Monday, October 22, 2012

The Mark of Athena : Hits Bullseye !!!

"Annabeth is terrified. Just when she’s about to be reunited with Percy—after six months of being apart, thanks to Hera—it looks like Camp Jupiter is preparing for war. As Annabeth and her friends Jason, Piper, and Leo fly in on the Argo II, she can’t blame the Roman demigods for thinking the ship is a Greek weapon. With its steaming bronze dragon masthead, Leo’s fantastical creation doesn't appear friendly. Annabeth hopes that the sight of their praetor Jason on deck will reassure the Romans that the visitors from Camp Half-Blood are coming in peace.
And that’s only one of her worries. In her pocket Annabeth carries a gift from her mother that came with an unnerving demand: Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me. Annabeth already feels weighed down by the prophecy that will send seven demigods on a quest to find—and close— the Doors of Death. What more does Athena want from her?
Annabeth’s biggest fear, though, is that Percy might have changed. What if he’s now attached to Roman ways? Does he still need his old friends? As the daughter of the goddess of war and wisdom, Annabeth knows she was born to be a leader, but never again does she want to be without Seaweed Brain by her side.
Narrated by four different demigods, The Mark of Athena is an unforgettable journey across land and sea to Rome, where important discoveries, surprising sacrifices, and unspeakable horrors await. Climb aboard the Argo II, if you dare. . . 
In The Son of Neptune, Percy, Hazel, and Frank met in Camp Jupiter, the Roman equivalent of Camp Half-blood  and traveled to the land beyond the gods to complete a dangerous quest. The third book in the Heroes of Olympus series will unite them with Jason, Piper, and Leo. But they number only six--who will complete the Prophecy of Seven? 
 "Wisdom's daughter walks alone,
The Mark of Athena burns through Rome,
Twins snuff out the angel's breath,
Who holds the key to endless death.
Giants' bane stands gold and pale,
Won through pain from a woven jail."  
The Greek and Roman demigods will have to cooperate in order to defeat the giants released by the Earth Mother, Gaea. Then they will have to sail together to the ancient land to find the Doors of Death. What exactly are the Doors of Death? Much of the prophesy remains a mystery. . . . With old friends and new friends joining forces, a marvelous ship, fearsome foes, and an exotic setting, The Mark of Athena promises to be another unforgettable adventure by master storyteller Rick Riordan."

Rick Riordan doesn't disappoint with his latest installment in the Heroes of Olympus series. His trademark humor is spot on, causing more than one real-life LOL. All the silly monsters and clever lines that we fell in love with when we read The Lightning Thief are new, improved, and back with a vengeance. 

The Mark of Athena sees representatives of the two camps – Half-Blood and Jupiter – together in the same place, but not necessarily united under the same flag. Seven demigods have to venture forth on the quest of a lifetime, but the hardest part might prove to be working together. They must fly on the Argo II, the Greek trireme adorned with the head of our favorite dragon Festus, cross the United States, traverse the ocean, and end up in Rome – one of the most dangerous places in the world for demigods.

The story is told from four different points of view: Piper, Leo, Percy, and Annabeth. Stepping back into Percy’s shoes always feels like soaking in a nice, clean, freshwater river after a particularly arduous day at Camp Half-Blood. Leo is also a personal favorite, and his witty retorts and unique perspectives don’t go unappreciated. Even hopping into Piper’s brain for a while feels familiar and secure. But this truly is Annabeth’s story.

On the whole, the book was another success as far as we’re concerned. The funny moments weigh equally with the emotional bits, and the suspense keeps you turning pages as if the fate of the world is resting on your back. The most exciting part had to be when the demigods finally made it to Rome. Despite the fact that they knew what they had to face there, the crew of the Argo II and the readers alike take a moment to appreciate finally stepping foot in one of the birthplaces of all those legends.

The book slows down periodically to take note of everyone’s situation. There are a lot of characters aboard the ship, and taking stock of what each one is thinking or doing can become tiresome. This book is as much about relationships as it is about finding a way to stop Gaea, and while that’s all fine and dandy, sometimes we just wants to see some ancient mythological monster’s head flying instead of hearing about how everyone feels about everyone else.

Gone are the days of the 12-year-old boy who just found out his father was Poseidon. (Can we just take a moment here as well to say that we really miss those snarky chapter titles from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series?) Percy is almost 17 and the tone of the book reflects this. The various couples find themselves alone more often and we sense that our favorite characters are almost fully-fledged adults. The humor is sometimes in contrast to this and doesn't fit as well with the story as when our characters were pre-teens. On the other hand, we can’t say we didn't laugh when a giant with an affinity for ballet popped up in a blue tutu and insisted on performing a pirouette with every attack.

The novel on a whole answered a lot of questions, although we probably have just as many new ones for the following book. But these set us up perfectly for the next installment as well: we know the goal (to save the world…again), but it’s an impossible task under an impossible deadline. It’s nothing new for our heroes, but we wouldn't want it any other way.

Oh, and the ending? Well, am obviously not going to give that away. But don’t say I didn't warn you. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lorien Legacies : Rise of Nine - In which we meet Setrakus Ra !!

"Until the day I met John Smith, Number Four, I'd been on the run alone, hiding and fighting to stay alive.

Together, we are much more powerful. But it could only last so long before we had to separate to find the others. . . .

I went to Spain to find Seven, and I found even more, including a tenth member of the Garde who escaped from Lorien alive. Ella is younger than the rest of us, but just as brave. Now we're looking for the others--including John.
But so are they.

They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.
They caught me in New York--but I escaped.
I am Number Six.
They want to finish what they started.
But they'll have to fight us first."

         First, the stick, then the carrot. The Lorien Legacies series isn't as polished or emotionally resonant as, say, Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games. But that's comparing it to the best of the best in the YA universe. Judged on its own merit, the Lorien Legacies constitute rip-roaring, page-turning reads. I can't get enough of them, never mind that the narrative structure is sometimes clunky. The author Pittacus Lore - and, of course, I'm referring to the real authors behind the pseudonym: Jobie Hughes and James Frey - has improved book by book, in storytelling, in pace, in dialogue, and in not aggravating them rigid grammarians quite so much.

And, by the way, if you haven't yet read the first two books, why are you reading this?

With The Rise of Nine, third of a proposed six, we're treated to three first-person narrators who recount their adventures on alternating chapters. We're familiar by now with John Smith's (Number Four) and Marina's (Seven) voices. Now we also get to experience Six's perspective. Six, by the way, has my vote for best character in the series. She exudes that sense of sheer competence and quiet badassery, and Six doesn't feel the need to be all smirky and smug about it.

Skip this paragraph to avoid a history lesson: When the warlike alien Mogadorians plundered the planet Lorien, nine special Loric children - nine members of the Garde - were spirited away to Earth. On our world, these children scattered to the winds and hunkered down and abide their time, in constant fear that the Mogadorians would track them down. The farfetched hope is that these nine - guided and trained by their respective Cêpans (mentors) - would develop and hone their extraordinary abilities (or "legacies") and so take the fight to the enemy and restore their home world. A mystic charm protects the nine, a safeguard which dictates that these children can only be slain in numerical order. As mentioned elsewhere, the kid designated "Number One" probably didn't think this was the coolest thing ever. "Number Nine" begs to differ.

When the series opened, Numbers One through Three had already been chased down and murdered. I am Number Four, The Power of Six, and this one, The Rise of Nine, tells the story of the remaining Nine, of how they, one by one, reunite with each other. The relentless Mogadorians - not about to wait until the kids grow fully into their powers - have stepped up their efforts to hunt them down. In The Rise of Nine we finally attach a face to the Mogadorian horde. We meet the fearsome big bad, Setrákus Ra, who had disposed of Numbers One thru Three.

The Rise of Nine picks up right where The Power of Six leaves off. We end up tracking two story arcs. We keep tabs on John Smith, Nine, and John's remarkable, shape-shifting chæmera pet Bernie Kosar as they're still on the run and recovering from their harrowing escape from the Mogadorian cave in West Virginia. I admit that John Smith is rocketing up my crap list for his constant mooning over his girlfriend Sarah. And now he harbors guilt over his forced abandonment of his human best friend, Sam Goode, who was captured in the cave. Nine is in full-on jerk mode as he constantly belittles John's loyalties to his human friends and berates him for not focusing more on their ultimate goal.

Meanwhile, halfway across the world, Six, Marina (Seven), Ella (Ten, yes, there's a ten!), and Ella's unofficial Cêpan vacate Spain and journey to India, chasing down wild rumors that may eventually lead them to another of the Garde. Stuff happens to them.

