading group. I'll be reading this throughout the month of April 2011 and will join the group at the Plaza Branch on Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. for a lecture and discussion.

The following were provided in handouts from the Kansas City Public Library, emailed to the participants in the reading group.

About the Book:

The title of this novel is a succinct description of both the setting and the chief external conflict: the Dorlcote Mill located on the River Floss, which is operated by the Tulliver family. The business creates conflict within the family as Mr. Tulliver sends his doltish son Tom for schooling (in preparation to run the mill) rather than his bright and bookish daughter Maggie. After a lawsuit threatens to bankrupt him, Mr. Tulliver asks his son to swear an oath of enmity on the family Bible – an oath that soon changes Maggie’s life as well.

The nuanced relationship between Tom and Maggie is the novel’s foremost concern as the siblings unintentionally create a snowballing series of tragedies. Meanwhile, Eliot applies a keen moral sense to all her characters. Few are left unscathed.

The Mill on the Floss presents one of the finest portraits of domestic life in the early Victorian era, offering readers insights into the rituals of meals as well as the procurement and preparation of food. Eliot’s acute eye for village life also manifests in colloquial dialogue.

A true Victorian novel given its time period, The Mill on the Floss is also a distinctly modern novel in that Eliot gives all the characters true minds of their own: psychology trumps plot and narrative convenience and even reader expectation.

About the Author:

George Eliot (1819 – 1880) took up her career as a novelist later than most. Named Mary Ann Evans, she grew up in a modest home and attended school under the influence of an evangelical spinster. She left school as a teenager in order to care for her father, who would be her near constant companion for the next 15 years until his death. During this time, she struggled with her own concept of moral duty as well as religious notions that nearly compelled her to forsake reading for pleasure.

At 35, Eliot fell in love with George Henry Lewes, a married man prevented by Victorian law from obtaining a divorce from his wife despite her infidelity, which produced four children. Rejecting respectability and social custom, Eliot lived with Lewes as his unmarried wife. This happy union proved the catalyst for Eliot to take up the pen.

Eliot published her first novel Adam Bede in 1859, adopting at that time the convention of female authors taking male pseudonyms. Widely hailed by critics and the public alike, only Charles Dickens immediately identified this debut author as an incredibly talented woman. The Mill on the Floss (1860), her second novel, proved part autobiographical in its depiction of a close brother-sister relationship.

Eliot wrote several more important novels: Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1862), Felix Holt (1866), Middlemarch (1871), and Daniel Deronda (1876). She passed away in 1880, two years after Lewes died.

In her time, Eliot was known as the greatest living English novelist. She is praised for her focus on the psychology of her characters as well as the moral force of her fiction and its intelligence. Virginia Woolf would later defend Eliot against disparaging attacks by declaring Middlemarch as “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”

Discussion Topics for The Mill on the Floss

  1. Childhood and falling in love are two main themes of Mill on the Floss. How do the provincial values and customs of St. Ogg’s stunt the main characters’ growth and frustrate their romantic relationships?
  2. Eliot believed that the art of fiction told truths of its own, through invention. What truths about life does Mill on the Floss get at? Which of these truths might be considered timeless?
  3. The word “respectable” comes up repeatedly in this novel. What does it mean, within the context of early Victorian society?
  4. What do we learn in this novel regarding Victorian attitudes towards children? What role does class play in these attitudes?
  5. Water is the novel’s most important motif or recurring symbol. How does Eliot use water to foreshadow the plot, to highlight certain themes? What does water symbolize?
  6. Who is the narrator? What role does this narrator play?
  7. What is the importance of family in this novel? In Victorian society at large?
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