Red Rising: Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied—and too glorious to surrender.1

Darrow has risen from the depths of the red soil of Mars and traversed the galaxies as a god among men.  Fracturing the Society that the Golds have worked so hard to maintain, Darrow struggles to bring the secrets of the Society out in the open.  There are many loyal to the cause, but just as many loyal to their colors and to the golden gods they have served for so long.  There comes a time when one must reap what they sow and that time for Darrow has come.  Those Darrow believed to be friends, along side his enemies, have crushed the progression of the Sons of Ares.  The Jackal has taken control of Mars after killing his father and the Rising is scrambling to hold what momentum they had when their leader, the Reaper is no more. Trapped within a stone hole, Darrow has spent months in solitude after being tortured by the sick and twisted Jackal.  Will his friends be able rescue him in time? and will they recognize the husk of man that remains while the unrecognizable war continues to rage on around Darrow?

Brown has a gift of harnessing positive elements from his interests and his influences within his novels.  Even when things are not familiar to me you can tell when he has taken a positive from another outlet and shone a light to enhance it, expanding it to its true potential.  So many authors do not gather enough of these positive influences and end up reflying on far too few and many times on the hope that their main character will be enough. While Darrow is our main character for the Red Rising series, Brown has recognized that one of his best elements in the series is the vast array of characters from different backgrounds and planets in his arsenal.  Darrow still remains in the forefront, but Brown also knows that many of the other characters need their time to shine, and shine they do.

For those of you following my progression through the Red Rising series, you know that I have been waiting for that fan girl moment where I completely fall head over heels with the series.  I regret to inform you that this moment still remains incomplete.  While I do really enjoy the series and love the characters, there is an element that still remains elusive in Red Rising.  I believe that element is cheesy romance and love triangles which Brown does not dally is such hokum.  It is a negative that has kept me from becoming a full and true fan, but it is also the lack of dalliances that have kept me fully entertained from start to finish.  Before you begin to believe that I did not actually enjoy this book or series, there are elements within Morning Star that Brown has executed perfectly all within one book.  We are taken on a crazy adventure over vast amounts of space, we are taken to our knees and sunk to our lowest lowes.  The ones we love have been cruelly taken from us.  We have found hope, we have found love and we have found hate.  Morning Star is the best book in the series thus far for its ability to capture all these things without any complaints.  There is a moment where an author or film maker will put the audience in an impossible situation where we are trapped, we feel vulnerable, and can do nothing as everything we have come to know and love is taken from us.  It is these moments that I whole heartedly applaude any creator, and it is also the moment when you know you have totally won me over.

It excites me knowing that the series continues beyond the trilogy that Red Rising states that it belongs to.  With Iron Gold already out and Dark Ages in the making I look forward to see what else the series brings us.  If the series had ended with Morning Star, I have to say I would have been extremely sad to be leaving the world, but I was completely at peace and rather thrilled with how Morning Star wrapped up.

The concept of life in space and in space ships may be more familiar to many of you, but there was something that was nagging at me in the back of my mind during the entire series.  Aside from how these mega structures are created, weaponry is so prevalent throughout the entire series, and not to say it is easy to destroy one of these ships, but it’s kinda easy to destroy some of these ships.  Countless lives are lost during the battles, as well as countless dollars of machinary.  While these questions plagued me, Brown unknowingly came to my rescue in Morning Star on page 350 where he notes the following:

“Metal shreds metal.  Ships vomit oxygen and men.  But ships are made to take a beating.  Huge hulks of metal subdivided into thousands of interlocking honeycombed compartments designed to isolate breaches and prevent ships from venting with one railgun shot.”

And just like that…interlocking honeycombs… mystery solved and my mind put to rest.

Morning Star ended on quite a high for me personally, though I cannot explain for it would ruin the experience entirely, and even after the story ended the book continues with positive acknowledgements.  Most acknowledgements are full of endless lists of names that mean nothing to the average reader, and while Brown does include these mentions, I found his experience and his advice to be inspirational and I really connected with them while already experiencing the high of the ending of the book.

As I’ve mentioned I am not a true fan girl of the series, but perhaps the reason for that is that is not a series to fan girl over, but a series to truly enjoy, completely immerse yourself in, and an inspirational source of how a series should be written from beginning to end (or not so end).

