Fairy Tale by Stephen King – Book Review

There are other worlds than these

Fairy Tale by Stephen King – Book cover

Okay, we already know this. Especially Stephen King readers, considering you just have to think of the Dark Tower series, which delves into this theme partially. King has likely written every kind of book by now. However, a fairy tale hasn’t emerged from his witch’s kitchen yet. Until now. Although the fourth installment of the aforementioned series (The Wind Through the Keyhole) comes pretty close. And while it’s typical in the works of the American master for fundamentally unrelated universes to intertwine, it’s not questionable that with a fairy tale, you need to venture into another world. Well, if you can bear with it until then.

Thorough preparation for the unknown

Roughly one-third of Stephen King’s heavyweight Fairy Tale is just the introduction. What other authors accomplish in twenty pages, he generously multiplies by ten. (Perhaps even half would be MORE than enough.) Of course, when it comes to him, this is a forgivable offense. If someone can write so captivatingly about a grumpy old man and his decrepit, old dog, then there’s nothing to do but read on. Especially since King continuously piques your curiosity. And the slow-starting friendship between the old man harboring mythical secrets and the well-meaning, penance-prepared Charlie Reade is also hindered by numerous difficulties and vile villains.

To pave a direct path from the acquaintance of Mr. Bowditch and Charlie to another world, some authorial assistance doesn’t hurt. This thing has a name. It’s called: Radar. Who happens to be a dog.

Read more

The Witcher – The First Three Seasons – Series Review

The Witcher series poster

Andrzej Sapkowski, the Polish fantasy author, has incredibly good luck. Actually, he has two strokes of luck. His overwritten, rambling, and disjointed “Witcher” series first inspired a successful role-playing game, and then Netflix decided to give a shot to the magic-supported, mutant monster hunter, Geralt of Rivia. Sapkowski and the subscribers of the streaming platform couldn’t have been luckier. (Maybe just a tiny bit luckier.)

Because the claim applies to Sapkowski just as much as it does to the renowned sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout*: his ideas are good, but his style is terrible. However, the Netflix series cleverly pruned away what was unnecessary and kept the rest. “The Witcher” builds a twisting, exciting, and unique medieval world, full of great heroes, magic, adventures, and plenty of emotional highs. At least in the first season.

Season 1: The Witcher Starts with a Full Swing

The books’ occasionally fairy-tale-like twists barely make an appearance here; the striga reverting to human upon hearing a rooster’s crow, and the genie fulfilling three wishes remain, but let’s not be greedy.

The series, however, excels in many aspects where the Polish author falls short. The perpetually mournful Geralt, constantly sulking in the books, is nowhere to be found; instead, we have a laconic, endlessly cynical yet still feeling hero. Henry Cavill was truly born to play a Witcher. The paper-based version’s silly and dim-witted Dandelion, whom you’d rather smack with his own lute incessantly, has transformed into a charming and lovable rogue. And Yennefer… well, we all know what powerful sorceresses are like. Yennefer in the series is just as arrogant and insufferable but also a sexy beast. Moreover, some of the most emotional scenes in the early episodes are tied to her. Of course, this required the creators to thoroughly and perhaps somewhat unjustifiably alter the timeline of the books’ plot.

Read more

Saga: Volume Three by Brian K. Vaughan – Fiona Staples – Comic Book Review

Saga: Volume Three by Brian K. Vaughan - Fiona Staples - Comic Book Cover

The Pace of Saga Slows Down

Our favorite, scandalous space opera, Saga, continues its journey. However, by the third installment, the pace seems to have slowed down a bit. Of course, the never-ending war taking place in a galaxy populated with surreal and bizarre creatures and locations provides a solid foundation that can handle some deceleration.

Still, while most of the events previously felt life-changing for our heroes, now there are episodes that seem more like filler, such as the bickering between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, or various characters’ hallucinations. The only positive aspect of these is the appearance of the series’ (so far) best character, The Stalk, whom the authors clearly can’t let go of. You might rightfully ask, why the hell did those damn fools kill her off in the first place?

The Impact is Gone, but It’s Still Highly Entertaining

In the third part of Saga, the introduction of new characters feels the most unnecessary. The two pesky tabloid journalists won’t uncover anything you haven’t known for a long time. Except perhaps that Alana is an even bigger bitch than you thought.

Read more

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon – Book Review

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon - Book Cover

Not So Amazing Adventures

What comes to mind when you see a book title that includes the phrase “amazing adventures”? I’d bet you’re thinking of amazing adventures. Well, those are largely absent from Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Or at least they are only present in traces. The title is a classic example of (deliberately) misleading titling. The story of Josef Kavalier, who escaped to America from the Nazis, and his cousin, Clay spans about fifteen years and is a semi-family saga about the golden age of American comic book writing and the “survivor’s guilt” of those who lived through the Holocaust.

