May 6, 2014

Books Adapted Into Film: The Good and the Meh.

In my last post I talked about the main things I think are necessary for a book-to-film adaptation to be successful. To summarize, they were as follows: remaining faithful to the core parts and principles of the source material even if you have to make some changes; having a large enough budget to put all the 'fantasy' elements from the book onto a screen; using a book that is less 'epic' and smaller in scope, so it's easier to adapt with a lesser budget.

Obviously there will be exceptions to every one of those rules, which are more like guidelines anyways. A show or movie adaptation can succeed despite making fairly radical changes from the books, or having little to no budget, or using a massively ambitious fantasy world/novel/series. Then again, an adaptation that sticks to the source material, has a big budget, and has a less ambitious novel from which to adapt can also still fail. Hell, some of the examples I'm going to give here will be proof of that in both ways.

It's also worth noting that I don't think each book-film adaptation needs all three of those elements to work. In fact, the second and third points are kind of a balancing act between them. If the show doesn't have that much of a budget, it can have a smaller scope.

Now, let's talk about some books and movies and books, and the adaptations where I've both read the book and seen the film adaptation and liked (to varying extents) the end result.

The Lord of the Rings: God

graemefazakerley via deviantart
The source material saw some pretty large changes or omissions from the books, though the largest examples of those came in the first and last book and on the outside edges of when the plot really began to get significant. First, the whole journey the Hobbits took through the forest where they met Tom Bombadil was cut out entirely. Second, the whole War of the Shire at the end of the books was also cut out. In terms of the amount of ink Tolkien spilled writing those two parts, those are two very large omissions.

However, in terms of their overall significance to the main plot of the trilogy cutting those sections out meant very little. The part with Bombadil in the books did not add much to the plot that other parts didn't also cover, but did add to the world building. The same holds true for the War of the Shire. All keeping those parts would do is either make the movies longer than they already were, or would mean other parts would have to be abbreviated or removed. World building is great and all, but of all the ways Peter Jackson could have tried to cram each book into a three-ish hour movie, those were actually two great decisions on his part. It also meant that he could remain faithful in other, more important ways so the movie still held the same heart and soul that the books did. 

The budget? It was big. Which was helpful because the books were not exactly what one would call small in scope. It was a very ambitious project, and thankfully Jackson had the budget to pull it off as it deserved.

Game of Thrones: Hells Yes!

mezclaconfusa via Flickr
One of the first things I wrote on this blog was a review of the book series. To summarize: the scope of the book that Martin increasingly enlarges as the series progresses ruined my enjoyment when reading them. He added in too many characters, too many story lines, and fell too much in love with world building chapters and passages. The main plot lines were delayed and diluted, and the whole thing suffers from an agonizingly slow pace to the point that it seemed to lose its way.

For all of those reasons, I think the show is better than the books. By a lot. To put that in perspective, that is the first and only time I have ever considered a TV/Movie adaptation to be better than the book(s).

Faithfulness? Remember how, above, I mentioned that Peter Jackson cut out two large parts of the books that weren't all that necessary? The show basically cut out all of the extra stuff I complain about and stick to the important parts. The show has, at least so far, kept its focus. It has also increasingly changed some things in mostly small ways, but the feel of the show still matches that from the books. Except, again, that it feels better.

Budget? Each episode of the show costs $6 million to make, and HBO keeps paying it so... yes. Scope? Each episode of the show costs $6 million to make, so... big.

Anything by Neil Gaiman Ever: Good

via wikipedia
Seriously, the man writes fantastic fantasy books in a way few (if any) can even come close to matching, and they also are always great options for film adaptations. Stardust and Coraline have already been made into good movies, and American Gods is in production (as a show or a movie I can't remember). I've heard that Neverwhere was made into a British show but I haven't seen it to know how good it is.

Faithfulness? The feel or spirit of the books of Stardust and Coraline were both aptly maintained, even if there were some alterations and omissions here and there. Budget? Not nearly as large as some of the other movies/shows that will make this list, but because the scope of the books is also far less ambitious the budgets wound up suiting the scale. 