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Pierce Brown book page.
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Red Rising Series: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

 

As a Red, Darrow grew up working the mines deep beneath the surface of Mars, enduring backbreaking labor while dreaming of the better future he was building for his descendants. But the Society he faithfully served was built on lies. Darrow’s kind have been betrayed and denied by their elitist masters, the Golds—and their only path to liberation is revolution. And so Darrow sacrifices himself in the name of the greater good for which Eo, his true love and inspiration, laid down her own life. He becomes a Gold, infiltrating their privileged realm so that he can destroy it from within. 

A lamb among wolves in a cruel world, Darrow finds friendship, respect, and even love—but also the wrath of powerful rivals. To wage and win the war that will change humankind’s destiny, Darrow must confront the treachery arrayed against him, overcome his all-too-human desire for retribution—and strive not for violent revolt but a hopeful rebirth. Though the road ahead is fraught with danger and deceit, Darrow must choose to follow Eo’s principles of love and justice to free his people. 

He must live for more.1

There is something to be said about being able to devour an entire series because you are late to the game.  If it were the other way around I would be joining others in the slow painful death of waiting for a next book in the series to come out which can sometimes take you out of that world completely.  Being lucky enough to have much of the series already published I have to say, perhaps there is something to be said to building the suspense?  Maybe for a short while, at least. 

Sworn to protect and aid the man who took everything from him, Darrow’s days at the Institute are quickly becoming a shadow of his past.  Training to be a Praetor of his own fleet, Darrow and some old friends face off against their enemies in a training scenario that disposes the lives of low colors as if it were truly a simulation.  With so many eyes on the champion from the Institute, it becomes clear to Darrow just how little control he has and how truly out of his element he is.  Aided by his friends once more, Darrow lives in a den of lions aligning himself with villains more dangerous than the last, and with limited contact from the Sons of Ares, Darrow has never felt more alone.  Rather than detonating a blast of mass destruction, Darrow ignites a spark that brings fire raining from the heavens as the structure of society begins to fracture.

The scenery has changed, but many of the same great characters remain.  Believe it or not, Golden Son introduces us to many new characters to join the journey, as with the first book you cannot have war without loss so be prepared to lose some characters along the way, but gain some favourites in the process.  

I’ve always had an issue with the middle book in trilogies.  They tend to be nothing more than place holders trying to carry the flame from the first book, burning out quickly and dragging us along until the end to ignite the spark once more.  Red Rising is a trilogy, but as noted by the already released books in the series, the adventure does not end after the first three books which might be why this middle book feels different.  Brown has a way of filling the story with characters, adventures, and moments that even at downtimes we are never bored or find ourselves being dragged along in a desert of ramblings.  I’m surprised, though it should not have come to the point of this to be a cause of surprise, that I have not become annoyed or tired of many of the characters.  There are those that annoy or anger us as meant to as part of the story, but not in a frivolous or demanding way.  There is one exception to this that did not initially come to mind, but having thought about it I can’t seem to stop thinking about him.  Roque was one of the first close friends that Darrow made as a Gold.  Roque has a poetic soul, and while he did kill people in the Institute he was never one for war.  During Red Rising we actually like Roque and accept him into the main fold, but in Golden Son he becomes a bit too whiny and angsty for my liking.  He complains about wanting something, but when he gets it it’s not what he was expecting and reacts poorly.  

Pierce Brown knits together a galactic adventure that keeps us on the edge of our seats from the first sentence to the inevitable cry out of “Noooooooooooooooo” when completing the last.  I continue to enjoy the series as certain characters grow on me more and more.  Though I have not yet reached the desired fangirl status I remain hopeful.

 

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Pierce Brown book page.

 

Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

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Beauty and the Beast is by far my favourite Disney movie so I was thrilled to find this interactive illustrated copy of the original tale.  I was curious to discover how many similarities and differences there were to the Disney version and that of the original.  As experienced with many other Disney films, when you compare the story to the original there are some pretty vast differences, and usually pretty gruesome details as well.

The live-action version of Beauty and the Beast starring Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux released in 2014 tells a different variation of the Beauty and the Beast that Disney solidified in our hearts.  It was this version of the story that I was expecting to discover while reading Gabrielle-Suzanna Barbot de Villenueve.  How very wrong I was.

I decided to keep a notebook while I was reading the original tale to keep track of changes, differences, and inspirations to take and learn from the original tale.  This may sound like a novel concept, but oh how naive I was thinking about that now.

