Paper Plane Reviews

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The Woven Ring by M. D. Presley

I now return to TBRindr with a review of The Woven Ring. In the same vein as my last indie fantasy title, this promised a kind of fantasy that was somewhat rare, in this case a fantasy take on the American Civil War and Reconstruction periods. I’ll admit that while I was interested to see some more fantasy that diverged from the norm a bit, I was a bit wary about the particular period of history chosen. You see, while I’m not that knowledgeable about the American Civil War considering that I’m British and all, I’ve learnt enough to know that it’s still a touchy subject and there was a part of me that was rather wary about how it would be translated into a fantasy world.

The Woven Ring follows Marta, a former spy in the civil war that tore the country of Newfield apart and left her an exile from her home. Charged with transporting the daughter of widely-hated inventor into the east of Newfield by her manipulative brother, Marta finds herself torn. Part of her orders state not to kill the inventor, but she finds herself unwilling to consider that possibility due to his role in the civil war. Complicating the issue is the daughter herself, an unresponsive mute who has succumbed to combat fatigue and will only act upon Marta’s strict orders, and a series of pursuers that may include agents of the devil herself.
I really shouldn’t have worried myself, because The Woven Ring is fantastically written and manages to avoid the main issue that I was worried about regarding the civil war setting. Thankfully, the civil war isn’t to do with slavery in this world, so there isn’t a tortured race metaphor that the reader has to deal with. Instead, the setting combines the early industrial, post-war feel of the Reconstruction era with a really well fleshed out religion/magic system. I say religion/magic, as the two are very closely intertwined, and I’m not at a point where I can clearly define it as one or the other. It’s a fascinating and intricate, and would take me all day to properly explain what I know currently, seeing as the narrative presents a few unexpected twists about it at the end that I hope will be explored in much greater detail.
The plot has two main strands, which can be broadly called the present and the past. The present strand focuses on the above blurb, with a traumatised and intensely bitter Marta on her transportation mission. The past strand focuses on Marta growing up in a family of spies in the years leading up to the civil war, and during the civil war as the situation only gets more and more dire. It alternated between the two, a technique that I have seen used incredibly poorly in the past. Here, it worked out because the two plot strands were equally interesting and each chapter has enough in it that you’re not necessarily left hanging for too long.
The characters are similarly well-written. First there is Marta, a bitter and battle-hardened woman trying to regain her family’s approval. She was both unnerving and incredibly refreshing as a protagonist, as I don’t think I’ve had a main POV as bleak as this since Best Served Cold. I loved her as a protagonist, but I can see her being a bit much for someone who prefers their main characters to be a bit friendlier. Second, there’s Caddie, the mute girl that Marta is transporting across the country to return to her father. She’s apparently been traumatised by something in the past, but by what is unknown and there may be much more to her than initially meets the eye. And lastly, there are Luca and Isabelle, two mercenaries who join Marta to help her reach her destination in the east. While Luca is chatty and obviously shifty, Isabelle is mute and seems about as sick of Luca’s shit as Marta is. For me, they weren’t as interesting to follow, but they do provide some nice contrast to Marta and allow her to have some interactions with someone who isn’t a child in a stupor.

The Woven Ring is a fantastic novel with a lot of intricacy and depth. The characters are well-written, if a bit on the bleak side, although that’s to be expected in a Grimdark fantasy book. The main draw for me though is the world-building, unusually enough for me, but the level of effort that has gone into it and into making the world feel like a living thing is obvious and very much appreciated. I will definitely be looking to pick up the sequel at some point. 5/5

Next review: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Signing off,
Nisa.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

I’ll admit, when I got the Humble ebook Bundle I didn’t have any idea of what I was getting into with Shards of Honor. I’d vaguely heard of the Vorkosigan Saga and generally they seemed good things, but I’d never really looked into the series enough to get a solid idea of what it was all about. I figured from the blurb that it would be military science-fiction of some sort, but not much beyond that. More or less completely blind going in. Nice.