It's a shame that for many years there hasn't been many fantasy books similar to Gaiman's, because they could make for some great adaptations.

Harry Potter: Thumbs Up

Colin Zhu via Flickr
Faithfulness to the source material? Very similar to that of Lord of the Rings. I was actually disappointed that each movie wasn't as long as each LotR movie, so they could fit in more of the stuff that went on in the classes and Quidditch and the like. Instead, the movies pretty much just stuck to the parts of the book that were relevant to the main plot and cut out all the extra little "neat" stuff from in between. The classes where they (and we the readers) learn more about how magic works, the various spells and potions and devices that exist, how wizarding society operates, and so on took a back seat in the movies, much like Tom Bombadil did with Lord of the Rings.

So while I would have liked more from each movie, the direction they took wound up creating a successful adaptation. More importantly, the spirit of the books was maintained quite spectacularly.

Budget? Check. Scope? The first few books started out much smaller and got progressively larger in scale and ambition. I thought it was interesting that they seemed to try and keep the scale of the movies relative to that of the books, so the first few movies were shorter compared to the later ones just like the books were. One thing I think probably contributed to that was the relative youth and inexperience of the main actors when the movies started.

The Hobbit: Meh

via wikimedia
Faithful to the source material? Not as much, especially as far as only what is in the actual, original book. A lot of extra source material from annotations and Tolkien's notes of what took place around the same time as the events of the book took place has been added in, in order to stretch it over three movies instead of one. A bunch of extra scenes and characters were added for... reasons, and the feel of the movies is more like that of The Lord of the Rings movies rather than a more light-hearted adventure tale for young adults that the book represented. 

Overall I still like the movies (though not nearly as much as LotR) even if some of the action scenes invented reeeaaally drag on at times. Jackson really took a lot of risk adding so much new lore, scenes, characters and the overall "feel" of the movie, but it wound up better than I would have thought considering all of that.

Budget? In spades. Scope? Actually The Hobbit is far less ambitious than The Lord of the Rings was, but Jackson actually made it moreso by adding so much extra stuff. But I do think it's easier to make a film adaptation more ambitious than the source material than it is to do it the other way around. 

Chronicles of Narnia: Meh 2 - Meh Harder

Calvin Dellinger via Flickr
Faithfulness? It was a long time since I had read the books even when I saw the movie, and that was several years ago now. The impression that I still have was that it was kind of similar to The Hobbit adaptation mentioned above. It tried to make things more epic in some ways, though not nearly to the same extent. In the end, though, watching the movie felt more or less like reading the books did. To me anyways.

Budget? Not necessarily on the scale of The Lord of the Rings but still pretty damn large. Scope? The book had a similar scale to The Hobbit, while the movie tried to make it a bit bigger. Which, again, I think helped the final movie product.

May 5, 2014

Books Adapted Into Film

A note to start, this post will be about books that I've read that were turned into a TV show or movie that I've also seen. I won't include those where I've only read the book or only seen the show/movie, so this list will be incomplete compared to that many of you might have.

So what do I think makes a movie or show adapted from a book good? 

Onwards to revelations!

Faithfulness to the source material

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Because I'm a nerd, I might as well get this out of the way first though I don't necessarily consider this to be the most important element. Unlike the stereotypical nitpicky nerds that will consider an adaptation to be a mortal sin if it omits or alters even the slightest detail from the book, I'm willing to give more leeway to the movie makers. The two are fundamentally different, and this often necessitates that some parts be changed. 

For starters, we read books but we watch movies. Where books leave a lot to the imagination, movies have to show us everything. Second, fantasy books tend to be very long. Books that are hundreds of pages long that are also part of a trilogy or series clash with the budgets that restrain the ambitions of most shows and movies. Third, one of the reasons why fantasy books are so long is the world building that usually goes into them, which involves information/explanations in the form of an 'info dump'. These are usually completely aside from the scene taking place, and movies/shows just can't do that. At best they can use a narrator, but having a voice say anything longer than a couple of sentences long would suck... quite a lot. 