Beauty and the Beast is about a girl named Beauty who lives with her father, six brothers, and five sisters.  Beauty’s father is a wealthy merchant, but when tragedy strikes in the form of a fire, then a shipwreck and pirates on top of that, the family is forced to leave the luxuries of the city and move to the country.  Beauty’s sisters are completely beside themselves, but the change of scenery and pace does not effect Beauty as it does her siblings.  When word is received of the discovery of one of the ships thought to be lost arriving at port, Beauty’s father races back to the city along with a list of requests from his children, the daughters all seeking fast amounts of luxurious clothing, jewels, and other material goods.  Beauty, not wanting to inconvenience her father, chooses the gift of a rose.  As the family prepares to return to the city and their previous lives, the Merchant arrives in the city only to discover that the ships wares have been liquidated to pay debts, the people of the city believing the Merchant to be dead after his long absence.  Defeated, the Merchant begins the long journey home when he finds himself in a wintery landscape in the middle of June with an injured horse.  His journey takes him to a castle he did not know existed and seeks shelter from the weather.  Inside the castle, there is a fire, a feast, and more extraordinary, a treasure trove of items, each one checking off the list from his children; except that of a rose.  After being fed and rested, the Merchant makes to leave the castle, but stops at a garden full of roses and picks one for Beauty and finishes his list of items.  Upon doing this, the Beast appears, insulted that after providing hospitality in the form of shelter, food, and an immense fortune of goods, the Merchant still takes more.  The Beast makes a deal with the Merchant that if he were to return in one months time along with one of his daughter who comes of her own free will knowing that she may perish at the hands of the Beast then the Merchant can go free.  The children are elated to see their father, and the daughters even more thrilled at all the goods he has brought home to them, but become thoroughly distressed at the news of their father’s journey.  The daughters believe that it should be Beauty who should be sacrificed to the Beast.  After all, it was her choice to request something as silly as a rose rather than a mass amount of unattainable material goods that placed their father in the situation he is in.  Though Beauty agrees to return with her father to the Beast in a months time, this does nothing to appease the sisters and their hatred of Beauty.

Upon the arrival of Beauty and the Merchant at the castle, they are greeted by fireworks and a vast array of statues littering the property all holding torches.  After the Beast is satisfied that Beauty has come to the castle of her own free will, he guides the Merchant and Beauty to a room full of unimaginable treasures and requests the Merchant to refill his trunks once more with all the treasures he can hold for his journey home to the rest of his children.  Beauty, believing to be eaten any day, is relieved and confused to still be alive.  Her days consisting of exploring the castle, she has acquired a team of monkeys and birds she found in one of the vast rooms and has turned them into her team of aids.  Each night she arrives at dinner where she eats alone until the Beast arrives and requests her hand in marriage, and each time she refuses, causing him to retire once more.  Her nights are filled with dreams of an enchanting woman who advises Beauty not to be fooled by appearances, to give the Beast a chance.  She is further greeted by a handsome young man who also gives her strange messages about the Beast showing images of himself then the Beast, himself then the Beast and vast many other visuals to show that he is, in fact, the Beast without coming out and saying as much.  Despite all the obvious hints, Beauty falls in love with the man in her dreams and continues to deny the Beast’s proposals.  She discovers new rooms with windows that open out onto streets around the world and even rooms with opera houses and shows to entertain her.  Though enjoyable, this has become her life, day in and day out and she begins to miss her family dearly.  Relaying this to the Beast he allows her to depart back home to see her family for two months time but not a day longer as it would surely kill him.  Once more, Beauty is given the opportunity to fill trunks with vast fortunes to bring home to her family.  Though her brothers and father are pleased to see her, Beauty’s sisters still hate her and are ungrateful.  This is perpetuated further by the sister’s potential matches all falling in love with Beauty.  As her time with her family comes to an end, Beauty dreams of the enchanting woman who warns Beauty to not stay a day longer and shows Beauty images of the Beast dying.  Though this effects her she does not necessarily hurry back to the castle, but returns to the Castle when it is too late.  Using the visions from her dreams she finds the Beasts body and cries and cries wishing him back to life as she owes him so much.  When he is revived she cries tears of joy and agrees to marry the Beast.