This book feels exactly like what it is - the middle of a six-volume arc. There's plenty of rousing action, even bits of character development, and some plot advancement. But, really, all this is, is "Pitaccus Lore" introducing more of his players onstage. And I'm cool with that. I relished the kids' interactions. I was very curious about what the group dynamics would be like. The author(s) does a good job of establishing distinct personalities amongst the Garde. It's really nice to see Marina, shy and hesitant, asserting herself and becoming a steady asset to the team. Other readers have complained that Six and Seven's narrative voices are too similar, but I disagree. I had no trouble differentiating between the two.

As usual, a big draw are the kids' respective skill sets and their application of them. While all of the Nine seem to uniformly exhibit super-strength and telekinesis, their other legacies vary from each other. And I savor the superhero elements. The skirmishes are frequent and unfold with cinematic swagger. There are revelations concerning what's going on between the Mogadorians and the U.S. government. And if you thought you'd seen the last of Sarah Hart - she who betrayed John Smith - think again...

So, by the end of the book: One more number surfaced. A hindi god exposed. An alarming prophecy divulged (which doesn't bode well for most of the Loric Nine, given the nature of the protective mystic charm). The FBI on the wrong side. Six being badasss. Bernie Kosar being awesome. One or two teen crushes developed (hey, this is a YA series, after all). One all-out rescue mission. A showdown with predictable results. A smooth flow to the story. I liked The Rise of Nine, read it in one go, missed work the next day. So bring on the fourth book. And bring on Number Five. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Kane Chronicles - Serpent's Shadow : Apocalyptic Battle !!

"He's b-a-a-ack! Despite their best efforts, Carter and Sadie Kane can't seem to keep Apophis, the chaos snake, down. Now Apophis is threatening to plunge the world into eternal darkness, and the Kanes are faced with the impossible task of having to destroy him once and for all. Unfortunately, the magicians of the House of Life are on the brink of civil war, the gods are divided, and the young initiates of Brooklyn House stand almost alone against the forces of chaos. The Kanes' only hope is an ancient spell that might turn the serpent's own shadow into a weapon, but the magic has been lost for a millennia. To find the answer they need, the Kanes must rely on the murderous ghost of a powerful magician who might be able to lead them to the serpent's shadow . . . or might lead them to their deaths in the depths of the underworld."

Nothing less than the mortal world is at stake when the Kane family fulfills its destiny in this thrilling conclusion to the Kane Chronicles.

I have always been interested in "Egypt". I have so little knowledge about Egyptian mythology. And when you want a heavy dose of mythology on a hilarious platter, who do you come to? Why Rick Riordan, of course! The master of re-purposed mythological tales has done it again as he wrapped up the Kane Chronicles with The Serpent's Shadow.

Sadie and Carter know they must stop Apophis, the God of Chaos, from destroying the world. But how could two teenagers stop the apocalypse? When, you are a Kane, you always have friends in strange places. With Bast, a cat goddess, to watch over their initiates in the house, they embark on a journey to find the way to stop Apophis, but each day he grows stronger. Add to that the fact that the senile sun god, Ra, who was supposed to help them dances around and has to be babysat. Their best friend Walt is slowly dying from a generations-old curse, and Carter was crushing on a magical clay figurine he thought was a girl. Once the figurine was destroyed and they rescued the real Zia, she had no memory of Carter's time with her shabti. And Bast, the dwarf god, has sacrificed his soul to save them and is now sitting like a shell of himself in the retirement home for the Gods.

So how are they going to stop this unstoppable God of Chaos now that they have freed him and allowed him to gain more power than any one god or goddess can control, you ask? Well, it might involve a spell that is so powerful, it will destroy the Kanes for good, but when you have the weight and fate of the world resting on your shoulders, you really don't have much of a choice. Sadie and Carter will do anything to save the world, even if it means tough choices and big sacrifices. And with the Kanes against them, even giant serpent gods who thrive on chaos can stop them!

It is no secret that I think Rick Riordan is a god. God of literary brilliance! His Percy Jackson series and the spinoff series are brilliant uses of Greek and Roman Gods, and this series is just as phenomenal. His ability to repurpose mythology brings it into the mainstream and gets our kids involved in stories that might have been too old, too boring, and too distant for them before. And let's face it, mythology is interesting, but those stories are intricate and dense and those names get seriously confusing. Let's not even mention how ridiculous those tangled webs of relationships can be! But Riordan makes mythology accessible AND more important, absolutely HILARIOUS! The things that come out of these gods and godesses' mouths will leave you in a fit of giggles. And for my students who have read these stories, those gods and goddesses are interesting and the source of future research and reading. I find kids who read these books want to go on and read more about their favorite gods and goddesses, and since Egyptian mythology isn't as well known as Greek mythology, this series is a great way to strike a balance between the two! And this might be a middle reader series, but it isn't just for middle readers. Anyone from middle readers through adults would enjoy these books! All you have to have is a sense of humor and an interest in some nutty mythology!

The conclusion of the series was whole-heartedly satisfying. I promise you won't think it is going to be until the very end, but it really is. I have to say, I thought this was another 5 book series, so at the very end, when things started winding down, I had to rush to do some research as to whether or not this was the final book in the series. Sadly, because I love this series and wanted it to continue, this is indeed the final book, but it ends beautifully. If there was a perfect way to end everything, The Serpent's Shadow was it. So, I know Riordan is working on the Percy Jackson spin-off, but I really hope he has another series up his sleeve!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dark Knight Rises : Astounding !!

A quick shout-out to jaded film types who think they have seen it all: think again. 

Then go and see The Dark Knight Rises. Now you have seen it all. As you were, then. 

Christopher Nolan changed everything when his Batman Begins brought to life the Batman I’d always dreamed of — no, actually, that’s not entirely correct, because the truth is that the Batman films I dreamed of were nowhere close to as good as what Nolan created. But what he created was the Batman I had been waiting for all my life, even though I didn’t know precisely what it was I was waiting for. Batman Begins made me feel, “This is Batman, this is what Batman was always meant to be, what he has for 65 years been journeying toward, and now he’s made whole at last.” So it was a shock when, in 2008, magic happened and Batman got even better on film. The superhero in cinema was redefined, the simple notion of “comic book genre” rendered obsolete, by The Dark Knight. It was a crime thriller, a police and gangster drama set in a world we could recognize as very close to our own, and in which the main character happened to wear a Batman costume. After seeing it, I had the feeling that “my” Batman, the one I’d been waiting for, was now fully formed, and I admit I didn’t know if it would be possible for any future Batman films to live up to what The Dark Knight delivered.

So it is that I walked into the theater to see The Dark Knight Rises with very mixed emotions. This was the end of an era, the final act in the story of “my” Batman. The character whom I’d known and loved as a child, who saved me on many occasions from sadness and let my imagination grow to escape the confines of a small world, had come to be embodied fully in this live-action incarnation that was everything I could hope for in a Batman film series… but now it was all going to be over in less than three hours’ time. I’d never again experience the anticipation of this Batman returning, of walking into a theater with this excitement for a new Nolan Batman movie. Something that had been with me as long as I could remember had come to life in front of my eyes as an adult, and now it was going to go away forever. As much as I was excited and ready to see this film, then, I was also a little sad and overwhelmed by the mixed feelings involved.

I also had some fear that it might just be impossible for any Batman film to have the same impact as The Dark Knight, including but not limited to the obviously amazing and performance delivered by the late Heath Ledger. He was mesmerizing, he was surprising and beautiful, he was perfect. It’s a performance that helped define The Dark Knight, and it came to represent just how transcendent the film and the franchise had become. Without that — no, in the shadow of that — could any sequel hope to compare? Might it try too hard, push too far, and come up short?

The Dark Knight Rises does try hard, it does push far, but it doesn’t come up short. Oh, no, it is not content to merely be a worthy sequel, nor is it even content to be just a fitting third chapter in a great trilogy. It is not, I tell you, even content to dare to match the quality and brilliance of The Dark Knight. This newest film tries harder, pushes farther, and comes up with the finest Batman film of all time, the greatest superhero or comic book adaptation of all time, and the best film of the year.

As for the rest of us - especially those who appreciate an action blockbuster with brains and brilliance to accompany the brawn - The Dark Knight Rises is a genuine wonder to behold.

