Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review - Threshold by Sara Douglas

Threshold, January 2004, * * * *

From Goodreads:
Over the hot southern land of Ashdod looms the shadow of Threshold, a massive pyramid which the Magi of Ashdod are building to propel themselves into Infinity, a plane of existence that holds the promise of technological magics and supposedly unimaginable power. For decades, thousands of slaves have lost their lives in the construction of this edifice. Now that this construction is almost complete, the Magi need only to add the finishing touches, and they will let nothing stand in the way of achieving their desire.

The Master of the Magi, a young and ambitious man, ready to do anything for power, sees the glassworker slave Tirzah as a plaything, a trifle to relieve the tensions of the day. He senses that under her placid fa├žade Tirzah is hiding something, but try as he may to see beneath her surface, she remains an enigma.

What he does not know is that her secret is the knowledge of forbidden magic. That she senses the inherent power in glass and can communicate with it-and that the glass in Threshold screams to her in pain.

For it knows what neither Tirzah nor any of the Magi suspect. That something waits in Infinity, watching, biding its time, and when the final glass plate is laid and the capstone cemented in blood, it plans to use Threshold to step from Infinity into Ashdod...

My Thoughts:
Threshold is probably my favorite of all of Sara Douglass' novels.  It's a some-what stand-alone novel - it can be read on it's own, but the story and characters also tie into the Darkglass Mountain series which Sara Douglass wrote much later.

Set in an unusual fantasy realm reminiscent of ancient Egypt, Threshold tells the story of Tirzah, a young slave woman who works with glass, who comes to the attention of Boaz, one of the Magi who have designed Threshold, a giant glass pyramid that they hope will connect them with Infinity, granting them unlimited magical powers over all creation.  The unlikely pair don't realize how their fates are intertwined at first, and even though they begin as enemies they soon begin to work together against a force of unimaginable power and evil.

The novel itself has a good plot, and Sara Douglass is an amazing story teller.  The pacing of the novel is good for the most part, although there is a section in the middle where things bog down a bit before it picks back up again for the ending.

I recommend Threshold to anyone who likes fantasy in general, and the desert setting makes a nice change from the traditional Euro-centric landscape.  Interesting characters and an innovative plot make this novel very enjoyable and well worth the time.  I give it four stars - if you haven't read it give it a try and let me know what you think!

Have you read Threshold by Sara Douglass, or is it on your To Be Read List?  Leave me a comment and tell me if you agree or disagree with my review, or if you plan to read it in the future.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - Blue Remembered Earth, by Alastair Reynolds

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just:
* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their To Be Read (TBR) Lists if they like your teasers!

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Geoffrey and Sunday are each following the clues their grandmother left behind when she died.  While Geoffrey has returned to Africa, Sunday has traveled a bit farther to find the next clue in Eunice's riddle.

The Tease:
 "Cavernous and bright, the terminal could have been any shopping mall from Mombasa to the Moon.  Exos loitered to assist those struggling with the gravity, but no one was having any obvious difficulties.  Adverts jostled for attention, pushing services and products that were for the most part uniquely Martian."
 -Blue Remembered Earth, by Alastair Reynolds

What's your Tease?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book Review - Beyond the Hanging Wall by Sara Douglass

Beyond the Hanging Wall, 09/30/2003 * * * *

From Goodreads:
Like his physician father, Garth Baxtor is gifted with The Touch. By laying his hands upon a person, Garth can sense what dwells within: pain, illness, joy, or sorrow. It is through the application of The Touch that the gifted minister helps the sick of Escator by diagnosing ills and promoting healing.

By decree of the royal treasury, for a period of three weeks each year, physicians of Escator - in lieu of taxes - are required to attend to the needs of the criminals who labor endlessly in the Veins, the labyrinth of mines carved deep into the earth and from which they harvest the gloam-a priceless commodity upon which the fortunes of Escator depend.

It is during one such period of mandatory service that Joseph Baxtor decides his son is old enough to accompany him to the Veins as his apprentice. Garth is delighted. It's a chance to escape the dull and dreary surroundings of his quiet village for the delights of the capital city of Ruen. Joseph has been ordered to attend King Cavor himself. Garth will actually meet the king in person!

As he discovers all too soon, however, the task at hand is a grim one. Descending into the mines for the first time, Garth could hardly be less prepared for what he encounters: thousands of men laboring like animals in dreadful conditions deep below the earth's surface.

Applying his hands to the wound of one prisoner known only as Lot No. 859, Garth is stunned by what he discovers. This man is no common criminal. But then, who is he? Could it be? After all these years?

The answer to the riddle will involve Garth in a harrowing journey out of the Veins and into the Land of Dreams as he tries to resolve the question of the identity of Lot No 859. In the process, Garth will solve a centuries-old mystery-a mystery that will pit one king against another and shake the Kingdom of Escator to its foundations.

My Thoughts:
Beyond the Hanging Wall is one of Sara Douglass' stand-alone novels, along with Threshold, but it also ties into her Darkglass Mountain series, which itself is an extension of her Wayfarer Redemption series.  It's a well written novel and and entertaining fantasy story.