Shards of Honor follows Cordelia Naismith, the captain of a scientific survey crew who becomes the prisoner of Aral Vorkosigan, a man of sinister reputation and the former commander of the soldiers who attacked her crew. But despite the initial mistrust, the two find themselves growing unexpectedly attracted to one another, and must face the possibility of being forever parted when their planets threaten to go to war.
I honestly didn’t think I was going to like Shards of Honor when I first started reading it, as the narrative kind of throws the reader in at the deep end. I hadn’t gotten further than maybe the first couple of pages in and it’s throwing around new terms for planets and space-age weaponry with gay abandon. More than a little off-putting at first, not unlike trying to get your head around Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange for the first time. But like the aforementioned Nadsat, your head does manage to wrap itself around the more unusual terms with surprisingly little extra information.
Having adjusted myself to being thrust into the plot with a lot more speed than I am accustomed to, I realised that despite my initial reservations I was really enjoying myself. While the easiest way to describe the novel is military science-fiction with romance, Shards of Honor takes those base elements and does some really interesting things with them. So, first the military bit. I’m actually kind of surprised at how little fighting is actually shown directly. Possibly this is due to the main character being more or less a non-combatant, but the parts of war that are shown most often can be boiled down to internal politics and large scale battle strategy. Considering how much I love some politics and back-stabbing, I was totally in my element. Additionally, it was good to see that the sides aren’t easily delineated into purely good or malign. While the invading Barrayaran army is mostly in the wrong, it has a mix of Caligula types versus more noble types like Vorkosigan. Similarly, while there are perfectly reasonable people on the side of Escobar and Beta Colony like Cordelia, there are a surprising amount of people unwilling to look beyond basic propaganda messages. And no-one gets out of war unscathed, even or perhaps especially those who got what they wanted from the conflict. I am definitely looking forward to reading more about this world.
Second, the romance. I was pleasantly surprised that the novel focused on a middle age romance. While I’m a sucker for most kinds of romance, I don’t think I’ve really seen much in the genre where the people involved aren’t in their mid-twenties or younger (aside from the supernatural stuff, but even then no-one thinks or looks over thirty). It was refreshing to see the romance unfold with more maturity and a more thoughtful pace. It’s established pretty quickly that both Cordelia and Aral have been badly burned by their romantic attachments in the past, so their connection is less outwardly passionate, but no less powerful for it.

A bit of a slow burner at the start, but well worth the short period of confusion at the beginning. Shards of Honor is probably quite a good introduction to military science-fiction, if my reaction was anything to go by. I would definitely look into getting more of the Vorkosigan Saga as a result anyway. 4.5/5

Next review: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

First of all, just an apology for taking so long to review this one. It has been a hectic three weeks, as I have just moved into my first home. As you can probably guess, this is a long process of settling in, and as of yet I haven’t had as much time to sit down and read as I used to have.
As for Birdsong itself, I picked this up because I had previously read it in high school, but couldn’t really remember it terribly well. I remembered snatches of it, and have found reviews to be generally positive, so I found myself wondering if I would enjoy it the second time around.

Birdsong follows Stephen Wraysford, a strange and intense young Englishman, in the years of the First World War and those immediately preceding it. The narrative starts with his passionate and scandalous affair with the wife of his host whilst visiting France on business. Following that are the years spent in the front line of the Western front and his growing apathy towards the war effort. Additionally, there are sections set in the late 1970s, with Stephen’s granddaughter attempting to piece together his life whilst also trying to deal with her complicated affair with a married man.
Re-reading Birdsong, I realised why I could only remember parts of this book. It is somewhat uneven in tone and quality. The narrative can be roughly divided into three strands, all of which have their own separate issues. The first is the pre-war section, with the focus on Stephen’s affair. This is by far the best part of the novel, with an engaging and intense affair between two very suppressed, unhappy people. The second strand is the 1915-1918 period, which I found to be mostly positive, but not as engaging as the pre-war strand. While the mood is appropriately grim and deeply uncomfortable, I found it made less impact than it possibly could have done, because while the slaughter of trench warfare is very well expressed, it’s difficult to keep track of the cast of characters when almost none of the average soldiers get character development beyond being given a name. While the sheer amount of bloodshed and the awful living conditions are impressive and sobering to read about, it lessens the impact when it’s happening to a cast of cardboard cutouts. The third strand is the 1970s section about Stephen’s granddaughter Elizabeth, and honestly it’s a complete waste of space. If there is a particular era of films that I remember disliking from my university studies, I found that they all seem to have been made in the 1970s. There’s something about that decade that lends itself to ennui and a conscious level of detachment, and it’s really quite grating to me. In terms of the plot itself, it’s only really relevant in its penultimate chapter, where you get some closure in regards to what happened to Stephen after the war. As for the rest of it, it follows a woman who has by all standards a wholly uninteresting life. Sure, she’s having an affair with a married man, but compared to her grandfather’s affair it comes off as boring, because no-one seems to want to upset the status quo. Her quest to piece together Stephen’s life could have made a good story by itself, but here we know far more about what she’s researching than she does for pretty much the entirety of her plot. It was an exercise in wordcount padding.