To complete his astonishingly ambitious Batman trilogy, filmmaker Christopher Nolan swings for the fences as if his life and your faith in major motion pictures depends on it. Not only does Nolan, as they say, hit the ball right out of the park, he smacks the thing right out of this world. As the stunning crescendo that ends The Dark Knight Rises reaches its absolute apex, your jaw will have already bought a one-way ticket to the floor. 

Where to start in nailing how The Dark Knight Rises scores such a triumphant result?

An amazing screenplay is as good a place as any. With so much to remind us of, and yet, so much fresh ground to cover, the complex plotting of the tale is almost impossible to summarise. 

It is eight years since the tumult that closed The Dark Knight. With both Batman and his alter ego, billionaire Bruce Wayne, living in self-imposed exile, it will take a major catastrophe to bring them back where they belong. It is only when Gotham City - looking more like downtown New York than ever before - comes under threat from nuclear-armed terrorists that the Caped Crusader elects to resume active service. This only scrapes the surface of the immensely involving tale in the offing here. The bad guys are led by a metal-muzzled menace named Bane, a supremely confident anarchist who is not in the business of making veiled threats. Indeed, by the halfway point of The Dark Knight Rises, Bane and his army of followers have sealed off Gotham from the rest of the world. In a matter of weeks, a reactor they have stolen from Bruce Wayne's collapsed business will reach critical meltdown, killing everyone within a 10km radius of its core. 

Performances in The Dark Knight Rises are first-class, considering the daunting scale of the production in which they take place. Christian Bale has been an anchoring presence across the Nolan trilogy, steadily working on keeping "The Batman" (as he has been formally known in Gotham throughout the series) both accessibly vulnerable and toweringly formidable in the eyes of the viewer. Bale is challenged to take the role to a whole new level in the closing act, and responds as an actor of his fine calibre should. The breakout display on the performance front is undoubtedly the incredible work of Tom Hardy as the hulking master of chaos, Bane. The job of this character is to provoke fear and fascination in equal parts.In spite of being trapped behind an ungainly mask - and speaking in a voice that some might call "Sean Connery does Darth Vader" - Hardy controls the force and fury to be unleashed by Bane with a masterful hand. 

Dig deeper down the cast list and you still find plenty of gold. Michael Caine as Alfred carries a clutch of genuinely emotional scenes with a veteran's aplomb. Gary Old man has reduced duties this time around as Commissioner Gordon, but gives great value when the chips are down.If there is a polarising performance, it might be that of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (the nominal Cat woman of the piece, though the name is never purred out loud). Hathaway is asked by Nolan to exude a wisecracking brashness which is pretty much the only light relief to be found in this very heavy movie. I thought she got away with a very tricky job. 

Visually, The Dark Knight Rises is an epic spectacle that completely arrests the senses, but never overwhelms them. The list of standout scenes is long, and beyond debate. To quote but one example, the dramatic minutes where Bane unveils his nuke to the survivors of a bomb blast at a packed football stadium are never to be forgotten. I could go on and on. Let's just say that the special effects and the intricate action sequences they service in The Dark Knight Rises combine to take mainstream film making to a whole new level. The highest compliment that can be paid to this extraordinary work is that it simultaneously meets, raises and defies all expectations.

The Dark Knight Rises is probably the first sure-thing nominee for Best Picture, and could earn Nolan his first Best Director nod from the Academy as well. It’ll surely rack up plenty of other nominations as well, including for cinematography, score, visual effects, and editing. And as noted earlier, it deserves at least one nomination for acting, for Mr. Bale.

Christopher Nolan gave us a definitive Batman on film, and he has now given us the definitive end to the Batman legend. While I still have that mix of feelings about the end of this film saga I’ve so loved, I have no mixed feelings about how great a film this is or its status as the best Batman film of all time. And whatever sadness I feel as we leave the era of Christopher Nolan’s Batman behind, that sadness cannot match the endless gratitude and immense joy I’ve felt watching this franchise, a franchise that delivered at long last on the promises made to me in my childhood many decades ago.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

King's Masterpiece : Dark Tower Series : 7. The Dark Tower

"The seventh and final installment of Stephen King's The Dark Tower saga is perhaps the most anticipated book in the author's long career. King began this epic tale about the last gunslinger in the world more than 20 years ago; now he draws its suspenseful story to a close, snapping together the last pieces of his action puzzle and drawing Roland Deschain ever closer to his ultimate goal."

The part we're waiting for. The part we all read seven big books for. 

I realized at least two or three books ago that there would be no way he could end it that would please everybody. And as I read on, I had no idea how he'd end it and decided to have no preconceived notions or hopes. 

I can cover what truly bothered me pretty quickly; King's importance in the plot and Flagg's death. Not that I need a 150 page battle between Roland and Flagg, but to be so easily dispatched by a child who would later prove to be absolutely no threat to Roland seems wrong. Was this really the best that Roland's lifelong enemy could do? I don't know, it just doesn't add up. As for King, I didn't like his part in the plot during Song of Susannah (narcissistic) and was hoping it would not dominate the final volume, which it doesn't. I will admit that it didn't turn out as bad as I feared (I half expected Stephen King to be in the top room of the Tower), and I do appreciate that it ties the story to reality through something other than the fictional Tet Corporation in NY. While this is nice, I could have done without King ever having been in the story.

Others were bothered by the quick deaths of Mordred and the Crimson King. I wasn't. Mordred may have been powerful, but he was still a child; and a sick, dying child at that. He had to make an ill-advised move out of desperation, and I think it was wonderful that Oy was able to die defending Roland. As for the Crimson King, while the battle may have been brief, it was still exciting and not without great word play between Roland and the CK.

But boy, I sure didn't expect that!

I have to say, that upon reading the intro to the final chapter from the Storyteller himself, the warning to not read on and leave the story as it is, I was tempted to do so. I know many wouldn't agree with me, but I think Roland entering the Dark Tower and the doors shutting behind him wouldn't be a bad way to end the book. It would leave it to your imagination, what he would find there. I really almost put it down to sleep on it. But then I thought no, I have to go on. I've come this far!

Yes, in a way, the ending is tragic, sad, and extremely unfair. We have read now thousands of pages worth of Roland Deschain's torments and struggles he's gone through to get this far, and then only to have been blasted back to the beginning? It's horrible. It makes you angry. Or at least shocked. A knee jerk reaction might be to say that it was a cop out, that King didn't know how to end the book at went this route at the last minute. 

I don't really believe that. 

In a way, yes, I find the ending bittering. My heart really is broken for Roland. I don't think I've ever read a book with an ending that has left me so effected. I even reread the very end of it again this morning over breakfast. Yes, the ending is bittering, and yet, I love it in a lot of ways too. Not love it as in this is the way I think it should have ended, but love it because it knocked me on my backside, love it in the way that you can love a bad thing at times. In a way, to me at least, the ending just might make a little sense. 

It you really think about it ... what did you expect to happen to Roland once he reached the top of the Tower? Would he pass into a sort of Heaven, rejoined with his love Susan and his former Ka mates? That is probably the ending some people wanted. And if that's what happened, I would have been fine with that too. Would he have confronted God himself? And if so, what would Roland have done before such a God? Roland, one of the things that makes him so wonderful, is kind of a jerk. After all that trouble, all that sacrifice, if said God said something Roland didn't like, I think, much like Conan, he'd tell his Maker to take a flying leap, maybe even draw his gun on him and get blasted into nothingness. 

But why this? Why the torture? I think the answer is in Roland himself. I think it's a sort of punishment for Roland's arrogance and pride. I think Roland's destiny was to save the Beam, save the Dark Tower. He did that. But he insisted on moving on. He insisted on going to the top of the Dark Tower, something that is perhaps forbidden by Gan or the Powers That Be. He saved the Dark Tower, saved the Beam, and yet it was not enough. As always (and as echoed by the voices he hears at the end of the book) he has to have it His way. And for that, I think, like something out of Greek myth, he has to pay a price. 

And as King himself says in the Afterword, there is a bit of hope. In the next incarnation, he has the Horn of Eld. Something he didn't have in the previous. Perhaps, just perhaps, with some more trial and error, once the Beam and the Tower saved (perhaps stilling getting all the way, so as to kill the Crimson King), Roland may just turn around and go back to the Callas, and live out the rest of his days quiet and peacefully, maybe as a sort of Sheriff, then going to the Clearing at the End of the Path, and THEN be united with Susan, Cuthbert, Alain, and the rest. 