Sara Douglass has been one of favorite authors for quite awhile, although I did get a bit tired of the Wayfarer Redemption series by the time we got to the end.  But Beyond the Hanging Wall was quite refreshing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Great pacing along with a decent if somewhat predictable (at times) plot, and interesting characters.

I give Beyond the Hanging Wall four stars, and I think that this is an excellent novel for someone who wants to give Sara Douglass a try but isn't sure if they are ready for one of her longer series.  It's a perfect place to dip a toe in and test the waters!

Have you read Beyond the Hanging Wall?  What did you think?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - Blue Remembered Earth, by Alastair Reynolds

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just:
* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their To Be Read (TBR) Lists if they like your teasers!

----------

Still very much enjoying this novel.  In this scene, Geoffrey and his sister Sunday, along with some friends, are contemplating the wisdom of following the clues that their grandmother left before she died, and their own ability to do so.

The Tease:
 "Jitendra was recharging their glasses. "It could be called Happy Smiley Fun Moon and it wouldn't make it any easier to get to.  Look, it's a nice idea, all this adventuring, but we need to be realistic.  We can't afford Mars.""
 -Blue Remembered Earth, by Alastair Reynolds

What's your Tease?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book Review - 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

2312, Kim Stanley Robinson, 08/12/2012 * * *

From Goodreads:
The year is 2312. Scientific and technological advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer humanity's only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets, and in between. But in this year, 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront its past, its present, and its future.

The first event takes place on Mercury, on the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. It is an unexpected death, but one that might have been foreseen. For Swan Er Hong, it is an event that will change her life. Swan was once a woman who designed worlds. Now she will be led into a plot to destroy them.

My Thoughts:
I have an odd relationship with Kim Stanley Robinson.  I remember reading the Mars Trilogy, years ago, and liking it quite a bit.  Based on that memory, I often pick up his books, read them, and then sort of vaguely wonder why did I read that, and what was it about anyway?

"2312" kind of falls into this same category.  I've been looking forward to reading it for months.  The general idea sounded amazing.  Robinson has an awesome imagination, and his world-building is off the charts, so I knew there would be lots of fantastic stuff to read about.

In this, Robinson doesn't disappoint at all.  He has imagined a future solar system where humans have spread out from the Earth and inhabit many planets, moons, and asteroids.  Mars is terraformed, Venus is in the process, and an enormous city glides across the surface of Mercury on huge rails, always staying just ahead of the fatally destructive sunrise.  While Earth still suffers under the weight of failed political systems, insufficient resources, and crushing poverty, the Spacers have formed innovative governmental systems based on survival and cooperation, with Artificial Intelligences known as Qubes that help run things and keep track of everything that needs to be known.  Longevity treatments, physical and mental augmentations, all these and more are available to this futuristic society.  Exploring Robinson's creation is awe-inspiring, amazing, and often thought-provoking as he speculates about social and cultural evolutions.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to define what the story is actually "about."  First of all, the publisher's "back of the book" blurb is extremely misleading:  There is an unexpected death before the narrative begins, but I didn't see anything to lead me to believe that the death could have been foreseen.  True, Swan spent years of her life designing worlds, but she isn't led into a plot to destroy worlds, although she does become part of an investigation to find out who might want to destroy worlds.  And to my recollection, at no point was "humanity" forced to confront it's past, present and future.

The plot is nebulous and scattered, and dozens of pages will pass without anything actually "happening."  People think about stuff, and talk about things, and there are large sections of info-dumps.  When things do happen, they are exciting and amazing and mind blowing, but they just don't happen very often.  The story is part mystery & part love story, both of which seem to take a back-seat to the travelogue & history lessons, and ultimately the mystery and love story both felt somewhat unsatisfactory.  Most of the characters are either unlikable, or incompletely formed, with the exception of one side character whose storyline ultimately seems to go nowhere.  And personally, I cannot for the life of me figure out why the love story happened at all, as the neither character was more than passably interesting and in some cases were downright annoyingly awful.

And yet there are scenes here and there, tucked into unexpected places, that are so incredibly amazing and wonderful.  Animals drifting down through the sky in protective bubbles, surfing on the rings Saturn, the landscape of Mercury transformed into amazing works of art.  Some of the ideas and imagery that Robinson evokes are so stunning as to be almost indescribable. 

There's a heavy theme of created intelligences gaining some sort of sentience and becoming indistinguishable from humans, which leads to what I felt was an amazing plot twist near the end, but this plot twist is so subtle that most reviewers seem to have missed it completely, and the narrative doesn't actively confirm the readers' suspicions about what may or may not have just happened.  Certainly the characters don't seem to realize anything, which leads back to the vague feeling of dissatisfaction that I had upon finishing.

One point that many other reviewers, both positive and negative, have touched on, is the formatting of the story itself - the chapters are interspersed with short sections of "lists" and "extracts" almost as if someone was gathering information from the (future) historical contexts and filing the information for future use.  Most people seemed to strongly dislike these brief interruptions in the narrative, but they didn't really bother me much, although they can get dry and dull, as info-dumps tend to do.  But as I got closer to the final chapter I began to think that these "lists" and "extracts" may have had something to do with the plot twist and the revelation near the end, but again it was so subtle that I'm just not sure if the connection was really there or if I merely imagined it in an attempt to make the narrative more interesting.