A powerful novel let down somewhat by some poor characterisation and an entirely useless and irritating plot strand set in the 1970s. While still powerful, it does hit harder when you give people more character than just a name before sending them to be mowed down by machine-guns. The less said about the 70s sections the better really. 3.5/5

Next review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Signing off,
Nisa.

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie is one of those authors that I had heard a lot of very good things about over the years, so when I found Best Served Cold at a secondhand book stall, I thought that this would be as good a place as any to try out some of his work. While technically part of his wider First Law series, it was touted as a standalone novel, so should theoretically make sense for someone with no other knowledge of the series. Figured that if it worked as a standalone, then the rest of the series would be good to check out.

Best Served Cold follows Monza Murcatto, the general of a mercenary army and a woman who has carved out a name for herself by being harder and more feared than anyone else. Her exploits have made a powerful man out of her employer, the Grand Duke Orso of Talins, and turned her into an extremely popular figure with his subjects. Unfortunately, this popularity is a shade too far for her employer, who fears the day when she will turn and betray him. Forced to watch her brother die, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Monza decides that the only course left to her is to take revenge on all of those present at the murder of her brother. To do so, she gathers together a motley and mercenary crew: a barbarian who wants to become a better man, a convict obsessed with numbers, the most talented and treacherous poisoner in Styria, a world-weary lady torturer, and the flamboyant drunkard who was her predecessor amongst the mercenaries she once led.
Sweet Jesus, I am so sorry that I didn’t get to Abercrombie’s work sooner. While I’m fond of most fantasy, I find my tastes naturally gravitating more towards worlds that are perhaps a little bloodier, a bit more backstabbing in nature. Honourable knights are all very well and good, but I do like a good bit of treachery every once in a while. And what can be more entertainingly gory than a good tale of revenge? Abercrombie certainly knows how to deliver on this score.
The most important part of this is probably the characters. Firstly, everyone who has a major part in Best Served Cold is really fleshed-out and vivid. It doesn’t take long for the reader to identify who the point of view character is in any one section because, despite having an overall cynical outlook, each has a very distinctive voice. In particular, I found myself falling a little bit in love with Friendly, the aforementioned convict, simply because his voice sounded so familiar to me and made so much sense. There’s something wonderful about finding a character so obviously autistic who isn’t in a position where he can be pitied, to the point that I could have forgiven Abercrombie for a sizeable number of errors (had he made them anyway). Secondly, the character arcs are well-paced and never stray into the ridiculous, regardless of their comparative levels of drama. For example, there’s Shivers, the barbarian who only wants to be a good man, and the way that he copes with the immoral actions that he finds himself assisting in; that one is the most obvious alteration over the course of the novel, as much because he initially prides himself on being a moral person. Comparatively, Monza’s attitude towards her quest for revenge and the dead brother who inspired it is a much more low key affair, but it is no less affecting for that. I think if it had been a similar sort of intensity as Shivers’ was, it would be melodramatic, but instead it suits her no-nonsense style personality.
In regards to whether Best Served Cold is a good starting point for readers looking to read Joe Abercrombie’s work, I find myself a little torn. On the one hand, Best Served Cold is a self-contained narrative and there wasn’t anything that I really struggled to understand because of not reading the First Law trilogy before this. On the other hand, there were plot elements brought up, especially towards the end, that would obviously have more significance with the added context of further reading. So while I could more or less glean that figures like the Cripple and whoever runs the bank of Valint and Balk were important, I feel that mentioning them is kind of wasted for new readers. The setting is interesting and complex enough that I would be more than happy to read more into the world of First Law.

For fantasy readers who like their worlds bloody and unforgiving, I don’t think that you can really get much better than this. A decent starting point for those new to Abercrombie’s work, although the significance of some characters is lessened by lack of context from the earlier books. Really though, I think Best Served Cold works because of the fantastic character building and interaction. I actually can’t think of anything that I really disliked about it. 5/5

Next review: The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Signing off,
Nisa.

Das Boot by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim

A few years back, my parents showed me the film Das Boot, and it absolutely blew me away. So when I found out that it was based off of a book after coming across it at a secondhand bookstall, I couldn’t really resist seeing how it compared to the film adaptation.