The next morning she wakes to find the handsome man from her dreams sleeping in her room, and the Beast nowhere to be found.  The enchanting woman from her dreams arrives at the castle in an elaborate chariot along with a Queen.  The Queen is thankful for Beauty saving her son and bringing him back to his original form but begs Beauty to ask for any fortune or any other union except that to her son who is of pure and noble blood and Beauty is not.  Beauty agrees not to marry the Prince as she has no desire for the title or riches, but also admits that she does not love the prince and only agreed to marry him out of guilt.  Beauty asks only to be returned to her family.  It is then that the enchantress reveals that Beauty’s own mother was, in fact, the Enchantress’ sister and that Beauty is the cousin to the Prince and of noble birth.

The story then goes into that of the Beast and how he came to be a Beast.  This part gets even stranger involving multiple fairies, the one who turns the Beast into the Beast because he refuses to marry her, Beauty’s mother, and the enchantress who is sister to Beauty’s mother.  The tale then goes into the world of fairies, the story of Beauty’s mother and a King who is Beauty’s real father and how he married a fairy.  After this strange narrative ends, it is determined that Beauty and the Prince will marry.  Beauty’s family arrives at the castle to witness the marriage and discover the truth of her birth.  The people of the court who were transformed into statues are returned to the state they were in all those years ago.  The castle becomes a vacation home for Beauty and the Beast as they must return to their true kingdom and rule as Prince and Princess.

There is a vague reference to a cabinet and a clock early on in Beauty’s arrival at the castle, but these are the nearest references to any of the Disney characters that I could find in the story.  All enchanted beings of the castle were turned to statues, and the monkeys and birds that tended to Beauty were created by the fairy and were known as Genii.  It is hard to read many of the original tales that shaped our childhood from the Disney vault and seeing them in such a different light.  It is no secret that Beauty and the Beast is by far my favourite Disney movie, but reading the original story by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneueve was an exercise in patience and became an increasingly tedious project.  The book is only just over 200 pages, with a larger font, embellishments, and interactive pages.  The events that took place in the story along with the style of writing in the original time period were so difficult I could scarcely read more than a page or two at a time.

It absolutely gutted me having read this story and found it to be such a chore.  There were no magically fond memories found in this story and I couldn’t help but be annoyed by all the characters at one point or another.  Our beloved bookworm Belle from the Disney film turns out to be based on a boring Beauty who could not take a hint and any notion of romance is completely eradicated from the story.  Normally it is the original or source of the fantasy that is the truest and favourite, but it is becoming more and more apparent that many of the original tales pale in comparison to the Disney enchantments of our youth.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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“I live for the dream that my children will be born free,” she says. “That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.”

“I live for you,” I say sadly.

Eo kisses my cheek. “Then you must live for more.”

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and lush wilds spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power.  He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.1

 

Darrow is part of a class of humans known as Red’s for the dirt of the red planet that they mine.  Years ago when the damage done to Earth could not be undone, the human race set out for the stars in search of a second chance.  The Red’s live and work within the deep tunnels of Mars in the hope to terraform the planet and one day rise up to the surface.  Hundreds of years have passed since the colonization of Mars began and the hierarchy of space differs greatly from the humans of Earth long ago.  With advancements in technology, the human race was also advanced creating a color-coded society with those known as Golds at the top.  The Golds are Gods among men with far greater intelligence than any normal human with strength and size unparalleled to any other in the universe.  It’s because of these qualities that the Golds are at the top of the ranks, and the smaller more frail of those known as Red’s rank at the bottom.

The following is a ranking of society based on color, courtesy of book II, Golden Son:

Gold – The fiercely intelligent rulers of humanity.
Silver – Innovators, financiers, and businessmen.
White – Priests and priestesses who oversee the ritual functions of Society.
Copper – Administrators, lawyers, and bureaucrats.
Blue – Pilots and astronavigators bred to crew starships.
Yellow – Experts in human and natural sciences.  Doctors, psychologists, and scientists.
Green – The programmers and developers of technology.
Violet – The creative class of artists, musicians, and performers.
Orange – Provide systems support upon star ships and all manner of mechanical enterprises.
Gray – Police and military personnel.
Brown – Services in homes, business, and social institutions.
Obsidian – A monstrous race bred only for war.
Pink  – Unparalleled in beauty, they are bred and trained for the physical arts of pleasure.
Red – Unskilled manual laborers condition to brutal environs.