Those are just some differences that will require the adaptation to do things differently. What I hope for, then, is that certain key parts of the book(s) are maintained at least in spirit: the characters seem the same, even if they don't do the same things; the world has the same tone to it, even if parts of its history is altered; the story has all the biggest moments, even if they get there from a different angle. 

It's all about the Benjamins...

Mezclaconfusa via Flickr
Fantasy has magic, and mythical creatures, and entirely different landscapes and cities to show. To show them well costs money and time, and time costs even more in money. Not every book can get the budget of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings to sustain the project for so long. Most shows or movies will have to make do with budgets far lower than that. Some fantasy/sci-fi shows can do so rather well (Doctor Who, Firefly), but a lot just can't... and trying to do so while adapting a script from a book is even harder. 

This is why trying to adapt a book with a much smaller scope is far easier. Books that take place, more or less, in the same place where that place is a simple village or city is a lot easier to replicate with a lower budget than having a book take place all over an epic world with massive castles made of diamonds that's also carved out of an entire mountain, or something. Similarly, a book that doesn't have a lot in the way of magic or magic creatures, or epic battles, also makes the job easier.

This is one of the reasons why I think Game of Thrones has been adapted so well. It has some epic settings and a large world, but not much in the way of fireballs and conjured lightning or massive Balrogs. There are some dragons, but they're pretty low key so far through the series. The books are also more about intrigue than they are about epic battles, and even in the book some battles are mentioned only in passing and not told over the span of multiple chapters. 

Epic Is Bad, Small Is Good

Torre.elena via Flickr
The same holds true for the nature of the story. Epic fantasy needs epic investments in time and money from studios, and trying to make an adaptation without those investments will doom the project to mediocrity at best and more likely something far worse. So to increase the chances at success for most attempts at adaptation, having a smaller scoped, more low-key novel is best. See: Gaiman, Neil. 
The problem is that without the scale and budget to go with it, a lot of adaptations will inevitably get a "campy" feel to it that will ruin the way the book feels to read. However, the good news is that in recent years there's been far more fantasy books written that have a scope more suited to adaptation. It helps that most of them have a darker, grittier tone that people love in TV and movies now (Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones). 

Most of the books I'll list in a future post will be those kinds of books. But next up, I'll list some examples of good and bad adaptations using the above criteria as reasons for their success or failure.

April 29, 2014

Catching Up

Yeah, I haven't written a blog entry here in a while. Rather than writing a bunch of reviews, here's a quick rundown of what I've read since my last blog and how much I liked them. No spoilers, so no worries!

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Taking place in Iceland in the 1800's, this is a fictionalized tale of an actual recorded event. A woman is convicted of murdering a man she worked for, and is awaiting the final order for her execution. In the meantime, because Iceland doesn't have a prison/holding system, she is given over to a farm to do manual labour and speak with a priest to repent her sins. Over the course of the book she slowly reveals more about her history leading up to the event in question, and you find out exactly what happened.

The neat part is that the author apparently got a lot of details from the oral history of that part of Iceland: stories told by the locals through the years about what happened and the lives/history of the key characters involved. For the rest, the author did a fair amount of research digging up written reports from the church and the legal system of the time. It was an interesting read, with well thought out and developed characters. It could become a little too melodramatic at times, but overall I'd give it 8 out of 10.

The Barrow by Mark Smylie

A fantasy book about treasure hunters seeking a famous sword in a legendary barrow. The world building was fairly large and mostly interesting, the characters were pretty diverse and decently developed, and the writing style had good pacing. The plot was very interesting, and it was of the dark, gritty style that's becoming more popular in fantasy right now. 