Das Boot is a novel closely based off of the experiences of the author’s time as a naval correspondent aboard a German submarine. The U-Boat that the narrator finds himself on is set to make a patrol around the Atlantic, with the aim to destroy enemy supply convoys. It soon becomes clear why the return rate for sailors on German submarines was only 25%.
So, good parts first. If you’re interested in military history, this is fantastically detailed account of life aboard a German U-Boat. There isn’t an area of life on the boat that isn’t touched upon, from daily routine, to the mechanics of the submarine itself, to the dangers of naval combat. I wasn’t aware that this would be such a plus point for me, but I personally found the sections about how the submarine actually worked to be utterly fascinating. Additionally, this attention to detail makes the sections where they have to dive to avoid enemy fire all the more claustrophobic and harrowing.
Unfortunately, the bad parts of Das Boot also stem from this attention to detail. The book is separated into 11 chapters, with each focusing on one particular set piece, as it were. That in and of itself isn’t an issue for me. The issue I have is that the chapters, and by extension each set piece, go on for too long. For example, one of the chapters recounts a storm that the U-Boat gets caught in, and it spans a grand total of 66 pages. I don’t know about you, but there are only so many ways that you can describe terrible weather conditions and the sheer violence of the turbulence inside the submarine, before it starts to get repetitive. Unfortunately, this happens more or less every chapter. No matter how interesting the subject matter, it just feels like it’s been stretched out far beyond what the material can actually provide. And because the style is so detailed, the reader is treated to this repetition with intense detail. Whether that is intentional or not, it wasn’t to my taste.

My main impression was one of admiration for the sheer detail and atmosphere that is created, especially since it really comes across as something that the author had direct experience of. My main issue with Das Boot is that it has a tendency to drag after a while, so you may need a large measure of patience in order to soldier through it. I’d definitely still recommend it if you are at all interested by military history. 3/5

Next review: Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa

I got The Lord of the Sands of Time at around the same time as All You Need is Kill, when I was really heavily into my anime. This one has been less widely publicised in the meantime, so I had very little impression of what it would be like, as compared to the latter novel which has the Americanised film version that I still cringe at the thought of. I remembered trying to read it when I first got it, but that first impression has been long lost in my memory. So, an essentially blind read, how did it fare?

The Lord of the Sands of Time follows Messenger O, a cyborg that has been sent into the past following a devastating alien attack that has annihilated all life on Earth. The last pockets of mankind that is left on the off-planet settlements give him the mission of going to a time where the aliens have not reached Earth yet and unite humanity in an attempt to stop the alien invasion before it has a chance to begin properly. In doing so, O must face up to not only leaving behind the woman that he loves, but potentially erasing her from time entirely.
This is a simple enough novel to read if you’re familiar with time travel in science fiction. The chapters alternate between Messenger O’s battles in the Iron Age era of Japan and the other eras that he has previously fought in, with each era reaching back further and further into the past. The year and location of each chapter is clearly stated at the beginning of each chapter, so it’s easy enough to keep everything organised as the plot progresses, and yet it also boasts some of the more in-depth looks at time travel problems that usually crop up within this genre. In particular, I liked the fact that the numbers of cyborgs who can fight this threat is constantly changing due to the changes that they make to the timestream that they currently inhabit. When they interfere, certain events happen differently, meaning that different individuals live and die; sometimes an ancestor of some of the cyborgs’ creators will die and thus erase the circumstances of their creation, while at other times new cyborgs will be sent back as creations of people whose ancestors had previously never lived to reproduce. It’s an interesting dynamic that I haven’t ever seen happen in a time travel story before. Additionally, it’s nice to see the whole “history repeating itself” thing come up. I hadn’t really considered it before, but it really makes sense that the Messengers end up having to travel back so far in time, because in all of the modern eras, humanity essentially dooms itself because of the far-reaching conflicts and endless amounts of red tape that can be thrown down as a barrier to progress. It was an interesting, if somewhat alarming, assessment of our current ability to actually unite effectively against an aggressive outside threat. The one thing that did sit weirdly with me was the ending. The threat keeps mounting in the fight in Japan, until all seems utterly hopeless, only for things to basically come to a stop. I had hoped for a more definite resolution, but instead it just runs out of steam and settles for a stopping point. Disappointing, but far from a game-changer.

A definite recommendation to anyone who likes time travel, especially the ones that present some form of interesting play on the conventions. It is quite grim in tone, if a little detached when it comes to details of battles. The ending is kind of weak, but it doesn’t detract too much from a really solid piece of writing. I’d most certainly pick up more of this author’s work. 4/5

Next review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters

Signing off,
Nisa.