The mines of Mars are all Darrow has ever known.  Thanks to the HC video feeds provided to the Red’s they get a glimpse of the outside world and other planets.  The communications keep them informed, but they are also a way to thank the Red’s for their continued work and the hope that one day soon they can all come together to reap the seeds they have sown and live on the surface of Mars as one.  At just 16 years old, Darrow is known as a Helldiver in the mines.  A select few men who brave the drills and venomous creatures known as pitvipers earn the title of Helldiver, but with the nature of their work, many don’t live long to keep the title.  It’s rare that many of the men of the mines live to be what is considered old in the old days on Earth.  While the conditions are intense and their lives toiling in the mines can be difficult, Darrow is married to the love of his life, Eo, and he couldn’t ask for anything more.  Where Darrow is cocky and brash, Eo is gentle, beautiful and well liked by her fellow Reds.  She does not; however, share Darrow’s contentment with his lot in life.  Eo wishes for more for Darrow and more for her people, and she is willing to risk her life for change and risks it all when she sings a forbidden song that costs her life.  The words of the song resonate deep within Darrow changing him forever, but they also echo throughout the universe.  Eo’s song struck a cord and set in place a series of events that take Darrow from the dark dirty mines he called home to a world he never knew existed on the surface of his own planet.  With the help of a terrorist group known as the Sons of Ares, Darrow is transformed into the very thing he despises in order to plant himself into the society of the Golds and make Eo’s dream of change a reality.

I first learned of the Red Rising series after its release back in 2014.  Unfortunately, the book became another added to the never-ending list of books to be read.  Even as more of the series was released I wasn’t hearing any of the rumbles and praise I would have expected which kept the series off my radar.  It wasn’t until I discovered the author, Pierce Brown, on Instagram that I really started to take notice of the series.  Good looks, a published author with bestsellers under his belt and to top it off, only slightly older than myself.  Needless to say, I was mortified when I discovered this, igniting a series of quakes in the form of life and identity crises, the tremors of which continue to this day.

An odd thing that seemed to hold me back from the series was the fact that the lead character was a male.  As seen throughout many of my past reviews, I tend to stick to fangirling female leads and hunky co-stars.  I was concerned I wasn’t going to be able to relate to a straight male lead, which looking back seems a bit ridiculous.  While many series out there take their inspiration from other famous pieces of work they tend to create one good idea and put all their eggs in one basket.  I found so many elements from series such as Red Queen, The Hunger Games, and even Harry Potter.  Red Rising had also been compared to the Ender Game series, though I have not read any of them to be able to compare.  Brown takes some of the better elements from these series and uses them to inspire and create a new world without having to rely on the elements so heavily that they break and crumble to nothing as so many other authors have done.  With ancient Roman history thrown into the mix, Brown creates an exciting new world with so many memorable characters as he effortlessly guides us through a dangerous dystopian landscape set in the stars.

Many series focus on a character who is naturally set apart from their peers in many ways making them inadequate, but they also happen to be the only one who can save the world.  This is a common theme in most novels that I’m willing to accept, but when Red Rising takes the vulgar lowly red, Darrow, and splices him into a superhuman badass I was over the moon.  So much time is wasted in other books on the inadequacies of our main character that it tends to come off as more whining and right place at the right time than anything the character has actually done to effect change.  Darrow is rash and headstrong and will jump into situations without any long-winded questioning of himself that I really appreciated throughout much of the novel.  Death is a common occurrence in Red Rising as different houses at the Gold Institute battle it out on a landscape of different terrains offering its advantages and disadvantages along with the help from outside figures vying for their champion.  This becomes worrisome when there are so many characters that you instantly like or come to love.  One of my favorites sadly became a casualty of war and I am sad to continue the journey without them.

Perhaps it is because I have surrounded myself with, or placed myself within groups of other fangirls and fantasy buffs, but frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t heard higher praises for the Red Rising series sooner.  I’ve had grocery lists of complaints about other series that have a female lead and hunky heroes, but I can honestly say that my complaints about the Red Rising series pale in comparison which is pretty funny.  What is my complaint about the series you might ask?  The statuesque Roman Gold Gods have golden Blonde hair, and I happen to prefer tall dark and handsome.  The fact that this is my number one complaint is fairly laughable.  Because of this I will give a second and likely last complaint.  I didn’t care for the endless “bloodydamn” and “gorydamn” that were used as curse words throughout the book.  Still, there was some swearing and vulgar language so it seems my complaints are rather sparse.

