Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Renegades [Renegades #1] - Marrissa Meyer

Title - Renegades
Author - Marissa Meyer

Blurb

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies — humans with extraordinary abilities — who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone... except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice — and in Nova. But Nova's allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.



Review

Where do I begin with this book?

It's been a long time since I read a YA book that could be considered an archetype of its genre, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with Renegades. For one, superheroes are my absolute JAM, and seeing a teenage perspective of a post-catastrophic superhero emergence seemed like an interesting take on the comic universe. And for another, while I haven’t read enough of Meyer’s books to be considered a fan, I did really like Cinder so I knew Meyer could carry a story alright.

Reading the first half of this book gave me a painful case of déjà vu; I mean, a group of supervillains rebelling against an oppressive regime of non-powered people who treat "prodigies" like a sub-human species while an opposing force of superheroes constantly clash with them to save the "normal" people – this pretty much screamed X-Men to me. I mean there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the Anarchists from this book and the Brotherhood of Mutants from X-men. Even their respective leaders, Ace and Magneto, seem like a derivative of each other – both are rebel leaders with ability to move things with their mind and a cool helmet that magnifies their power.

The characterisation of Nova is borderline Mary Sue - for one she is called Nova, I mean seriously? She is ridiculously good at fighting, taking on people who are a lot better trained and bigger than she is on a regular basis. She is super smart, super good at her new job that she is completely untrained for, and she has a tragic sob story to wrap it all up in a neat little bow so you don’t dig any deeper as to why she is the way she is. I understand her ability (read the book to find out what it is 😉) gives her an advantage over the average person in terms of learning new skills, but I am unconvinced that a six year old was building a hydraulic pressured lift for a doll house. Just saying. I am also not a massive fan of Adrian as a character - I think what Meyer was aiming for was someone driven, trying to figure out the person responsible for the tragic event in his life while maintaining the ideals of what it is like to be a superhero, but what came across is an obsessive and insubordinate character who would just as easily break his own ideologies as follow them, all the while preaching about the virtues of his kind.

I am also completely unconvinced with the romance subplot in this book. Nova is indecisive and in a constant battle over where her loyalties lie, and the primary driver of this somewhat annoying behaviour is Adrian. We are expected to believe that five minutes after joining their team, Nova is wavering in her convictions that she has apparently had her whole life. Surprise surprise, a girl questions all her beliefs as soon as she meets a man. Plus, I usually don’t have the patience for that nihilistic "the world would be better if none of us existed" crap. You don’t get to spend your whole life fighting the establishment and attempting to validate your existence against all odds only to dissolve that same fight with one throwaway comment about how the non-powered folks would be better off without you.

So. I know I have been rather scathing with this review so far, but I do actually have a lot of good things to say about it. I really liked the casual inclusion of an LGBT couple without the unnecessary fanfare that usually follows these things; the main character was described as half Italian/Filipino; and one of the main supporting characters was permanently disabled, so the diversity in this book is pretty good.

Diversity and representation aside, there are a few other things I really liked about the book. I thought the vast variety of the powers in this book were fairly unique - I was especially excited about Adrian’s power and the unique way Meyer handled him. I think the story on the whole was okay: it wasn’t fantastic and I don’t think it’s going to be the book that starts the YA genre on the road to superheroism, but I also don’t think it’s going to be used as the cautionary tale. It keeps you mostly engaged through a somewhat clichéd but fun plot, and it gets the job done.

I realise that I have said a lot more negative things than I planned, but honestly, this book was just a little "meh" for me. The ending was great, but the story felt like I’ve seen it before. It was just okay, so I think I’m going to give it 3 out of 5. I’ll probably read the next one but I won’t be running to the book store the moment it comes out.



Product Details
Hardcover, 556 pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Language: English
Author's Website: www.marissameyer.com

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Mortal Engines [Mortal Engines Quartet #1] - Phillip Reeve

Title - Mortal Engines
Author - Phillip Reeve

Blurb

London is Hunting!

The great Traction City lumbers after a small town, eager to strip its prey of all assets and move on. In the not-so-distance future, mobile cities consume one another to survive, a practice known as Municipal Darwinism.

Tom, an apprentice in the Guild of Historians, saves his hero from a murder attempt by the Mysterious Hester Shaw - only to find himself thrown from the city and stranded with Hester in the Out Country. As they struggle to follow the city, the sinister plans of London's leaders begin to unfold...



Review 

Nothing pushes me to dust off a book and give it a read than it being adapted into a film, and this is no different. I tried to read it a few years ago without much success, which has more to do with my own personal laziness rather than the quality of this book.

Mortal Engines is the quintessential dieselpunk book of our generation; it flawlessly combines a diesel-based retro futuristic technology with the backstory that left mankind scattered in the remnants of a nuclear irradiated earth, and asks the one question that you have wondered your whole life: What if cities just… got up?