But the book was seemingly obsessed with sex. Every religion, and there were a few different ones, was centered on sexual rituals and orgies. Everyone had magic spells, alchemical concoctions, and natural herb remedies designed to give men and women a superhuman sex drive. Every chapter had at least one scene with someone masturbating, having sex or even an orgy, getting an erection/wet/hard nipples, or something to that effect. It got to the point where each chapter became incredibly repetitive and cyclical.

Every. Single. Chapter.

Now, for the sake of being gritty and realistic, I don't mind books using sex in even the most crude way to set the tone of a scene, or the world in general. George R.R. Martin does a pretty good job with that. But this book just got intolerable at times, it became so absurd that it really ruined my ability to enjoy the book as much as I could have. Overall, I'd give it a 5 out of 10.

Traitor's Blade by Sebastian de Castell

Another fantasy book, this might be the best fantasy book I've read this year. It's about three men who used to be part of a legal-order called Greatcoats, who were trained in law and soldiering to act as officers of the king against corrupt nobles. Unfortunately those nobles revolted and executed that king, and the Greatcoats disbanded. Everyone, from the nobility to the peasants, now hate the Greatcoats with a passion.

The three men who are at the center of the tale still cling to their past, and do their best to maintain the honour and pride that they felt. Unfortunately they wind up getting wrapped up in the schemes of the most vile of the nobility, who are trying to increase their power by creating a puppet monarch. That's as far as we're shown in this book, but there's obviously even more going on.

The writing was excellent, the characters and their interactions with each other were great, and the world was compelling. There wasn't much magic to speak of, at least not yet, and I know this book did a great job because when I finished it I was annoyed that there wasn't more to it. I wanted to know more about the world, about some of the characters, and about the general back story. Not annoyed to the point where it took away from my enjoyment, mind you. Overall, I'd give this book a 9 out of 10.

A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

Let's get the good out of the way. I view the world in a similar way to what I thought of Traitor's Blade above, in that I thought it was well thought out and compelling but I wished I could have seen more of it. As the first book in the series, I'm sure I'll get to see more in subsequent books. The plot and characters were pretty good too, even though there was about half a dozen different POVs and plot lines that took until the very end to hold any relevance to each other. The magic system reminded me a bit of what Rothfuss uses in his trilogy, though without the same depth to it. I liked all of these things.

But... now the bad. It's kind of frustrating that one or two bad things can detract so much from the many good things in a book. The dialogue, both between different characters and any internal dialogue a character has with themselves, was incredibly bland. Nothing seemed to reach any level deeper than basic small talk, even for important conversations or between people who have long established relationships - or a relationship that's growing. 

Related to the dialogue is the mindset of the main character. Despite all the bad that happens, and some bad stuff does happen especially early in the book, his attitude is that of: *shrug* what're you going to do? Things will look up. There's no real depth to him either, even as the main character. Everything about him doesn't seem to scratch the surface and is pretty clich├ęd too, and I couldn't tell if it was on purpose for just the first book and subsequent books will delve into it more deeply. Heck, a lot of the minor, supporting characters seemed to have more depth to their thought and behaviour than the main one did. 

Still, it was a pretty good debut. I'd give it 7 out of 10. 

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

Another debut book in a fantasy series. This was rather short for a fantasy novel, even compared to Traitor's Blade above, and it showed in various ways. The characters didn't have that much back story provided, and only two or three had any back story given at all. The world wasn't really delved into that much either, nor was the magic. All that said, what was actually included was very enjoyable.

What really suffered, to me, was the plot. Too much of the first part of the book was taken up with hinting at and slowly revealing/explaining the nature of the main character's weapon, which is also the namesake of this book. By the time that's finally resolved, the climax of the book is suddenly upon you. A couple of battles happen, the resolution of it and the events leading up to them is sort of wrapped up, and then... the book's over. I can't help but think that this would have been better if the first and second books were combined into one, but I'll have to wait for the second book to see how that bears out.

Still, it was an enjoyable read. Overall I'd give it 7 out of 10. 