While it is great to branch out and read different types of books, I was pleased to step back into the fantasy fiction niche I feel so comfortable in, and to find that place in something I didn’t think I would be able to relate with makes it that much better.  With that being said I am looking forward to continuing the series and seeing how things play out.  I would also be more than happy to check out the TV Series/Movie once they decide which route they will be taking.   Oddly enough, I enjoyed the book and have little to no complaints, yet I’m having a hard time to take the leap in saying I fangirl loved the book.  Perhaps it’s time I explore this more masculine niche and end with, dude writes a good book.

 

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Penguin Randomhouse book page.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….1

I can’t say I had actually heard of the Handmaid’s Tale before seeing that the book had already been turned into a TV show and was well into its first season.  After reading Oryx and Crake in college, Jamie recommended the book to me and I actually didn’t mind it, marking it as the first Margaret Atwood book that I’ve read.  Margaret Atwood is a world famous author and activist and a jewel to the crown that is Canada and recognition is necessary where credit is due, but with that being said let us discuss the book at hand.

I haven’t really seen a full preview for the Handmaid’s Tale TV show so nothing was really spoiled for me other than a woman that appeared to be a nun wearing red rather than black, but that is all.  When reading the books, the handmaid’s are often described wearing these winged headcovers like a nun’s habit.  The way Atwood speaks of them as being protective and tunneled I more expected them to be wearing birdlike plague masks than habits.  In this dystopian tale, the world has gone to crap and naturally the only way to fix problems caused by men is to suppress and destroy the lives of women.  Women viable for childbirth are taken to facilities run by Sisters where they are taught their new way of life and how to be more submissive.  While there are those who attempt to escape through various routes, many times the result is being shipped off to a place only known as The Colonies.  The Handmaid is given to a family run by a Commander, a man in a position of power.  Their lives are dictated by religion,  routine and fear.  An organization known as The Eye runs everything and has people hidden throughout to ensure things run according to the new laws.  A Handmaid, while precious, is also replaceable and the bodies hanging on the wall in town are an ever-present reminder of this.  Our Handmaid is known as Offred, a nod to the name of her Commander.  The name she used in the past is not one to be spoken.  If she is successful in completing her duty she will be sent to a new Commander and given a new name.

Offred gives us a glimpse into a dystopian world where the things that were once trivial and rarely given a second thought are things you could now only dream to exist.  Though I haven’t looked into any other works by Atwood this would be the second dystopian work of hers that I’ve read and it would not surprise me to find more.  Atwood is a well-known poet and as I mentioned before, a jewel of Canada and worth recognition.  For someone like myself who enjoys writing, books, movies, and music you would think that poetry would be part of my repertoire but there is something about most poetry that I find to be pretentious and painful.  Atwood’s award-winning poetry skills are prevalent in the book, though perhaps a better choice of word would be rampant if not long-winded.  Though not to cast stones too harshly, I did flag the following as an interesting aside, though Atwood’s writing style makes the actual story more of an aside than the asides.

p. 221 “Night falls.  Or has fallen.  Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloudcover.  Like smoke from an unseen fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, brushfire or a burning city.  Maybe night falls because it’s heavy, a thick curtain pulled up over the eyes.  Wool blanket.  I wish I could see in the dark, better than I do.”

This is a fine example of a great and beautiful thought turned ramble, brought back to the topic only to disappear in a cloud of smoke once more.  There are a time and place for prose, but when 3/4 of the novel consists of these asides and rambles it is hard for your mind not to drift away to other more interesting things.  When you do come back to the novel you realize you’ve gone on a tangent longer than a page and still have not come back to the actual story letting you know that your daydreaming can continue until familiar words and phrases signal that we are getting back on track.

I couldn’t help but flag two more passages from the book where Atwood is so in tune with her reader and how they may be perceiving the book.

p. 149  “I’m too tired to go on with this story.  I’m too tired to think about where I am.  Here is a different story, a better one.  This is the story of what happened to Moira.”

At times I too was too tired to go on with the story and to think about where in the lost prose I was.  That is when my mind too found a different story to drift to, a better one.

If this does not appease you to Atwood’s connection to her reader let us turn to p. 307 and 308 and unearth a few more gems.