All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

I got All You Need is Kill so many years ago that it’s actually quite shameful that it took me this long to actually read it properly. Hell, there’s even been a film adaptation in the meantime, not that I was especially impressed with the look of Edge of Tomorrow. In any case, I thought that I should finally get round to reading this and seeing if I’ve kept it so long for good reason. 

All You Need is Kill follows Keiji Kiriya, a new recruit in the fight against alien invaders known as Mimics. As is possibly expected for someone who’s only had six months of training, he is killed in his first battle, but not before taking out one final Mimic before dying. The fact that he wakes up again, safe and alive in his barracks before the battle even starts, is something of a surprise. After dying a second time, he realises that he’s stuck in an eternal loop until he can find a way of breaking out forever. It is only several iterations in that he finds out that the ace female soldier known as the Full Metal Bitch may know a way out of his predicament. 
I was not expecting this to be quite so readable, especially since my last experience within the military science fiction genre was The Forever War, which I was not overly struck by. In comparison, All You Need is Kill seemed a lot tighter and more focused, without any of the weird world-building elements that bothered me in Haldeman’s book. Instead it’s very much focused on the main characters and how they are gradually worn down by the futility of reliving the same battle over and over. The characters themselves aren’t hugely detailed, but there’s enough there to get attached to and create an impression of. It might well be the popcorn reading version of military science fiction, but it is an infinitely better starting place for a beginner. The alien race is pretty interesting too, although the audience only ever knows as much as the characters do. So if you were looking for an enemy that has nuance and subtlety, then you may want to look elsewhere. 
Overall, definitely a book that I would recommend if you’re a fan of war fiction or science fiction, and in particular if you’re looking for a quick read. The narrative is focused on the brutality and futility of war and emphasised by the time loops. Maybe look elsewhere if you want something more complex. 4/5 
Next review: Out by Natsuo Kirino 
Signing off, 
Nisa. 

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

This one came with some mixed expectations. On the one hand, my track record with military science fiction is pretty much non-existent, so I really had no idea what I was getting myself in for. That’s just a little bit scary. On the other hand, I’d heard almost nothing but praise for it, so at the very least I was starting with some of the most highly regarded military science fiction. My reaction at the end is pretty mixed too.

The Forever War follows William Mandella, a physics student in the halcyon days of 1996, who gets recruited into a war against an alien enemy, the Taurans, after an exploration ship is destroyed in deep space. The catch is that every time they travel to a new world to defend, their rate of time gets increasingly disparate from that of Earth’s. When Mandella returns to the planet after what seems to him like two years, it has actually been over two decades; this time dilation only gets worse the longer he stays in space, with each new batch of recruits or civilians that he meets only seeming more and more alien in comparison to the time that he came from.
So, the good bits. First, it managed to make physics at least passably interesting, which is always a feat for me. And you really need to have at least a passing interest in that area of science for The Forever War to have any appeal whatsoever, considering that the main concept is hinged on it. Second, the combat scenes are fantastically written, with just the right balance of excitement and overwhelming sense of futility. They are utterly brutal, for varying different reasons each time, and Mandella is basically just thrown in at the deep end and praying for the best outcome each time. If you’re more interested in the military aspect of the genre, I’d definitely recommend this. The main character is largely well-written too, likeable enough that the audience sympathises with his conflicting desires for the war to end and to not face what Earth has become, but detached enough that his survival makes sense.
So far so good, right? That’s where my modern, liberal sensibilities come in to make things thoroughly uncomfortable for me. I didn’t think that the sexual politics were written in a great way, which is why I hated how unavoidable it became as the book progressed. Okay, so minor spoiler here: when Mandella goes back to Earth, he finds that after a population boom that has taxed resources, the world’s government is encouraging people to partake in homosexuality. Mandella is not comfortable with this, so when this element of society becomes more and more prevalent, it kind of feels like the book is making the point of “homosexuality = big, bad future”. Add to that the implication that we will get to the point where sexual preferences can just be turned on and off? It’s just all kinds of homogenous, stereotyped and uncomfortable. I know it was written in 1974, but come on. It’s a book about a war in space. At what point would I have cared what the majority of the population’s sexual preferences were? At what point would I have assumed that it was any different from the varied spread that we are currently aware of? It’s a weird opposition between gay and straight, and I’m sure the world-building would have done fine without it. It may not bother other people anywhere near as much, but sexual politics is a subject that is close to my heart and cannot be messed with.