Maybe I'm just grateful that King didn't end it the way I feared. The more I read on, and the more sai King appeared, I was terrified and more and more certain that once Roland met face to face with the Crimson King, that it would be Stephen King himself. I even started to fear that the name, the Crimson KING was a clue. Thankfully, I was wrong. And then, I feared even worse, that once he got to the top of the tower, that there he'd find Stephen King, sitting in a pseudo office of sorts, surrounded by old books and manuscripts, as mad as the Hatter, banging away at an old typewriter and tossing the crumpled up pages over his shoulder making a big pile. That's what I feared, and compared to that, I like this ending just fine. 

Thank you Stephen King for giving me a great read and a series to add to my collection.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Amazing Spiderman : Not So Amazing Afterall !!

"The Amazing Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker (Garfield), an outcast high schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field). Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today. As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents' disappearance - leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), his father's former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors' alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero. -- (C) Sony"
Honestly this story line isn't all that original. Spider-Man didn't become a wrestler but wrestling still played a role. The most original thing they did was make Peter Parker feel like a regular teenager while still making him socially awkward but very intelligent. Honestly the story line in itself almost mixes effortlessly both the Ultimate version and the mainstream version of Mary and Richard Parker. The secretive work they did seems to show their CIA side in the mainstream universe, but their scientific side seems to show the Ultimate versions really well. Oz is used in the movie showing another nod to the Ultimate side, and the Lizard's master plan is actually taken out from his mainstream side and even his cartoon side back in the 90's. The plot in itself really follows the comics really well mixing concepts from the two biggest and most respected versions of Peter Parker.

Sorry but I'm still on the bandwagon for the 2002 Spidy being my favourite. The one was just... okay for me. But the original left a big impact on me. Maybe because I'm older, and I still remember seeing it in the theatre and all the hype that surrounded it. (Spiderman FINALLY getting a movie) And audiences were not disappointed. It was so brilliantly done. Younger audiences will likely prefer the new one because it's... well, new, and fresh on the screen. But it just didn't leave me with the wonderment that the first one did.

The Amazing Spider-Man is a movie that’s constantly chasing plotlines.  In this telling, Peter has been haunted by the disappearance of his parents since he was a boy.  One day, he finds his father’s old briefcase, which leads him to search for answers at Oscorp Laboratories.  There, he wanders into an unguarded room (instead of using door locks or retina scans; Oscorp uses touch-based memory puzzles), gets bitten by a genetically-mutated spider (the room is filled with them), and develops his super-speed, agility, reflexes, and strength.  Peter is driven to further investigate his parents’ disappearance, until it’s time to catch the guy who killed Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen).  Peter then hones his crime-fighting abilities by fighting people who resemble his Uncle’s killer before realizing that maybe he should go after all criminals.  Meanwhile, amputee Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who was a friend of Peter’s father (Campbell Scott), is genetically mutating animals to unlock the secret of regeneration.  Naturally, scientific investigation can only lead to horrible things, so Connors regrows his arm only to then transform into a beastly giant reptile known as “The Lizard”.  The movie then twists itself in knots to keep making Spider-Man and the Lizard fight.

And the fights are terrific, as are all the action scenes in The Amazing Spider-Man (If there were any)

Unfortunately, there’s no good reason for Spider-Man and the Lizard to fight at the high school.  Superficially, The Amazing Spider-Man can deliver an exciting ride, but the story is a mess.  The Lizard’s master plan doesn’t require him to take time out of his busy villain-schedule to go down to the high school and start fighting with Spider-Man.  If anything, it’s a distraction.  But the movie needs another action scene, and so it gets one, and it’s a good one, but it’s a pointless one.  The movie is constantly skipping ahead and taking shortcuts so it can get to where it needs to be.  It gets so bad that at one point, a minor character moves machinery in order to physically get Spider-Man where he needs to be.  This kind of sloppy writing means that the plot and character motivations in The Amazing Spider-Man don’t evolve; they simply change directions and then forget about what was happening before.  A boy’s search for his missing parents is set up as the heart of this story, and then it’s simply left by the wayside until we’re reminded about it in a scene that takes place in middle of the end credits.

Amazing Spider-Man is clearly set up as a smaller, more intimate look at the character while trying to eschew blockbuster bombast in a way that makes Webb’s movie look almost like it’s in direct opposition to Sam Raimi‘s big, happy, four-color Spider-Man trilogy.  Webb’s movie is supposed to be about the “man” behind the Spider-Man, except the man behind Peter Parker is the wrong man.  Andrew Garfield does a wonderful job at conveying the sweetness and inherent goodness of the character, but he can’t get past one gigantic obstacle: he looks like Andrew Garfield.  In the film’s attempt to make Peter more modern and realistic, they’ve fallen into a paradox where they have to acknowledge that geeks are now considered “cool”, but Peter is still a geek.  Raimi nerded-up Tobey Maguire to play Peter Parker, but Garfield looks like he could just be skateboarding home from a GQ photo shoot.  We never believe for a second that Peter is a powerless outsider, so when he gets his powers, it doesn’t feel like a boon for the teenager.  If a powerless kid got a little power drunk in a realistic setting, it would be charming and a bit dark (like half of Chronicle).  But here it just makes Peter come off like a bully and someone who doesn’t deserve the great power that’s been foisted upon him.

Garfield almost escapes the problematic character on the page through the strength of his performance, especially when he shares the screen with Emma Stone, who plays Peter’s love-interest, Gwen Stacy.  The female lead is one area where The Amazing Spider-Man clearly trounces Raimi’s films.  Whereas Mary Jane always felt like the damsel-in-distress, Gwen is smart, funny, and resourceful.  We never think of her as someone who needs saving, and while the film is content to brood over a variety of other relationships, it keeps the romance between Peter and Gwen upbeat.  There simply isn’t enough of it, and there’s definitely not enough of Stone who gets the film’s funniest moments.

The movie continues to try and outrun this narrative nonsense until it’s finally consumed by a laughably ridiculous third act where contrivances and new motivations overwhelm the viewer to the point where the film’s positive aspects aren’t enough to save the day.  When you see Spider-Man battling a giant reptile on top a skyscraper to save the city from a convenient Doomsday device, you can’t help but wonder, “Wasn’t this movie supposed to be about a powerless kid trying to find out what happened to his parents?”  I guess it’s easy to get distracted when you can swing through the air with the greatest of ease.

My Review : 6/10 (That too for the CGI)

King's Masterpiece : Dark Tower Series : 6. Song of Susannah

"The next-to-last novel in Stephen King's seven-volume magnum opus,Song of Susannah is at once a book of revelation, a fascinating key to the unfolding mystery of the Dark Tower, and a fast-paced story of double-barreled suspense.
To give birth to her "chap," demon-mother Mia has usurped the body of Susannah Dean and used the power of Black Thirteen to transport to New York City in the summer of 1999. The city is strange to Susannah...and terrifying to the "daughter of none," who shares her body and mind.
Saving the Tower depends not only on rescuing Susannah but also on securing the vacant lot Calvin Tower owns before he loses it to the Sombra Corporation. Enlisting the aid of Manni senders, the remaining katet climbs to the Doorway Cave...and discovers that magic has its own mind. It falls to the boy, the billy-bumbler, and the fallen priest to find Susannah-Mia, who, in a struggle to cope with each other and with an alien environment "go todash" to Castle Discordia on the border of End-World. In that forsaken place, Mia reveals her origins, her purpose, and her fierce desire to mother whatever creature the two of them have carried to term.
Eddie and Roland, meanwhile, tumble into western Maine in the summer of 1977, a world that should be idyllic but isn't. For one thing, it is real, and the bullets are flying. For another, it is inhabited by the author of a novel called 'Salem's Lot, a writer who turns out to be as shocked by them as they are by him.
These are the simple vectors of a story rich incomplexity and conflict. Its dual climaxes, one at the entrance to a deadly dining establishment and the other appended to the pages of a writer's journal, will leave readers gasping for the saga's final volume (which, Dear Reader, follows soon, say thank ya)."                  - From Goodreads.

It took me till the whole of last week till the early hours of wednesday to complete this book and by god what a book it was. It is truly a Magnum Opus of Stephen King. 

Song of Susannah is another brick-of-a-book from King, carefully baked and lobbed lovingly at his constant readers, 400-plus pages (with some beautifully disturbing illustrations by Darrel Anderson, and what are purported to be some of King's notes appended as a Coda) that proceed along three story lines while slowly but inevitably merging toward one. If you haven't read any of the previous Dark Tower novels,  Song of Susannah is not the place to jump on. You will be hopelessly lost, and while King writes well here, your enjoyment of the epic tale of Roland the Gunslinger and his quest to save the Tower and all that is will be enhanced one hundred-fold if you have some idea of what the heck is going on. This is a complex, rich tale of multiple worlds.