“I wish this story were different.  I wish it were more civilized. I wish it showed me in a better light….

I’m sorry there is so much pain in this story.  I’m sorry it’s in fragments…

Nevertheless it hurts me to tell it over, over again.  Once was enough: wasn’t once enough for me at the time? But I keep on going with this sad and hungry and sordid, this limping and mutilated story…”

Too right you are Atwood, too right so I will end your suffering now.  The book isn’t without its merits.  The few lines of an actual story were intriguing enough to get me through and I’m actually interested to see the TV series, though I can’t imagine how they were able to continue into a second season.  The Handmaid’s Tale is best left to a quick online search for a plot summary and perhaps sticking strictly to the TV series.  Having not seen the series yet, I can’t guarantee it will be any better, though going into a second season it may be just as time-consuming.

 

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Penguin Random House book page.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

People disappear all the time.  Ask any policeman.  Better yet. ask a journalist.  Disappearances are bread-and-butter to journalists.

Young girls run away from home.  Young children stray from their parents and are never seen again.  Housewives reach the end of their tether and take the grocery money and a taxi to the station.  International financiers change their names and vanished into the smoke of imported cigars.

Many of the lost will be found, eventually, dead or alive.  Disappearances, after all, have explanations.

Usually.1

I find this to be a more intriguing introduction than the book summary itself.  As many of you know, I have issues with book summaries that give too much away.  There are things in the summary for Outlander which I think are better left to find out for yourself.

Sometimes there is something thrilling about being on the bandwagon for new releases. When something magical comes along and you are able to take part in the thrill of the discovery, connecting with others on the same subject and going on a journey inside the novels and out.  With that being said, there is also something satisfying about being late to the game.  When a series is well into its adventure or blessedly completed you are able to skip the agonizing wait for future novels and new releases.  Never has one ever felt a bleaker moment than completing a novel or movie and googling to discover that there is no set date or a date is set but well in the future for the continuation of the story.

I have stepped into the world of Outlander as part of the latter category.  The first book was released in 1991 which was a bit of a shock for me when I read this.  The TV series is also about to release its fourth season.  I’ve come to learn that each season is comparable to each book though having started the first season on Netflix I have already noticed a few minor differences, though nothing that crawls under a book readers skin like some other Hollywood adaptations of novels.

Claire Beauchamp has just survived the ravages of the second world war as a field nurse.    Claire and her husband, Frank Randall, are taking some much needed time to themselves vacationing in the Highlands of Scotland to recover and also to reconnect after being apart for so many years.  Frank has taken to genealogy, specifically his own, and is taking the time in Scotland to dig into the roots of his family tree.  While intriguing but not altogether that interesting to Claire, a few minor facts and bits of information provided by Frank’s digging become increasingly useful when Claire is thrust two hundred years into the past.  Without knowing how she came to be there or how to return, her situation becomes even more perilous being a British woman, alone in the Scottish Highlands with knowledge of such things that no one, let alone a woman, should know.

Claire has seen and survived many things during the war which allow her to endure things that most woman, and men, could scarcely imagine.  Together with her knowledge of plants, medicine, history, and politics, it is not hard to understand why many believe Claire to be a spy, or more fitting for the times, a witch.  There is a strength to Claire’s character as well as a vulnerability that makes her more relatable rather than some stoic heroine who appears to be on a predictable train track with the end planned and in sight.  Still, some of her choices are questionable, but without these choices, we wouldn’t have a series or a novel, now would we?

You can always tell an authors interests and education based on the details that are added to any novel and Gabaldon does not disappoint when it comes to details.  With that said there is a fine line between full of details and long-winded.  Gabaldon rates low in comparison to some other long-winded authors, but with the size of the books, I often wondered whether or not certain scenes were relevant to where the story was going.  Sometimes when an author creates a world it is nice to idle in the details for fear of rushing through, leaving the park with no pictures and only a blur of memories.  Other times you can’t help your mind from wandering while the tour guide drones on.