The Escapist Makes Comic Book History

So, what’s amazing about The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay? It’s the comic book history. (Of course, the adjective in the title of the book refers to this.) I can imagine that the early history of this classically American genre, the ninth art form, was enough to earn Michael Chabon half a Pulitzer Prize. (The other half was probably due to his humble and passionate homage to 1940s and ’50s New York.) The novel’s Escapist didn’t actually exist; the masked hero is a kind of paraphrase of Captain America, and the memorable cover featuring a punch to Hitler’s face is also connected to the latter.

The second amazing thing in Chabon’s book is the love between Joe and Rosa. After all, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is also a love story, and the focus gradually shifts more and more towards this aspect. But no worries, it’s a love story devoid of excess, borne with patience and perseverance, so you can’t help but root for the involved parties.

But Where Did the Prague Golem Go? And Especially Clay???

The third amazing thing is the pre-war, glimpsing Prague, with its famous golem (a massive but passive participant), a crash courses in escapology, and the increasingly suffocating presence of the Nazis.

Who doesn’t get much attention in this novel is poor Clay himself, who eventually gets relegated to a mere supporting role. Even when he does get some presence, it feels forced. (Another puzzled brow-furrowing moment considering the title.)

A Humanist Grand Novel – With Minor Shortcomings

The style of writing in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay oddly matches the time of the story: sometimes you feel like you’re reading lines written several decades earlier. This is due to the endlessly leisurely pace, the boldly drawn-out scenes, or the meticulous descriptions of characters (or even interior spaces) who appear only for a few pages. Some people might find this frustrating, but it oddly suits the melancholic tribulations of Kavalier (and Clay), mimicking the expression of a grand novel, which, unfortunately, Michael Chabon’s work doesn’t quite reach. Nonetheless, it is still a very enjoyable read, mainly thanks to its humanistic perspective and its far from flawless but highly likable characters.

Rating: 8/10

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
639 pages, Paperback
Published in 2001 by Picador USA

Cari Mora by Thomas Harris – Book Review

Cari Mora by Thomas Harris – Book Cover

Cari Mora isn’t just tough, but sexy too

Thomas Harris’s protagonist, Cari Mora, a former child soldier from Colombia and current Miami Beach hottie, is the caretaker of Pablo Escobar’s old villa. The meticulous and careful Pablo once hid $25 million worth of gold in the mansion. The mafia and a despicable German psychopath, whose hobby is organ trafficking, are both vying for the gold. (Cari Mora has no such plans; she simply wants to be a veterinarian.)

Thomas Harris has returned with a renewed style of novel – as you’ll gather from the blurb. As for why, only God knows, because there was nothing wrong with the old style: The Silence of the Lambs was almost as good in book form as the brilliant film made from it. This new style means the whole thing is a bit flatter and more superficial. And faster-paced – perhaps due to changing reader preferences or maybe because it’s much easier to write a book this way.

Thomas Harris seems to have forgotten how to write a good novel

Read more

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski – Book Review

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski – Book Cover

The Monster Hunter Steps Out of Fairy Tales

Geralt of Rivia, the professional monster hunter (or Witcher) created by the now world-famous Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, made his debut in a collection of short stories in 1993. The Last Wish is set in a fantasy world reminiscent of early medieval Eastern Europe, populated with dwarves, elves, and dragons, and enriched with creatures from Slavic and Germanic folklore—from strigas and succubi to a twisted version of Snow White.

It quickly becomes apparent that the strength and weakness of Sapkowski’s book are one and the same. While it may be somewhat different from a typical Anglo-Saxon fantasy, you might find yourself questioning the seriousness of it all when a monster conjures a feast from thin air or a girl transforms into a giant bat only to turn back into a clothed girl. And then there’s the genie and the three wishes, of course.

After all, fairy tales lose their credibility past a certain age.

Read more

Cold Storage by David Koepp – Book Review

Cold Storage by David Koepp – Book Cover

Cold Storage Delivers a Cinematic Experience

The guy who put this book on the table is the screenwriter behind movies like Jurassic Park and Spider-Man. What does that mean? Clearly, that Cold Storage feels like a movie.

A B-movie.

A low-budget B-movie set in a few locations.

But hey, wait a minute!

It’s one of the good ones. Okay, the basic premise of Cold Storage is entirely clichéd: a new, aggressive fungus starts spreading in an abandoned military storage facility. The smooth-talking underdog with a good heart, his dream girl, and the slightly over-the-hill, retired problem-solver take up the fight against it.

David Koepp’s main antagonist is a mushroom – and no joke!

Read more

The Forbidden Door by Dean Koontz – Book Review

The Forbidden Door by Dean Koontz – Book Cover

Dean Koontz and Jane Hawk Are Starting to Tire

In The Forbidden Door the fourth book in the series, Jane Hawk continues her battle against a conspiracy at the highest levels of American political and economic life. Our favorite vigilante starts from the unenviable position of being the USA’s number one public enemy. And she’s pretty exhausted.