This installment contains no summary; there is simply an immediate jump into that fabled land of "(w)hen we last left off..." which, in Wolves the Calla, was the victory of Roland and the People of Calla Bryn Sturgis over the Wolves. That joy of victory was tempered by the departure of a pregnant Susannah Dean through the Doorway Cave (I meant it when I said to read the previous books!). Right off the bat, though, things do not go quite as planned. A Beamquake shakes the foundations of all the worlds, and we learn that the Tower is in much greater jeopardy than we may have previously suspected. And as always, wherever Roland goes, gunplay is sure to follow, but this time, it's waiting for him... As  Song of Susannah commences, Roland and his band (or ka-tet), with the aid of Manni senders, are transported through the Doorway Cave to where they are most needed. Roland and Eddie Dean find themselves in rural Maine in 1977, while Father Callahan and Jake are transported to late 20th century New York City in pursuit of Susannah.

King's further explorations into the rich world of the Dark Tower are as rewarding as they ever were. The characters, by now, have become as comfortable as old friends. Still, there are new facets to be seen yet, and we get a closer look at each of them as the story goes on. This tale, however, is primarily Susannah's. Her body has been usurped by Mia, a demon-made flesh, in pursuit of Susannah's unborn child. A good deal of Song of Susannah consists of the internal dialogue between Susannah and Mia; Susannah, as a result, experiences several revelations regarding such topics as the true identity of the father of her child, as well as the prophetic purpose of his conception, and the unspeakably evil force that will stop at nothing to see that it is brought to birth.

Roland and Eddie, meanwhile, make an important side trip to force an encounter with a local writer who is rapidly gaining notoriety as the result of his recently published novel titled Salem's Lot and who may hold the key to their entire quest. The paths of Roland and Eddie, and Callahan and Jake, slowly converge toward Susannah as she gives birth to her child in most unpleasant circumstances. 

One thing is certain : love it or hate it, "Song of Susannah" is King's riskiest and most surprising work yet. One the one hand, he is taking one of the most overused plot elements in fiction -- the baby of uncertain parentage -- and making something original and interesting out of it. On the other, he is attempting something seen in modern fiction only rarely... a self-relaxive work that engages the reader on multiple levels. By the end of "Song of Susannah" you may find yourself thinking about the realities that fiction creates, and the fictions that "real" life presents us with every day. And if you do, I believe that is entirely the point. King seems to be angling not only toward a conclusion to Roland's quest, but also toward a deeply personal statement about what it is to be a writer. It is an ambitious road to travel, but so far, King has not let us down. In fact, what he has begun with this book has the potential to exceed all the expectations I had for it.

'Ware, Constant Reader: "Song of Susannah," like "The Waste Lands," ends with a cliffhanger. In fact, there is not only one cliffhanger here, but two. The last pages of "Song of Susannah" should leave many readers, as it left me, powerfully hungry for the final book in the series. What lies in wait on the final page is, to say the least, quite a shock. It leaves the fate of Roland and his companions, as well as that of the Tower itself, enshrouded in doubt.

"One more turn of the path, and then we reach the clearing."

I, for one, can't wait to get there. 

Be cautioned: the last (well, almost the last) 20 pages of  Song of Susannah are among the most nightmarish (heh heh) that King has ever written. These passages induced my forced insomnia. I hope they don't do the same to you.

Monday, July 2, 2012

King's Masterpiece : Dark Tower Series : 5. Wolves of the Calla

"The fifth installment of King's #1 "New York Times" masterpiece. Roland and his tet have just returned to the path of the Beam when they discover that they are being followed by a group of inexperienced trackers. The trackers are from the town of Calla Bryn Sturgis, and they desperately need the help of gunslingers. Once every generation, a band of masked riders known as the Wolves gallop out of the dark land of Thunderclap to steal one half of all the twins born in the Callas. When the children are returned, they are roont, or mentally and physically ruined. In less than a month, the Wolves will raid again. In exchange for Roland’s aid, Father Callahan—a priest originally from our world—offers to give Roland a powerful but evil seeing sphere, a sinister globe called Black Thirteen which he has hidden below the floorboards of his church. Not only must Roland and his tet discover a way to defeat the invincible Wolves, but they must also return to New Yorks so that they can save our world’s incarnation of the Dark Tower from the machinations of the evil Sombra Corporation."

Maybe not the best in the series...I still think the fourth book holds that place, but well worth the wait.

It is in this book we see the characters finally work together as trained Gunslingers. Each of the characters has a pressing problem and hardship in their lives, and yet they must put them aside to help the children of the Calla . How these characters deal with their own monumental problems and act as true heroes at the same time is a reflection of the fact they have become true gunslingers, following Roland.

King also takes the opportunity to let this book show us more of Roland's world and culture. I found the dance Roland did at the start of the book fascinating, and the society of goddess worshiping disk throwing women seemed like they might have walked out of the pages of Roman Mythology. King does a great job rounding the culture, and giving us views of the world just as if we were reading a historical fiction, instead of high fantasy.

Wolves of the Calla, at 736 pages, is the longest yet of the series. But the length is justified as King takes time to create characters and places so real, you feel as if you might have been there before in some odd and half forgotten dream. He builds suspense to the final battle with the Wolves, and then makes that battle as fast, and horrible as any real war skirmish.

Many complained about the references to pop culture, Kings other works, and aspects of the "real" world, but I thought they only served to make the idea of the Tower as an axis of reality more believable. Making himself a real, yet invisible character in the book gave me a little shiver, after all...if King is real in that world so am I and all his readers. Heh heh heh. It only served to make the sense of so many realities tied in one moment of fate more grand.

King also makes the themes of choices and payment for those choices central. Lives are altered forever by the Calla's choice to go along with the Wolves so long. Susannah's brave choice of using her sexuality as a weapon against the portal demon in book 3 is now coming due for payment as the birth of her monstrous child approaches. The choice the Father makes in forcing Roland's hand to not offer Susannah an abortion is about to be paid. Yet, King doesn't moralize these choices. He shows each character as someone who simply made the best choice they could. There is a great tragedy in this, and also a great beauty. 

I recommend this to anyone who has found their hearts tied to the fate of the brave little Ka-Tet. To anyone who has not read the others, go back to book one first and take the journey to this one. Only then will you truly understand the path that these brave gunslingers have walked so far, to save the tower and all realities. And you will understand how far the along the path they really have still to go.

Wolves of the Calla is an excellent blend of horror, science fiction and fantasy. It is entertaining and thought provoking. King develops the characters in a way that makes them human and allows the events to flow like a river downstream... into the gaping mouth of a blood thirsty monster. In this alternate universe nothing is what it seems, yet everything has an air of familiarity. It is in this familiarity that King frightens us the most, because there is nothing more frightening that the alternate reality of King's mind.

Hold on to your horses, kids. Its going to be a hell of a ride. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

King's Masterpiece : Dark Tower Series : 4. Wizard and Glass

 "Wizard and Glass picks up where the last book left off, with our hero, Roland, and his unlikely band of followers escaping from one world and slipping into the next. And it is there that Roland tells them a story, one that details his discovery of something even more elusive than the Dark Tower: love. But his romance with the beautiful and quixotic Susan Delgado also has its dangers, as her world is tom apart by war. Here is Roland's journey to his own past, to a time when valuable lessons awaited him, lessons of loyalty and betrayal, love and loss."

            "Wizard and Glass," Volume IV of Stephen King's fantasy/western "Dark Tower" series is even better than the three books which preceded it. I didn't think it would be possible to top "The Wastelands," Book III, but King has accomplished the task with great elan. The author's tremendous talents and consistency as a writer are evident here. I can only advise the reader not to begin this novel during a busy period in your life, as it will cause you to miss all sorts of deadlines. I really found it difficult to put this page-turner down.

The novel opens with a wrap-up of the cliffhanger which began in Book Three, where bizarre Blaine, the psychotic, riddle-loving monorail tries to take the stoic Gunslinger and his companions on a suicide trip to a terminal destination. Given the dark humor, it's a really fun ride. The band of four...and a half, the Gunslinger, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and their talking dog-like pet, Oy the Bumbler, disengage from the wreckage of Blaine, and continue along the path of the Beam toward the Dark Tower. They finally take a rest, around a campfire, while Roland narrates the details of his quest, the whys and wherefores behind his decision to take this particular course. He tells the tragic tale of his lost love, Susan, and his beloved friends and companions Cuthbert and Alain, who all formed a magnificent Ka-tet, (King's word for a group of people drawn together by fate). These characters have been brought up in prior novels and all played a formidable role in Roland's past which will haunt him to the ends of the changing world. "Wizard and Glass" is more a traditional fantasy novel than the other, more darkly fantastic books in the series. The forces of magic aren't often on the side of Roland and his friends, so they must rely on their wits or their weapons instead.