The Rest: New Books in Series

There was a couple of other books I read that were new releases to series that I already read.

The Crimson Vault by Will Wight was the second book to House of Blades, a book I've reviewed on this blog. It was just as good, if not better, than the first. I'd give it an 8.5 out of 10.

Infidel by Kameron Hurley is the follow up to God's War, which I also reviewed here. It was very good, but didn't quite measure up to the first one. However, I can't help but think that's because it's really just filling in the gap between the first and third books. I'd give it an 8.5 out of 10 as well.

I also finished the Low Town trilogy by Daniel Polansky. The second book, Tomorrow the Killing, wasn't as good as the first book but was still enjoyable. I'd give it 7 out of 10. The third book, She Who Waits, was absolutely fantastic. I'd give it 9 out of 10.

March 4, 2014

That Moment When... New Book Edition

So today Brandon Sanderson's new Stormlight Archive book, Words of Radiance, came out. You might have heard.

I have it as my favourite all-time fantasy series that's out there, and that was before the second book even came out. It was that good. Was the second book as good? Hell yes it was, and it cemented its place as the top of my personal rankings.

And I'm sure many people have gone through this, with books or movies or music albums where something that you've been waiting for a long time FINALLY comes out, and then you finish digesting it for the first time. I had a lot of fun doing the same thing documenting the moment when you realize you bought a book that you already own. So without further ado...

That moment when you finish a book you've long been waiting for...

You finish the last page of the book you've wanted for years, and it's as good if not better than you could have hoped.

You close the book, set it in your lap, and let yourself bask in the pure joy that courses through your mind.

But eventually that high fades, and you set in for that long wait until the next book comes out. But first, you check the internet to see if there's any news, status updates, or a release date for the next book.

Then you play the waiting game...

Check the time on your phone...

You take a nap, since you want to stay fresh for when the new book comes out!

Sometimes you might grow a little impatient.

And you have no time to lose your patience for long, you still have the next book to wait for!

You pass the time by re-reading the book two (or ten) times.

And sometimes you lose a little more than your patience...

But don't worry! You have plenty of time to pull it together, with time to spare to keep waiting.

And waiting...

And waiting...

And waiting...

Image source:  Leandro Neumann Cuiffo via Flickr

February 18, 2014

Review: House Of Blades By Will Wight

This review will have some mild spoilers. I will try not to give any major or specific plot points away, and will speak more generally about the world, the characters, and plot concepts.

I'll say it straight off the bat: House of Blades by Will Wight was an incredibly surprising book. I don't say that because I expected it to be bad or even mediocre, because I had seen one or two favourable (albeit not glowing) reviews and the concept really intrigued me. I say it was incredibly surprising because it was very good. Not necessarily something I would consider up there with the best in the fantasy genre, mind you, but it was precisely the kind of fantasy book I like. Here's the blurb from Goodreads:

Simon can only watch, helpless, as his family is killed and his friends captured by enemy Travelers—men and women who can summon mystical powers from otherworldly Territories. To top it off, another young man from Simon's village discovers that he's a savior prophesied to destroy evil and save the realm.
Prophecy has nothing to say about Simon. He has no special powers, no magical weapons, and no guarantee that he'll survive. But he sets off anyway, alone, to gain the power he needs to oppose the Travelers and topple their ruthless Overlord. It may not be his destiny, but Simon's determined to rescue his fellow villagers from certain death. 
 Because who cares about prophecy, really?

Now let me tell you what, from this blurb, grabbed my attention and why it made this book so good.

How Many Surrealists Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb? Fish.

First, the plot. It starts on familiar ground: a village is attacked, many are killed and a several others are taken away to be "sacrifices" by their own Overlord (who serve essentially as Dukes, ruling territories of a larger kingdom in the name of their king). One young man manifests magical powers to save the rest, and a pair of mysterious travelers arrive to pronounce him as a great hero spoken of in prophecy. They take him away to learn how to master his power so he can lead them to victory over the evil Overlords and save his people from being sacrifices, including the beautiful young woman (named Leah) he vows in particular to save.