The same can be said for the initial chapters of Dean Koontz’s book: the writing is undeniably sloppy. The text is dripping with pathos from the very first scene, overflowing with exaggerated positive descriptions of the protagonists.

Then, interestingly, the situation suddenly normalizes, and these anomalies mostly disappear. How did that happen? Who’s ever heard of a book’s beginning being thrown together? Whatever.

Dean Koontz Is Still Aiming for the Nobel Prize in Literature

Read more

City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty – Book Review

City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty - Book cover

Cairo. The late 18th century. Nahri, a young girl who makes a living by swindling people and using her healing abilities, is struggling to make ends meet despite this combination. She doesn’t even believe in magic. Then, by accident, she summons a djinn! Of course, the djinn is furious. To calm him down, Nahri must accompany him to the City of Brass. The City of Brass is hidden in the middle of the desert, completely camouflaged—good luck finding it, even with Google Maps.

Nahri and Dara (the djinn) head eastward, bickering along the way. They quarrel, make up, and repeatedly sabotage their own journey—Nahri is particularly adept at this. They also face numerous threats trying to devour them. This adventure is framed by Eastern mythology and folklore, offering an unusual flavor to readers accustomed to Western-style fantasy. However, some creatures from Arabic lore appear almost laughably fairy-tale-like, such as the twelve-eyed, gluttonous giant pigeon (imagine how much stew you could make from that!).

Fairy-tale elements are fine within their own context, like in the Arabian Nights, but it’s disappointing when a story that starts as a fantasy devolves into a children’s tale. This uncomfortable feeling is compounded when characters magically conjure food and drink out of thin air, like in Harry Potter, including quality alcohol that they then get drunk on. Such things can make a story feel increasingly cheesy. S. A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass is no exception.

Read more

The Girl With No Name by Marina Chapman – Lynne Barrett-Lee – Book Review

The Girl With No Name by Marina Chapman - Lynne Barrett-Lee - Book Cover

True story, everybody beware! Although Mowgli’s story has not been proven to be just a clever fabrication, the girl who hung out with wolves (Misha Defonseca: Surviving with Wolves) has admitted that she just made it all up. Now you might think I have preconceptions, but hello, I’m definitely writing this review after reading The Girl With No Name.

If you also read it, two things will be clear about Marina Chapman’s text: one, it’s an unbelievably naive narrative, and two, you must be very gullible to buy into it. Okay, sure, for someone raised by monkeys, a naive worldview is forgivable, it would be different, I guess, if she had been nursed by Nile crocodiles in her early years.

And the monkey part isn’t even that bad. The Girl With No Name feels like a somewhat simple, sentimental adventure novel, a sort of Tarzan-light, in a girly version, swinging minus the vines. (Those unfortunately break, supposedly even under a little girl… let alone the big lug Tarzan. Of course, he’s just a fabrication too, don’t believe otherwise!)

Perhaps only the kind, old monkey stands out from the text (and the other monkeys), saving our hero from poisoning. And the girl’s long hair, because you believe that anyone would run around waist-deep in a mane of hair through the undergrowth without getting tangled in every other bush? I don’t.

Marina Chapman’s troubles come from people. Damn people, again. And it’s not about the little girl with no name communicating like a monkey while people just stare, as if at the movies.

Living among monkeys is exotic. Period. Living among people in 1960s Colombia, in a run-down brothel, is not. Being among people, the protagonist ends up in worse and worse places, and through her eyes, pay attention now!, you get to know a lot of things you ALREADY KNOW. A bed, a table, TV. Not very interesting.

The narrator (and the ghostwriter) knows this too, so she joins the street kids instead. From here on out, it’s David Copperfield – Colombian edition. And no matter how hard the no-name protagonist tries, for example, to be taken in by normal people, she always ends up back on the street. EXCEPT when a thoroughly wicked gangster gang takes her in as a maid, who regularly beat her.

Well, here it becomes most obvious, as the protagonist inexplicably does not escape from here, that The Girl, who had no name, is just a foolish invention. As you witness increasingly ludicrous twists, you begin to feel like you’re watching some sort of pseudo-documentary film that throws bigger and bigger absurdities at you, waiting for you to finally slam your hand on the table and say “Enough already!”

There’s, for example, the unrealistic friend the monkey girl meets from atop a tree, and they (these two linguistic super-talents) DEVELOP THEIR OWN SILENT SIGN LANGUAGE during their spare hours, so that the gangsters won’t overhear them. And then there’s the BOMB!

A person from far away can say whatever they want. If you claim that mongooses raised you in Indochina from the age of five, and taught you snake hunting, who’s there to prove otherwise?

5/10

The Girl With No Name by Marina Chapman – Lynne Barrett-Lee – Book Review
256 pages, Hardcover
Published in 2013 by Pegasus