Roland's father, the best Gunslinger who ever lived, sent him away from the Inner Baronies and looming danger, with his closest friends Cuthbert and Alain. All were disguised and took aliases. They arrived at their destination, the small seaside town of Hambry, in Mejis, on the outskirts of Mid-World, ostensibly to count the taxable goods for the Affiliation. The trio discovered that there was trouble brewing here also, worse than that in Gilead. They were in much more danger in the Barony of Mejis than they would have been staying at home. The town's officials had secretly defected to the side of John Farson, "The Good Man," whose armed revolution was gradually destroying the world. Farson's group planned to use oil wells and refineries, built during the long-ago Age of the Old Ones, to create gasoline to power weapons of war. These relics of the past, and other resources, lay right outside Hambry. Cut off from communications and support, Roland, Cuthbert and Alain were up against powerful adversaries, men of evil and ill will, as they attempted to foil the plot.

On their first night in Hambry, Roland met beautiful Susan Delgado, just sixteen, a year or so older than he. The two fall deeply in love. Unfortunately she had been coerced into giving her promise to the lecherous, aging Mayor to be his future lover, (and future mother of his child - he hoped). His wife had been unable to bear him children after 40 years of marriage. Susan was unable to break the contract without staining her family's honor. The young lovers entered into an illicit affair - one which endangered the lives of them all.

It is difficult to summarize the richly detailed and intricate plot of "Wizard and Glass" and do it justice. The characters, major and minor, are outstanding - they just come to life on the page. There's the ancient witch who becomes addicted to Farson's pink crystal ball, and whose hatred for Susan will prove to be disastrous for the Ka-tet; Jonas the failed gunslinger, banished to the West long ago, and his two cronies - all in Mejis to do Farson's work; Cordelia, Susan's deranged aunt who is eaten up by jealousy, guilt and her own pettiness; Sheemie, who is devoted to Cuthbert for saving his life, and proves to be loyal and courageous - an honorary member of the Ka-tet. And, of course there's young Roland, the newly made Gunslinger, who longs to lead his friends with honor and be worthy of his father's name; Alain, serious, noble and gifted with the Sight; Cuthbert the cutup, who is so like Eddie; Susan, a strong young woman, with her dream of first love finally realized, and so much to lose. King demonstrates a huge talent for creating a wide variety of characters and weaving them into a credible community. His narrative is rich in vivid detail and the pace is fast-going enough that I had a problem deciding where to pause. Ultimately, the reader is given an understanding of why Roland is the man he is. And this is a good place to acquire it. Roland, while never unsympathetic, has always seemed a bit too stoic - a hard, ruthless, unsentimental man who will kill for his cause.

I think this is one of Stephen King's best book ever, and certainly one of the best novels I have read in a long time. One of the high points, for me, is the way the author brings in characters and themes from his other books, pointing out to the reader that the figures of evil in all his work are the same throughout - no matter what their names. Whatever the storyline, the purpose of total destruction remains consistent. It may have taken the author a long time to get this book out, but it is sure worth it. "The Dark Tower" is really Stephen King at his best and most ambitious. He examines here, in this extraordinary epic, the importance of mythology, and of the quest, in man's life! Very highly recommended!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

King's Masterpiece : Dark Tower Series : 3. The Waste Lands

Roland, the last gunslinger, moves ever closer to the dark tower of his dreams and nightmares as he travels through city and country in Mid-World - a macabre world that is a twisted image of our own. With him are those he has drawn to this world: street smart Eddie and courageous wheelchair-bound Susannah. Ahead of him are mind-bending revelations about who and what is driving him. Against him is arrayed a swelling legion of foes-- both more and less than human.

When Stephen King began the Dark Tower series with the collection of short stories that made up The Gunslinger, his guarded vision of a magnificent fantasy world tantalized readers with a glimpse of something that left us with one thought...MORE. The next book, The Drawing of the Three, satisfied that craving, filled with vibrant, exotic creatures and locales and giving King's audience its first full-scale look at Mid-World. The third Dark Tower novel, The Waste Lands, is a continuation of what I think is the high point of creativity in Stephen King's career. 

The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands are the two books where King reached his full potential to write fantasy, action, and adventure. The novel opens with Roland, Eddie, and Susannah battling an 80-foot cyborg bear infested with disease and writhing white worms. After surviving this monstrosity, Roland's mind is nearly torn apart by a paradox he created in the last book when he saved Jake from the death he suffered in the first book. In a twist I never expected, the narrative picks up from Jake's perspective, whose mind is also stricken when he survives the moment his mind insists was to be his death. 

In a fascinating turn of events, Jake is drawn into Mid-World through a door the ka-tet creates in the middle of a speaking ring similar to the one in which Roland learned about his future in The Gunslinger. Jake is revealed to be the true third that was to be drawn in order for Roland to continue his quest. However, during the drawing, Susannah must "entertain" a demon the same way Roland did to get his prophecy, which in a later book is developed into one of the most shocking twists of the entire series.

After completing the group, the companions set out together on their way to the Tower, gaining a new member in Oy the billy-bumbler. This strange cross between a dog and a raccoon delights the group with his gold-ringed eyes and incredible intelligence, which allows him to speak and count at a rudimentary level. However, not long after Jake is rescued, the travelers are beset by Gasher, a diseased mercenary of Lüd who kidnaps Jake. Oy sets off after him with Roland following close behind. A thrilling chase ensues, culminating with a face-off between Roland, Gasher, and the Tick-Tock Man, a gigantic descendant of the mythical Lord Perth. With Oy's help, Roland kills his enemies, saves Jake, and races to find Eddie and Susannah. Once reunited, the group boards Blaine the Mono, a train run by a computer gone mad that carries them through The Waste Lands. 

The horrible, unnatural, mutated creatures they see in The Waste Lands turn out to be the least of their troubles, as Blaine voices its intentions to commit suicide at the end of its run, thereby killing Roland and his companions. King left the story on this gut-wrenching cliffhanger, torturing fans by making them wait six years to see how the dilemma is resolved. Just like the book that preceded it, The Waste Lands is an amazing, fast-paced ride full of thrilling story and dazzling creativity. I love the entire Dark Tower series, but I don't think Stephen King ever got quite as good at this type of writing as he did with the second and third books. The Waste Lands remains of the most impressive achievements of his career.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

King's Masterpiece : Dark Tower Series : 2. The Drawing of the Three

         "After his confrontation with the man in black at the end of The Gunslinger, Roland awakes to find three doors on the beach of Mid-World's Western Sea—each leading to New York City but at three different moments in time. Through these doors, Roland must "draw" three figures crucial to his quest for the Dark Tower. In 1987, he finds Eddie Dean, The Prisoner, a heroin addict. In 1964, he meets Odetta Holmes, the Lady of Shadows, a young African-American heiress who lost her lower legs in a subway accident and gained a second personality that rages within her. And in 1977, he encounters Jack mort, Death, a pusher responsible for cruelties beyond imagining. Has Roland found new companions to form the ka-tet of his quest? Or has he unleashed something else entirely?"         

The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King is the second book in the Dark Tower series. After having read The Gunslinger, I was impressed with how the plot came to life and next to it this is one of the finest books I've read in a very long time that doesn't deal with elves and dragons. Many readers have said that the Dark Tower series gets only better with every book.

The book starts off a couple of hours later right after the ending of The Gunslinger. Roland's quest to find the Dark Tower actually begins (sorta) and for that to happen, he needs the help of three other individuals. Now, it's really hard not to spoil things here but I'm guessing by looking at the book cover, you should already have surmised that Roland will somehow have to travel through magical doorways to seek said individuals. The idea behind this is brilliant yet I'm sure some readers will think that this is hardly anything original. Well, this book was first published in 1987 and so it clearly shows the brilliant mind of the author.

As you could have guessed, each individual behind that doorway with which Roland has a connection to all have different personalities and personal problems. Technically, there are three doorways and so there are three different stories altogether. I loved each and every one of them! Because this whole concept with the doors is new to the readers, the author spends a lot of time going over things with the first character that Roland connects to. The funny thing is how conversations can go because Roland is so different, being as he is from a different time. I really don't want to write too much because it will only spoil things. I never had a problem writing reviews but here, I'm having a problem finding words because everything seems like a possible spoiler!