This is where the subversion of expectations begins. That prophesied hero is named Alin, and he is NOT the main character. That role falls to Simon, who as the synopsis above says was not mentioned in prophecy at all. His mother is killed, but Alin and the other magic users leave him behind to help rebuild the village. Instead, he seeks out the mysterious figure who haunts the nearby forest and who also saved his life as a child years before. This weird figure, who speaks to dolls, wields a MASSIVE sword, has the strength of giants and can move faster than the blink of an eye, reluctantly agrees to teach Simon. Simon is taken to a strange and magical realm, inside a house that constantly attacks and tries to kill him. The baths heal him almost instantly of any wound, but contains strange imps that attack him if he lingers too long. Black robes ambush him as he sleeps, a huge figure made entirely of blades and leather guards the only food and drinking water and Simon has to fight and impress him enough to be allowed to eat. He has to fight animated armour, and a metal skeleton.

The parts of the book where Simon learns how to become a Traveler – the magic users in the book – are surreal and compelling. The notion of a characters being trained with strange methods by quirky teachers is not new, nor is the use of strange and magical places where normal rules of time and being don't apply. But the make up and execution of this part of the book really drew me in, it was done so well. All the constant tests and trials Simon faces were very creatively conceived.

When Simon and Alin are both ready to test their new powers to save Leah and the other villagers from the wicked Overlord and set out into the world, Will Wight really begins to turn everything on its head.

To Know The Rules, You Know How Best To Break Them

Now it's time to dig a bit more deeply into the characters. There are three main characters: Simon, the un-prophesied young man who is the main character; Alin, the prophesied hero who patently isn't the main character, but is still significant; and Leah, the young woman who acts like the damsel in distress but in her first POV establishes that as a ruse but only hints at her true purpose.

Simon, since he's the prophesied hero, starts the book out being utterly defenseless whenever his loved ones are attacked. Alin, the prophesied hero, has his seemingly innate powers to help him protect the villagers (a bit late for some of them, mind you). Leah, who seems like a typical damsel in distress, very quickly establishes herself as anything but, and despite her strong magical power goes along with being a sacrifice as part of her father's plan. Oh right... her father is the King, and the King's Overlord is the one who was responsible for the village being attacked in the first place, all because he needed his annual sacrifice.

By the end of the book, Simon emerges as being decidedly more heroic than Alin. Alin's heart is in the right place, and he certainly wields tremendous power. But Simon earned all of his power through blood, sweat, and tears... mostly blood, mind you. Alin, meanwhile, did work hard to master his abilities as much as possible, but when this book's plot comes to a climax he rushes headlong into danger despite not being ready, and winds up having some new power given to him (despite him being warned that its dangerous for him  without earning it properly first). Simon also winds up being the one who starts to see the situation as being far less straightforward than it is. Where Alin is dead-set on revenge against the Overlord, Simon is exposed to the war between his kingdom and those that see Alin as their saviour. He is forced to save people who are supposed to be his enemies from his own friends and villagers. He saves his Overlord's family in the middle of the climactic battle between Alin and the Overlord.

And Leah gives the perspective of her kingdom and her father. There might be a good reason why those sacrifices, as brutal as they are, are conducted. It might actually be saving everyone from something worse. Precisely what is going on is only hinted at or glimpsed, but it is obvious that there's more going on than we're being shown.

Conclusions: Sanderson-esque Subversion, 

The world is fairly creative, though there isn't much depth to it. The book has a nice pace to it, but the book is fairly short and some parts feel rushed – the magic system and the world building could have used more elaboration for my tastes. The quality of the prose ranges at times between passable to kind of very good, but the construction of the story overall is good to very good. What I love about the book, in the end, is the creativity. The subversion of tropes and expectations reminds me of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn: The Final Empire. The quality of writing isn't quite up to that standard, however.