After the devastating 60 Minute War, humanity was thrown back to a dark age of technology and for thousands of years has scrabbled in the dirt to gather enough old-world tech to win the only evolutionary race that now matters: Municipal Darwinism. Simply put, a world where city eats city, the strong prey on the weak and drag them into the hungry jaws of a city on the move. Reading this book, I got a serious case of “How freaking awesome is that!”. I haven’t been this excited about a concept for a long time. Not to mention the gloriousness that is the phrase ‘Municipal Darwinism’ - it takes the simple idea of the survival of the fittest and subverts the idea to describe cities engaging in a seemingly eternal battle for existence.

The heroes of this book, Tom Nastworthy and Hester Shaw, are two very different but equally brilliant narrative glimpses into the Mortal Engines world. Tom is a London born city dweller who engages with the devouring of other cities with much vigour and enthusiasm. To him, Municipal Darwinism is not only a way of life, it’s simply the right way of life. Although your natural reaction to this carnage and implied slavery might be a certain level of disdain and abject horror, Reeves does an incredible job of forcing the reader to really think about what your view might be had you been raised as Tom had. Hester on the other hand presents the flip side of the argument – she is as horrified of the traction cities and their ruthless practice as we might be. To me, she presents the voice of the audience; her idea of savage nations are not the cities that choose to plant their mobile bodies in the ground and remain in motion as Tom might think, but those roaming cities that are consuming each other to extinction.

I really appreciate Reeve’s effort in creating Hester, she is a hell of a strong character and unlike a lot of young adult books I have read in the past she doesn’t spend the duration of the book feeling sorry for herself and being led by the hand through the plot. She is as much the driving force of the story as her male counterpart and I really appreciate that. This doesn’t necessarily mean that she automatically deserves the strong independent female character badge just yet, much like a lot of ‘bad ass women’ she has been awarded a tragic backstory solely for the purpose of excusing her eternal hostility to basically everybody and her extremely violent tendencies. Still, you take your good with your mediocre I suppose.

The only real criticism I have for this book is perhaps the pace of the story – this book might as well be strapped to the end of one of those running cities as it burns through story and characters as if they are a dime a dozen. I would have appreciated a slightly slower pace and a more detailed exploration of some of the characters we encountered. 

Overall, however, the story is very well driven, with a plethora of interesting characters that keep it from becoming stale. It builds a magnificent and original world which I would thoroughly recommend if you are looking for an afternoon of fun reading.


Product Details
Hardback, 293 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Language: English
Author's Website: www.philip-reeve.com
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Saturday, 20 January 2018

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks


World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Title - World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
Author - Max Brooks

Blurb

It began with rumours from China about another pandemic... Then the cases started to multiply and what had looked like the stirrings of a criminal underclass, even the beginnings of a revolution, soon revealed itself to be much, much worse. Faced with a future of mindless, man-eating horror, humanity was forced to accept the logic of world government and face events that tested our sanity and our sense of reality. Based on extensive interviews with survivors and key players in the 10-year fight-back against the horde, World War Z brings the very finest traditions of American journalism to bear on what is surely the most incredible story in the history of civilisation.


Review

If you’re a big lover of Zombie media (which is most people these days) you probably went and saw the Brad-Pitt-athon that was World War Z. I know I certainly went to see it.

Y’all. What a waste of source material. My God.

I picked up a copy of World War Z a couple of months back from a charity bookshop called “Healthy Planet”, who let you grab any 3 books and take them free of charge, and ask for donations if you want to or donations of books (I’m a big believer in their cause, by the way, if there’s a Healthy Planet near you then please donate!). I wasn’t really sure what the structure of the book was going to be, having only seen the movie, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it took the form of interviews with survivors of the Zombie War after the fact – it lent it this detached, documentary-like feel that instantly engaged me. The imagery was so vivid, both in the accounts of the interviewees and the occasional interjection from the author describing the subject’s mannerisms as they give their interview, that I truly felt as though this had been a real event and these were the harrowing survivor’s tales of people who had been through hell.

Yeah, the movie did not give me that feel. I promise I’ll stop ragging on it now.

Max Brooks divides the book into several parts, covering the entire war chronologically, beginning with tales about the first infections with isolated cases of Zombies cropping up across the world. The novel then moves on to discuss how the Zombies took the world completely unprepared, the measures that needed to be in place to prevent their spread but weren’t, and how it degenerated into a full-blown war. Tales of surviving soldiers talking about the last stands they fought in, where their comrades were dragged screaming to the ground by the living dead, withstanding everything but a precise headshot, chilled me to the bone, and Brooks gives an incredible sense of the desperation the world at large must have felt through these eyewitness accounts.

I remember one story regarding a battle to hold a bridge in Southern Asia where the Zombies stretched as far as the eye could see, the hopelessness of the interviewee as he talked about his commanding officer sacrificing himself to hold the line, and I reached for my phone to look up the event on Wikipedia to hear more about it before I realised it was fictional. I am not a smart man.

It’s hard to discuss the book in too much depth without giving the plot away, so I’ll say this. If you like Zombie related fiction, and you want to be immersed in one of the best examples of worldbuilding I’ve come across in a long time, then this book should move way, way up your “Yeah, I’ll read that at some point when I’ve got time” list.

(The movie sucked).


Product Details 
Paperback, 334 pages
Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd
Language: English 
Author's Website: www.maxbrooks.com
Purchase: Amazon Barnes & Noble