The atmosphere and setting with The Drawing of the Three is amazing. In Roland's world, everything is bleak and dreary. This lends to a very isolated feeling and you can actually feel the struggles of the characters and what they are having to go through. However, I feel that this second book is actually another introductory book in the story. Hopefully with Roland finally having drawn the three, his adventure in search of the Dark Tower can finally begin. Technically, I know that the author has about five more books to complete his story but I'm hoping the next book the real adventure would begin.

What makes The Drawing of the Three so special is that it has a little bit of everything. It shows that this world really is full of unique and special individuals and at any moment, their life could be changed by some event. The writing is also very solid. There really wasn't a boring part throughout the book. Everything is just so gripping and part of it is you genuinely want to find out what happens next! This sounds absurd when I write it but for those who have read a book that you felt it was literally too hard to put down, you'll know what I'm talking about. 

Stephen King really knows how to blend so many different elements together in a book and actually making them stick. Right now, Roland still feels like a little mystery to me. Sure, I know his overall demeanor and what he's about but I feel as if there is so much more that the author is holding back for later. But whatever the case, this book has definitely sparked my interest in the Dark Tower series. Luckily for me, every book has already been released so no waiting!!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

King's Masterpiece : Dark Tower Series : 1. The Gunslinger

In THE GUNSLINGER, Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner, on a spellbinding journey into good and evil, in a desolate world which frighteningly echoes our own.

In his first step towards the powerful and mysterious Dark Tower, Roland encounters an alluring woman named Alice, begins a friendship with Jake, a kid from New York, and faces an agonizing choice between damnation and salvation as he pursues the Man in Black.

Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, THE GUNSLINGER leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

What can be said about "The Gunslinger" and "The Dark Tower" that hasn't already been said? In truth, probably very little. But here goes...

I approached this series as a steadfast avoider of King's works. Growing up as a child, I'd seen a few of his films and read none of his books and for the most part I believed King's body of work to be a thing I would never actively seek out. That's not to say it was bad or that it was even distasteful. But I'd ignorantly resigned myself to the fact that all of King's works were of the horror genre, and that simply did not interest me. So vested was I in this belief that as I entered my teens and became more and more aware that King's stories spanned a much broader swathe of the literary buffet table, even so I was unwilling to give King's books a chance.

I'd seen "It" as a child and it properly frightened me. I'd seen both versions of "The Shining". I'd seen "Misery" several times before I was 14. These were all films that made me 'uncomfortable'. Yet I found "Misery" to be a fascinating film and willingly returned to. I saw and enjoyed "The Green Mile", only to discover later that it was a work of King's. The same was true for "Schawshank".

The evidence was slamming me in the face like a brick that there were great stories to be enjoyed by Mr King, and yet I steadfastly refused to give most of King's work a chance. "The Dark Tower" certainly wasn't going to receive a moment of my attention. My friend mentioned he was reading the series and how good it was. Indeed I was aware of the series, as you couldn't enter any bookstore without seeing them everywhere. The series had recently (at the time) been republished in anticipation of the the release of books VI and VII, concluding the series. The lasting image in my mind was that acid-green cover to "The Waste Lands" all over every bookshop window in town. It looked looked said "Stephen King" on the cover. Despite having a healthier appetite for the horror genre than I'd had in my youth, despite knowing full-well that King wrote excellent stories, despite actually knowing absolutely nothing whatsoever about the plot of the books I couldn't have possibly cared less.

It was about two years ago when I stumbled upon a story surrounding the planned film adaptation of the series that I began to take interest. The story mentioned very briefly (a single paragraph) that (and I'm paraphrasing), [Stephen King's epic, inspired by such works as J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' and westerns such as 'Gunsmoke' and Sergio Leone's "Man with No Name Trilogy" starring Clint Eastwood, would soon be adapted into a major motion picture series.]

I was flabbergasted. I was a life-long Tolkien fan myself and couldn't believe that this man whom I'd spent so much of my time actively avoiding could possibly have anything in common with my favourite author of all-time. I immediately began researching "The Dark Tower" (initially expecting to find that the author of the aforementioned article would surely have made some grave error). I soon learned that Stephen King had indeed been inspired by Tolkien in his youth, as had so many of his generation. I read that King had decided that he wanted to write a fantasy (not horror!) epic of his very own...but that he didn't want it to be concerned with elves, wizards and dragons as there was so much of that around already. It had been done well (by Tolkien) and it had been done a lot (by everyone else). The market was saturated.

Instead, King opted to wait...and contemplated what would become "his" epic. This eventually came to be published in a seven-volume series (soon to contain an eighth) beginning with "The Gunslinger"...which is what this review is really supposed to be about anyway.

The very fact that a 'fantasy' series could involve a 'Gunslinger' rather than...well, rather than what I was accustomed to seeing in my fantasy stories...was enough for me to track down an online-copy of the first chapter of "The Gunslinger". Like so many before me, I was hooked from the first line.

"The Man in Black fled across the desert, and The Gunslinger followed."

An absolutely perfect way to begin a tale, and I rank it just as highly as ever I have Tolkien's own introduction to his world, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." It's a short line...a memorable line...and it instantaneously demanded my attention. It forced me to read on, made me want to know more.

Who was this Man in Black? Why was he fleeing and who was he fleeing from? Was he fleeing from The Gunslinger, or was he unaware he was being tracked and was simply fleeing for other reasons? And who was The Gunslinger? Why did he chase this unnamed man, who must surely be a villain (being so attired)?

We soon learn that The Gunslinger is Roland Deschain, and his role as "Gunslinger" could be equated to "Keeper of the Peace", "Preserver", even "knight". It is or was his task to stop his world from 'moving on'...but he has failed in his task to do so. The world has moved on Roland is the last of his kind and nothing is as it used to be. The changes which are happening are linked to the mysterious Man in Black, and the mythical tower, which supposedly stands as the centre the intersection of many words or universes. A change is happening there, and not for the better. Roland's quest is to reach this tower for what ultimate purpose is not known. Will he succeed? what friends and enemies will he make along the way? The choices he makes will affect not only his world, but all worlds including our own. But is it choice, or is it Ka..."destiny"?

I approached this series as a lover of Tolkien's works. It is with such an eye and mind that I have unavoidably cast judgement upon Roland Deschain and his world, his friends, his quest and his stories. Tolkien believed that an author does not 'create' stories. The stories are already there like leaves on a great tree of stories. An author simply finds or selects the story and it is his job to tell it in a successful way a task he referred to as 'sub-creation'. Tolkien believed that with any genre this sub-creation was the difficult part of storytelling, and the trick to successful sub-creation was to do so in such a way so as to encourage your readers to invest in and believe in your story. Once you question it once you begin to think that what you're reading doesn't work or make sense, the spell is broken and the art of sub-creation has failed.

Tolkien believed this to be particularly difficult when dealing with the fantasy genre. After all, it's much easier to get a reader to invest in and believe in a story concerning 'real world' events such as modern or historically factual warfare, a detective story, a romance novel, murderous thriller than it is to ask a reader to believe a man can fly, or that dragons walked the earth, or that hobbits used to be as natural a part of this world as men. If you can tell such a story sub-create it successfully and your readers are invested and come along willingly to where you take them then you truly have made something special.

I am proud to say that Stephen King has made a convert of me. Not only am I enamored with King's sub-creation of all things concerning Roland, but I have a strong desire to read other works by King, particularly those which "link" or "connect" with "The Dark Tower" (e.g., 'The Stand'). That is perhaps the greatest praise I can offer, considering my previously ignorant and stubborn unwillingness to try to meet him halfway. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mythology at its best!!!

As soon as I had read (and reviewed) “The Immortals of Meluha“, I knew I had to read the sequel. It was too interesting to leave the trilogy midway and not know what happens next. 

"The secret of the Nagas" is the second part of the Shiva trilogy and is a sequel to the book "The immortals of Meluha. It's a fictional account of the famous Indian god Lord Shiva. The second book begins exactly where the first had ended, in the land of the Chandravanshis, Swadweep. Shiva is trying to find the Nagas who have killed Brahaspati, a brother like figure to Shiva. While on the trail he discovers various facts, meets different people making him ponder about good and evil while also uncovering many interesting facts about the Nagas. Various events lead him to question his mission and if it actually serves it's purpose.