On one hand I'm not very surprised, because House of Blades was published by a publisher I hadn't heard of before – rather appropriately called Hidden Gnome Publishing. I can't help but think that if this book was given to an editor from a bigger publisher, it would have been given a more thorough and higher quality edit. I'm disappointed that it didn't, because I think it could have been made as good as Mistborn otherwise. 

None the less, you can see on Goodreads that 960 readers have given House of Blades an average score of 4.24 out of 5. I'd give it about the same, if a bit lower because of the quality of prose: it's a solid 8 out of 10, and a great debut book for a fantasy trilogy.

February 16, 2014

That Moment When A Book That You Ordered Arrives...

This is something that all book lovers, or indeed any zealous collector of wondrous things, will experience at some point in their lives if they haven't already experienced it.

Here's the situation...

You ordered a book or two (or five) in the mail a while back, and promptly forgot about it (or them) because life is very good at keeping your mind focused on other things. So you're sitting at home one day, and it might be the best or the worst day in the world already when you see that a package has arrived. Instantly, the best/worst day in the world has been rendered irrelevant because HOLY CRAP A PACKAGE THIS IS EXCITING WHAT IS IT WHAT IS IT WHAT IS IT?????

You open said package with a dignified curiosity, and you begin to see the treasure (or treasures) within...

Hmmm, it appears to be some sort of book (or five). I love books! Why, it's the third book in that series I've been trying to collect, the only one I hadn't managed to get my hands on yet. Even better!

You celebrate in a manner that is conducive to the situation. Namely, the fact that you're alone and no one can see or hear you.

You might even shout out a "Woo!" (or five) and do a fist pump in glee, something you would never do around anyone else lest they discover that you're one of those people who actually shouts "Woo!" when you're excited.

Then comes the most glorious moment of all... when you put the new book (or five) in its new home, on the neatly organized shelf, in its proper place according to its number in the series and the series' arranged according to the series title, because you're slightly anal about that sort of thing and SHUT UP that's why.

But then THAT moment comes...

When you go to put it on the shelf, in its proper spot within the series, you notice a sliiiiiiiiight problem...

It's that moment when you realize: "Oh crap... I already got that book (or five) and I completely forgot about it and now I wasted my money when I could have spent it on that other book (or five) that I wanted!"

But you're a grown adult. You're used to disappointments in life, even of the most disappointing sort such as this, and so you handle it in a dignified manner befitting of your wisdom and maturity...

February 5, 2014

Review: God's War By Kameron Hurley

This review will have some mild spoilers. I will try not to give any major or specific plot points away, and will speak more generally about the world, the characters, and plot concepts.

Like a lot of books that I pick up these days, God's War by Kameron Hurley is a book that I had seen come up on numerous book blogs and review websites. She received some awards for things like "best new author" or "best debut book", and was shortlisted for more major literary awards like the Nebula and the Locus.

Despite that this was a book that I constantly forgot about and so never got around to reading until recently. Maybe because it's sci-fi and I tend to prefer fantasy, or maybe it's because the bookstore I worked at never really had the book until recently. In fact, the first time I saw the book in the store was earlier this week, and I bought it straight away.

Short And Sweet. And By Sweet I Mean Coarse. 

The world in which this story takes place is not Earth. That's never explicitly said, but implied heavily enough that the reader would figure it out pretty quickly. It isn't, however, ever explained where this planet is or what the history of its colonization is. Other planets are mentioned, you're told that colonists from off-world were cut off centuries before, and there are a few 'alien' humans who visit that become sort of important to the main plot. But that's it, this book doesn't have any real info dumps or asides to explain the history of something, or how something works. Some things are implied, and the rest you just pick up as you go along. 

Quite frankly, I really liked the way Kameron Hurley pulled it off. It kept the book shorter (only 288 pages) and the pace moving along briskly, even when she had to put various pieces for the plot in place before moving along. In fact Hurley's entire writing style can be described as very spartan: she describes people, places, things, and events as concisely as possible.
And oh what a world. 