My final verdict?  I'm unsure.  Despite all the cons, "2312" really is an amazing novel.  And despite all the pros, it's really an awfully unsatisfying story.  I think I'm going to split the difference and give "2312" three stars - I liked it, but as with many of his previous novels, I'm left wondering what it was really about, if I missed something, and why did I read it in the first place?

Have you read "2312" yet?  Do you plan to read it?  Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts about the novel?  Please leave a comment below and tell my YOUR thoughts!!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just:
* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their To Be Read (TBR) Lists if they like your teasers!

----------


So this weekend I finally finished 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, and have begun Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds. I'm still a little unsure of exactly how I feel about 2312, so it may take me awhile to get the review written.

Meanwhile I'm only a few pages into Blue Remembered Earth, and already quite enjoying it.  Our Tease today comes from the first chapter.

The Tease:
 "Only at the household, only in this part of the East African Federation, had the clocks stopped.  A month had passed since Geoffrey was called from the sky with news of his grandmother's death. The scattering had been delayed until the twenty-ninth of January, which would give most of the family time to make reasonable travel arrangements for their journeys back to Earth.
Miraculously, the delay was deemed agreeable to all the involved factions."
 -Blue Remembered Earth, by Alastair Reynolds

What's your Tease?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just:
* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their To Be Read (TBR) Lists if they like your teasers!

----------



Just a quick note - I'm a total Olympic fan, and so right now I'm all about the games.  So things may be a little sparse around here for the next week or two.  Watching 12+ hours of coverage from London every day isn't leaving me a whole lot of time for sleeping or working, let alone reading and blogging!  But I won't be gone completely!  Is anyone else obsessed with the Olympics?

Anyway, here's this weeks' Tease!  In this passage, Swan and Inspector Genette have traveled from Earth to Titan to meet with a secret group of individuals who are working together to discover who or what might be sabotaging planets and cities around the solar system.

The Tease:
 "It was in one of the famous Titanic sunsets that Swan saw Wahram, crossing the gallery deck to greet her and Inspector Genette.  She ran to him and embraced him, then let him go and looked at him, feeling shy.  But he gave her that brief smile of his, and she saw that all was well between them."
 -2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson

What's your Tease?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review - The Seventh Scroll by Wilbur Smith

Ancient Egypt Series, by Wilbur Smith
1. River God: A Novel of Ancient Egypt (Have Not Read)
2. The Seventh Scroll  07/08/2012 * *
3. Warlock: A Novel of Ancient Egypt (Have Not Read)
4. The Quest (Have Not Read)

From Goodreads:
For 4,000 years, the lavish crypt of the Pharaoh Mamose has never been found...until the Seventh Scroll, a cryptic message written by he slave Taita, gives beautiful Egyptologist Royan Al Simma a tantalizing clue to its location.  
But this is a treasure cache others would kill to possess. Only one step ahead of assassins, Royan runs for her life and into the arms of the only man she can trust, Sir Nicholas Quenton-Harper-a daring man who will stake his fortune and his life to join her hunt for the king's tomb. Together, they will embark on a breathtaking journey to the most exotic locale on earth, where the greatest mystery of ancient Egypt, a chilling danger and an explosive passion are waiting.

Steeped in ancient mystery, drama and action, The Seventh Scroll is a masterpiece from a storyteller at the height of his powers.

My Thoughts:
I'm not even sure where I got this book from - I think it might have been out of a bag of books that my mom gave me.  I'd never heard of the author before, and didn't even realize it was part of a series until I looked it up on Goodreads when I was about halfway through the novel.  But even though The Seventh Scroll is actually the second book in a series, it works as a stand alone novel.

Mostly, I enjoyed The Seventh Scroll.  The character of Royan was entertaining to read and easy to relate to, for the most part.  Overall it's a decent story, and parts of it were fascinating.  Many other parts were boring, dull, poorly written, overly descriptive, super predictable, and a few were actually cringe-worthy.  And something that bothered me immensely, the POV changes randomly, sometimes even in the middle of a paragraph.  I love multiple Points of View, but I'm of the opinion that the POV change needs to happen at a chapter break, or at least a section break within a chapter.  But in The Seventh Scroll, the POV seems to change completely randomly, and didn't always makes sense to me.

As I read through the many reviews from other people, though, I almost wonder if I'm missing something.  Many others seem to love the author and this series, and rave on and on about how good it is.  I didn't hate The Seventh Scroll, but I didn't love it either.  It's a good read, and starts well, but the middle part of the novel loses momentum and never quite picks it back up again.  By the time I muddled through to the end I just wanted them to find the treasure and be done already.

I'm giving The Seventh Scroll two stars.  I feel vaguely bad about doing so, but I'm also not quite willing to go to three stars and say I liked it.  It was ok.  I probably won't try any of the rest of the series, even though the first book in the series, River God, seems to get rave reviews. But I think I'll pass, for now at least.

Have you read The Seventh Scroll by Wilbur Smith?  What did you think - am I way off base?