The Secret of the Nagas is a fitting sequel to the Immortals of Meluha. This book leaves you with the same experience as the previous one although it's never repetitive and even more adventurous. As you read more you seep into Indian mythology discovering various facts about gods, rivers, war techniques, customs of various sects, religion, cultural practices while never being disengaged from the plot. As, in the first book Shiva is always on the move, traveling to different places. His relationship with Sati and other central characters evolve and many new characters are also introduced. The author gives a very good back story to each character and does a very good job in providing the perspectives of different cultures through the characters.

Being Indian, I have grown up on stories of different gods giving numerous examples of bravery, good and their quest in the destruction of evil. But, there was always an alien connection with the stories, in the sense that the stories told comprised of people who were more than the average human making the characters always larger than life and non-believable. The best part of this trilogy is, it sort of dispels that notion and treats the protagonist, Shiva, like a regular individual but with the exception that the destiny of God awaits him, making it lot easier to relate with the character. 

All in all, the book was a fantastic read, continuously engaging and adventurous. The suspense and the interesting dialogues never let the book get boring. The negative points of the book are that the writing lacks at times, not providing the "punch" that maybe needed in certain situations. Also, Shiva's character can be further explored but the author always limits himself. He never delves into his feelings, the reader is left with a certain disappointment that, most of the time, only his actions rather than his feelings are written about. But, the plot is executed perfectly and the pieces fit into the puzzle without any blemishes. So, I would definitely recommend this book. 

This is definitely a must read and like I said when reviewing The Immortals of Meluha: "Should you read this book? Definitely. But if you hate cliff hangers (which is how this part ends) then you may be better off waiting for all the books to be released before starting on this." Part 3 : Oath of the Vayuputras is sue for release sometime next year.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

An excellent work and a great take in Indian Mythology

Part 1 of the Shiva Trilogy from Amish Tripathi. One of the first books by an Indian author to be introduced by a viral video on youtube.

The story of The Immortals of Meluha is set in 1900BC and operates on the premise that Shiva was a mortal, a simple man whom legend turned into God.

Amish summarises his fundamental premises as:

"I believe that the Hindu gods were not mythical beings or a figment of a rich imagination. I believe that they were creatures of flesh and blood, like you and me. I believe that they achieved godhood through their karma, their deeds. With these premises, an interesting read is assured."

While parts of the story are rooted in mythology and some parts are corraborated by history - like the description of town planning by the Meluhans - most parts are pure speculative fiction.

The story is very interesting and keeps you gripped. I don't want to reveal too much of the plot here, so let me try to avoid that while sketching out the basics.

The Suryavanshis are the descendants of Lord Ram who have created an extremely stable society based on strict rules and regulations. An ideal state except for a few rules that Shiva finds unfair. Shiva is a Tibetan immigrant, invited to Meluha (the land now known as the Indus Valley Civilisation) and slowly recognised as a saviour and deliverer from evil.

The evil being the Chandravanshis - who live on the opposite side of India in Swadweep between the Ganga and the Brahmaputra, that also holds Ayodhya - the birth place of Lord Ram.

At times the philosophy in the book sounds like it comes from the Matrix - "You don't earn a title after you have done your deeds... It doesn't matter what others think. It's about what you believe. Believe you are the Mahadev and you will be one"

But there are some statements that make you think and reflect and question previously held assumptions. Amish belives that the cry of Har Har Mahadev actually stems from the thought Har ek Mahadev - Each one of us, has it in us to be a Mahadev.

A lot has been said about the language in the book. While the setting is 1900BC, the language is 21st century AD, with Weapons of Mass Destruction and Departments of Immigration. At times it is difficult to reconcile the two. Amish in an interview said that he had a huge struggle with his editor/publisher about this issue. He wanted the dialogue to be more authentic and his publisher wanted it more modern.

I can empathise with the editor/publisher. The language makes this an easy book to read and will defintely increase sales. But purists searching for authenticity will be disappointed.

Personally I enjoyed the book. I can't wait for books 2 and 3. I have my suspicions, but will try and be patient. :)

Should you read this book? Definitely. But if you hate cliff hangers (which is how this part ends) then you may be better off waiting for all the books to be released before starting on this.

If you are in the least bit interested in Mythology, I guarantee that you will be intrigued.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Avengers : The Hulk steals the show!!

I saw the AVENGERS this weekend and, at the end, my face hurt from grinning so big. The movie unspoiled its contents and the awesome bits never stopped piling up. I am so wired I can't form a coherent thought, and so here, instead, is a salvo of stream-of-consciousness impressions, in whatever order.

Mark Ruffalo is simply terrific as the Hulk's alter (and calmer) ego. I actually prefer his interpretation of Dr. Banner over Bana's and Norton's. Ruffalo steers away from the deadening angst that made me fidget in earlier Hulk pictures. He finds a balance. This Banner exhibits a dry sense of humor but exudes this quirky, low simmer edginess. And I love Ruffalo's interactions with Downey, Jr., two swaggerful eggheads matching their test tubes against each other and applying big words. I like that there's respect between their two characters. There's an intriguing twist involving Banner's relationship with the Hulk, of which I won't say more. The Hulk - and this seems to be a unanimous impression - steals the movie.

Comic book geeks like me have recently been dogging Marvel's latest company crossover event, AVENGERS VS. X-MEN. And, yet, this film demonstrates that, sometimes, there's nothing more exhilarating than eyeballing an epic hero vs. hero scrap. Mjolnir, meet the Hulk's face. Have you ever wondered what happens should Thor's enchanted hammer go up against Captain America's indestructible shield?

The plot revolves around the far-ranging machinations of Loki, Asgardian god of mischief. Those who've read the AVENGERS' origin in the comic books should note a smidgen of familiarity, but only a smidgen. The Tesseract artifact plays a part. The bad guys Loki recruits as an invasion force aren't Skrulls. Not exactly. Certainly they pose an extinction level threat, alarming enough that some assembly becomes required.

Captain America is well utilized here, although I'm hating his awkward modern-day costume. I vastly prefered his more practical WWII outfit.

You and me, let's kowtow to Joss Whedon. His storytelling has big scope; it has grandeur. He orchestrates a sprawling, high-profiled cast and just about gets away with not slighting anyone. He does rely some on your familiarity with the character development sunk into the prior films. He manages to tie in various plot threads from previous Marvel pictures. Although Stark, Cap, and Banner get the lion's share of the spotlight, Whedon devotes time and space to side characters like the slinky but lethal spy, the Black Widow, and the likable, unobstrusive Agent Coulson. If you assume the Black Widow's defining action moment surfaces in that early interrogation scene, you'd be all kinds of not right. Scarlett Johansson ticks off Whedon's Buffy box, not only in things assskickery but also in terms of strong character beats (the Widow's dialogue with Loki happens to be an acting showcase). She's so much more here than when she was showcased in IRON MAN 2. But if I could pick out two people who may have been underused, they would have to be Maria Hill and Hawkeye. I do feel that Cobie Smulders was wasted.

I love that, like in the comics, Thor never gives up on his half-brother.

The first half hour is essentially a slow burn set-up, but it keeps you engaged. And at times Whedon does sacrifice narrative for those wild action sequences, and that's okay, because Whedon treats us to a series of marvelous cape-on-cape violence (in true Marvel fashion, these heroes harbor instant grudges against each other). But all those violent "misunderstandings" merely whet your appetite. Joss doesn't disappoint. The extended climactic combat sequence - as the Avengers hold the line against a horde of grotesque invaders from deep space - is off the charts and immensely gratifying. I'm reminded of the 1990s X-Men cartoon in which the camera would often track the X-Men in frenzied action, as they hurtle in and out of the picture, occasionally mingling with each other only to break off again into individual skirmishes. I was mesmerized by Whedon's sweeping, organic approach to the battle scenes.

No surprise, there are heaps of whip smart one-liners, plenty of them generated by a smirky Robert Downey, Jr. - and yet even Chris Hemsworth's regal thunder god elicits chuckles. No contest, though, the brutalizing Hulk - rendered to savage life in astonishing CG - captures two of the film's biggest laughs.

For pure escapism and sheer fanfare and fan service beyond expectation, THE AVENGERS is the best superhero movie I have ever seen. I have to see it again. But you, you make sure to stick around for the embedded scene during the post-credits and then for the post-credit scene. You may wet your pants.

Hours and hours later, I'm still big grinning. Joss Whedon actually pulled it off.

P.S : But seriously there is a movie that's been keeping people getting goosebumps all over when they see the trailer. You guys know what am talking about right?? yes, the epic conclusion to the Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight series : The Dark Knight Rises. Am waiting for it to hit the big screens =)