Overall then, a largely successful novel. Fantastic combat scenes and interesting science that is let down, at least for me, by the outdated sexual politics. Probably worth at least one read by fans of the genre, either military or science fiction. 3.5/5

Next review: The Difference Engine by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling

Signing off,
Nisa.

Master & Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Well, this certainly took me a long while to get finished. I’ve mentioned before the fact that I was up to my eyes in essays, but still, this was a bit of a slog. Taking out the panic factor, I’ll try explaining below.

This is usually the part where I outline the book’s plot, in a spoiler-free way. I can’t really do that here. Not because Master & Commander has a lot of twists and turns like Invisible Monster. Rather, I can’t explain the plot because it doesn’t really have one. The best I could do would probably be to say that it’s a record of the first few cruises that Captain Jack Aubrey and his surgeon Stephen Maturin experience together. Otherwise, there really is no over-arching plot thread: instead, it feels more like a set of short stories involving the same characters strung together in chronological order. That leaves me in a strange position. Part of me really wants to take away something more over-arching and lasting, so the plot structure irks me as a result. Another part of me then steps in and says that I’m being silly: it’s truer to life and it’s not as if it’s badly written, so what am I complaining about? The result of this conflict is that, basically, Master & Commander‘s plot leaves me completely cold. But that by itself wouldn’t bother me, so long as the characters were good.
Which is where another problem comes in. The characters feel a bit flat. Of course, Aubrey and Maturin feel nicely fleshed out and identifiable, if occasionally blindingly stupid in Aubrey’s case. But then that’s to be expected: if you can’t flesh out your main characters, you’ve automatically killed your novel’s appeal. My problem was that there’s only one other character that I can think of who was really given any actual character. To me, it felt like there were a ton of names being thrown about, only a few of which I could actually identify. Even if I did manage to identify them, they had maybe one trait that differentiated him from any other person onboard the ship, so identification wasn’t really all that helpful. It just feels really frustrating, because I know that O’Brian can do good characterisation, as evidenced in his main characters; it just feels like he couldn’t be bothered to extend that to the rest of the crew.
My other main gripe is a technical one, and is probably very easy to overcome if you aren’t trying to finish a degree at the same time like I was. The book is quite fond of naval terms and the only help given by the book itself was a little guide at the front naming the different sails. The sails were not the things usually talked about in complex terms. Everything else was, just not the sails. I suppose that that’s why Maturin was included, as he is a surgeon unfamiliar with naval terms and procedures when the book starts. The problem with that is that presumably Maturin has visual help, which the reader doesn’t, so there’s an automatic disadvantage. What really doesn’t help is that Maturin stops asking questions about halfway through, so if you’re still struggling with the terminology, you’re just sort of left to wallow.

I kind of feel bad about giving Master & Commander such a negative review, because it is not a badly written book. It never becomes boring as such, it’s just that I can’t find it in myself to praise a book that was such a hard slog for me. I suppose that those already interested in naval history might enjoy it and appreciate it more than me, but I would give it a miss if you aren’t prepared for the long haul. I would say watch the movie version instead, but it’s nothing like this so it’s not really that good a substitute. That and my natural dislike of Russell Crowe has kicked in. 3/5

Next review: The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

Signing off,
Nisa.

Dawn by Elie Wiesel

So, same guy as last time, but with a fiction title, as opposed to a memoir. This should be somewhat easier to critique than Night due to this, but I seem to be kind of distracted at the moment (I will be happy when Christmas prep is over); regardless, I shall make a damn good try at reviewing Dawn.

Dawn takes place in British-controlled Palestine, during the conflict between the Jewish residents and the British occupants. Elisha, the main character and narrator, is a member of the Jewish resistance movement and a survivor of the Holocaust; his faith in the movement is challenged when he is charged with killing a captive English army officer as a response to the execution of one of their comrades. For the majority of the book, Elisha is left to question whether he has it in him to kill someone in cold blood, especially in the name of someone he has never even met.
I liked Dawn primarily because the internal conflict that Elisha goes through seems very true and is great for creating sympathy for him. For me, it was an interesting dynamic, especially following on the heels of Night: in Night, it’s obvious who the audience is meant to sympathise with, while Dawn takes the same sympathy and complicates it with the always complex question of terrorism and political violence. It does get a little bit odd when he starts seeing dead people, but otherwise I thought it worked really well.

Overall, a well-written, interesting examination of guilt. It’s also encouraged me to do more research into the situation in that era of Palestine, especially having realised that my Grandfather would have been carrying out his compulsory military service out there at around that time. Definitely worth a look. 4.5/5

Next review: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

Signing off,
Nisa.

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