What's Old Is New, What's New Is Old

It seems like the planet was populated by Islamic, or Islamic-like, colonists. Though there were different ethnic groups, factions, and sects that developed into distinct regional-political entities, they all worked together despite any tensions that might have existed between then. Eventually, however, a religious war erupted between two of the larger kingdoms that has lasted three hundred years. As a result, almost all men are legally required to fight in the war (and women can volunteer to serve), and this has a profound effect on the society of both kingdoms. The Nasheen (which is the main setting for the book) men are extremely rare, and so women govern the kingdom through various groups: the monarchy, the Bel Dame Council, and the Magicians. The other is more like a very orthodox Islamic state: men retain more power, because they're more rare, and stick to their religious principles more devoutly. 

Author Kameron Hurley
'Magic' in this world has two forms: bug-users and shifters. Both have mysterious origins, and a few times it's implied that the harsh environment of the planet is what caused people on the planet to wield both abilities - the 'aliens' that visit mention that people on planets they know of do not have them. The bug-users, simply called 'Magicians', are much more significant in this book. Basically, they can manipulate all the bugs of the planet. They can use them to attack (swarms of poisonous wasps), send communications long distance, they work them into the machinery as parts and fuel, and most importantly they use them to heal people... even people who are dead. The bugs cure the cancers that everyone gets, they reconstitute people who were set on fire, had their head blasted half-off by a shotgun, or had various limbs lopped or blasted off.

All for a price, of course.

Despite this curative technology/magic, people don't live very long. The world is harsh, apparently full of lots of radiation poisons and cancers from the burning sun(s). You need to be inoculated at birth with magic/technology, for a fee of course, or you'll be physically underdeveloped and weak and would be lucky to live into your 20's. As a result of this short life span, it is a prominent job for a woman to just churn out babies. They have them in bunches, aided by magic/science. Even so, by age 12-13 it seems you're basically an adult, and turning 30 seems to be the equivalent of being in your 50's or even 60's in real life. By law, anyone drafted into the war has to serve until they're 40 years old, so it's very rare for anyone to survive that long. Enemies are vaporized by bombs, burnt into ash by fire, cut up into tons of pieces, and contaminated by poisons and radioactive bugs in order to prevent them from being reconstituted. So unsurprisingly, a lot of young men try and dodge the draft or flee from the front. 

This is where the bel dames, and as a result our heroine, comes into the picture.

Bel Dame Apparently Means Badass Or Psycho

The main character is Nyx, a woman who volunteered to serve at the war front for a couple of years, and since became a bel dame - a group of women who hunt down and kill anyone who tries to draft dodge or escape from the front. On the side, she works as a bounty hunter. This is something VERY frowned upon for a bel dame to do. Bel dame's are noble and crucial to victory, and dabbling in bounty hunting and working with gene pirates (yes it's apparently a thing) is thought to sabotage the war effort. 

On the first page of this book Nyx sells her womb off to gene pirates as a spare body part to avoid being tracked by her sister bel dames, she gets drunk and high on whisky and morphine chasers, she loses all the money she made selling her womb betting on an underground boxing match, then goes home and sleeps with the woman who lost the boxing match. And she did it all to bring in a mark - the boxer's brother. 

Nyx is coarse, she's an addict and a drunk, she's a rogue in her own society, she's an atheist among fierce religious groups, she has sex with men and woman for both pleasure and business, and she cut off the wang of the man who introduced her to the bounty hunting business. She's also a badass, she's a survivor, a fierce and dirty fighter, loyal to her fellow bounty hunting crew (though she doesn't always allow herself to show it), and less cynical and selfish than she lets on. 


It's fast paced, it's interesting and refreshing, the characters are compelling, the plot has various interconnected twists, and overall it was a great foundation for the rest of the trilogy. I easily give it an 8 out of 10, maybe an 8.5.