I must admit that there is some additional appreciation for the novel having discovered how old it actually is.  Outlander, known by various titles depending on what part of the world you hail from, was written by Gabaldon in an attempt to see if she was capable of completing a novel.  Having told no one about her plans she seems to have stumbled on a niche of avid readers which have created quite a following for the series.  I cannot say how my appreciation for the books would differ had I discovered them sooner, but in the post-Fifty Shades of Grey era that we live in I can’t help but have a few minor issues with the novel.  The history lesson and details of the past in the Scottish Highlands were intriguing at times, but let’s be frank (or more accurately, Jamie) can we please just get on with the fucking?  Give me a little less lecture hall and a little more Harlequin, am I right?  I’m not saying that it should be the pinnacle or focus of the book, but a little more barechested swinging from the stables would have been more interesting than picking weeds in the middle of nowhere.

Though I’ve had a rather negative opinion about the book thus far, you have to give credit to Gabaldon for some of the things I have harped on.  The attention to detail does make it a more sophisticated setting taking it from tween nipple tweaking to more realistic mommy porn.  I absolutely loved the characters from some of the more minor, to those of the more loathing in the spotlight.  At the time of this review, I have not completely decided where I stand on the series.  I am hoping once I complete the first season on Netflix I may be able to formulate a better opinion.  As things stand now, I am leaning more towards continuing the series through Netflix and enduring the length of time that will be required to complete the story rather than sifting through the Encyclopedia Gabaldontanica.

  1. Prologue courtesy of Diana Gabaldon’s webpage.

King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

In this breathless third installment to Victoria Aveyard’s bestselling Red Queen series, allegiances are tested on every side. And when the Lightning Girl’s spark is gone, who will light the way for the rebellion?

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother’s web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare’s heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down.1

King’s Cage starts back at one of the few memorable things we had to take with us from the last book… you know… (quick google search) Glass Sword.  Held prisoner to the now King Maven and held on a leash at his feet like a dog, Mare finds herself in a very difficult position.  We have come to know that Mare Barrow does not give up without a fight, but it becomes apparent very quickly, that any ability to have any fight will be quickly snuffed out.

To allow for a change of pace of the monotony of palace life as a prisoner we do bounce from one side of the war to the other to pick up the stale bread crumbs along the way.  Like Mare, we have been beaten into submission with the only thought keeping us going is the knowledge that something sweeter and bigger than the stale breadcrumbs is bound to come along at some point.  Give me my mutant powers and give me my deeply disturbed hunky princes, but don’t give me minuscule pieces of information that will not amount to anything in the end.

King’s Cage follows a few different points of view for obvious reasons, but others are a bit more of a surprise and a grateful reprieve from some of the more stale moments.  With the break in time between reading the last book and this one, and the large amounts of filler scenes I couldn’t even remember a character who came to be one of our narrators.  While I couldn’t remember where she came from and I can’t relate to our main character of Mare, I could relate to our new part-time author’s very honest opinion of Mare Barrow.  These comments from one character about the person who is to be our main character and the one we should be rooting for were very interesting.  I can’t tell if Aveyard was looking to just add another side of the story, or if she too was starting to see the flaws of one of her own characters.

We continuously find ourselves in these stop and go situations where there is high impact in the beginning, a large lull throughout the middle, then more impact in the end.  This trilogy-now-endless campaign could have easily been shaved down to fit that glass slipper trilogy status.  One cannot really harp on Aveyard too much on this point.  You are a successful writer who struck gold with an idea and people seem to be sticking along for the ride, are you really going to opt out on those additional pay days and the chance to explore more of that world as a writer?  I thought not.

While I should be thankful for the opportunity to explore the series further and hopefully get some of the answers and fulfillment that we are all wanting from this, I thought we had a deal?  You know… Red Queen… the trilogy…..  Yet here we are.  King’s Cage has left us on the edge of yet another undetermined expanse with a fourth novel called War Storm due out in 2018.  Fool me once…. I am not getting my hopes up that this will be the end of our story especially with a fifth novel deal to arrive at a later date with an unknown title and subject.  It could be a fifth book in the series, effectively turning book four, our conclusion, into another place holder filler. I suppose there is the possibility we will get our resolution in War Storm and that a mystery guest will linger in the shadows as book five.  This is not including the two novellas already slotted into the series.  I am aware that I sound like a spoiled child.  What we all want as avid readers is for authors we like to continue making books, especially in a world we have come to love and adore.  The whole mutant abilities thing has always been something of an interest to me since my young knowledge of X-Men, though this whole dilly dallying and random events stalling our journey are really starting to piss me off.

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Harper Collins King’s Cage book page.