“Prague Nights” by Benjamin Black

(Author: Benjamin Black) + (Year: 2017) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Don’t let the beautiful cover and the fairytale-like description fool you, this book is nothing like what it seems.

I was beyond excited to request Prague Nights on NetGalley. And I can’t tell you how happy I was to start reading it.

Sadly, it was in vain.

Prague Nights is a dreary, boring, uneventful narrative about some equally boring events that did not happen in the court of Rudolf II.

In theory, this book could have been fantastic. Rudolf II was obsessed with the occult, with different curiosities, he was a patron of art and magic. Looking for the philosopher’s stone in 16th century Prague? How awesome is that?

Not very awesome, in this book.

The narrator and main character, Christian Stern, is a person who needs a hard slap. He is not remarkable in any way, he is not particularly talented, nor is he very smart, for that matter. Christian Stern is ordered by the emperor to investigate the death of a young girl. What he does instead of that is snoop around the court affairs, have sex, and think how he should investigate but isn’t. There is not a drop of suspense, because the narrator is in no way engaged in the drama unfolding in the palace. He is no part of it, he doesn’t know what the relations between the other characters are, he is usually at a loss as to how to act and what to do. The main event of the book being the death of Magda Kroll, Christian Stern plays no role in solving it. He just follows what other characters tell him to do and ends up learning information that is completely inconsequential, as everyone else already has the knowledge. Even in the end, he is just a passive observer. He doesn’t manage to achieve absolutely anything.

More so, out of what could have been an absurdly beautiful scene for the events of the book, my dream city of Prague, what we get is usually Stern’s cold house where he has sex. No enchanting adventures in the maze of streets of old Prague, no hidden treasures, no magic, no life in this book.

All of the events simply happen and we are forced to read about them from the view-point of the most uncharismatic outcast in the court of Rudolf II.

Lastly, what could have been the two most interesting characters in the book, Rudolf and his son Don Julius Caesar, are just mentioned as background information, and often mocked, while in reality, they were both probably insane, but also very interesting people.

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“Kingdom of Ashes” by Elena May

Kingdom of Ashes (Nightfall, #1)(Author: Elena May) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I have been very, very cautious with vampire books in the last couple of years. In fact, I don’t remember the last vampire novel that I read, aside from re-reading The Historian and Dracula two years ago.

However, I read the synopsis of Kingdom of Ashes, and the many positive reviews, and I decided to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did!

This book reminded me why I love YA so much. It was very engaging and it kept me flipping the pages to a point where I skipped lunch with my colleagues in order to read on a bench.

The thing, which, for me, was very original and exciting, was the fact that every step of the way and every part of the narrative was cleverly thought-through. The author took all famous (and silly) vampire cliches and tropes and she turned them into an outspoken joke between the characters. Elena May managed to make everything that could have destroyed the book its exact opposite. For example at one point Myra tried to pull a Scheherazade on the prince and I was sitting there, worried whether this is going to be a real thing, because it was so obvious. And then the prince himself recognized and ridiculed it.

In terms of plot, there was one thing that was a bit of a cliched narrative and that was the fact that (while the book is obviously not doing the Scheherazade) it did go along the lines of Beauty and the Beast. Watching the movie right after finishing the book just made me realize it more clearly. However, I’m not sure that at a time such as ours where we are so over-saturated with pop culture, it’s possible to create anything that doesn’t borrow from absolutely anywhere.

Character-wise, I liked the fact that there was a game of black/white and shades of gray. Myra was on the same boat as me when I was trying to make up my mind about whether the vampires are all evil or all good, or those are concepts that don’t even apply to the situation. For example, many of the points the prince made on humankind were just as challenging as what can be said about vampires in terms of the book. In a world where vampires and humans co-exist and vampires have overtaken the world and wiped out a big part of the population, I think it’s still fair to say that that’s nothing humans haven’t done to other species or even to themselves. The only reason why people generally sympathize with people, and not, say, vampires or werewolves, is simply because we are people. But humans can be just as evil in a completely different way. For example, just yesterday a colony of griffon vultures in Bulgaria was completely destroyed by hunters who poisoned all of the birds. If that’s not monstrous, I don’t know what is.

Having said all of this, while I did sympathize with Myra at certain times, I didn’t necessarily think she was a nice person. Contrary to what I read in the reviews of people who thought she was selfish and self-absorbed, I think that was one of her most likable traits in terms of writing. She was a very realistic person, unlike the perfect/all-I-do-is-effing-magic heroines of other YA books. I wouldn’t like Myra as a friend, but I can read about her and think “Well… that’s true.” And her selfishness is something that can be attributed to most humans. The fact that she is so focused on her book and improving as a writer is to be expected from any person with any artistic capabilities. Then again, she was sometimes obnoxious and she did make stupid decisions, so I’m on the verge with her. But I am also known among my friends as someone who is specifically very demanding of female characters…

As is probably to be expected, I really liked Vlad, because I would say that I both appreciated his attitude, and got where he was coming from. He followed his set of rules and had a reason to act the way he did: I’m a vampire, my nature requires me to drink blood, so I drink blood. I like art, humans make art, I like humans. The end.

I am really excited for the next book in the series, I really hope it comes sooner, rather than later.

* I’m so happy vampires were just vampires, and not vampyrs, vampyres, etc. and magic was just magic instead of magik or magick.

“The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 4: Rising Action” by Kieron Gillen

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 4: Rising Action(Author: Kieron Gillen) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Yes! Thank the Pantheon, the art disaster that was the last volume has been put to an end. I couldn’t be happier to have the beautiful art back. Having read as many comic books as I have so far, I think that Jamie McKelvie’s art is up there at the top for me.

In every single frame the art is so astoundingly beautiful that I am even willing to forgive some of the flaws in the plot.

This volume convinced me that The Wicked + The Divine is following a simple story arc, using simple art (in the sense that there aren’t millions upon millions of layers, textures and so on), and following a pace that is neither too slow, nor too fast. While I think that this is a very safe recipe, it also makes it easier to follow through with the plots and to not create a mess of story lines that go no where. At the same time, the story does draw the reader in and keep their interest.

There are two things that I support, and at the same time, would not mind if they changed a bit:

  1. The pace: As I said, thanks to the medium pace, the story lines get resolved. However, 4 volumes in, we haven’t moved that much forward in terms of the plot. The character development is more vigorous, but the general aim of the book is somewhere in the distant future, because only at the end of this volume, do we see the end of the first act. Ananke‘s words at the end of Rising Action are ominous and predict that there is going to be a completely different big arc in the book, and one that will have a much bigger adversary.
  2. The character interactions: The characters have a set of relationships with each other worthy of a soap opera, but it’s actually really hard to find the motivation for their actions. Why these two hate each other and those two don’t is usually determined by the alliances and enmity which serve the author. Also, taking into consideration that they are in a constant war, they don’t actually have that much time to interact.

Thank being said, I love Laura’s team. But not Laura herself. He-he.

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“ODY-C, Vol. 1: Off to Far Ithicaa” by Mat Fraction

ODY-C, Vol. 1: Off to Far Ithicaa(Author: Matt Fraction) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

UGH.

This is a strong contender for the worst comic book I’ve read. I’m not sure if it’s the worst one, but if I went back an ranked them, and this was not it, it would not be for the lack of trying.

The story, all on itself, seems like it could somehow work out: female Odyssey (Odyssia, to be precise) in space, shortly after the war in Troiia, is trying to fly home to Ithicaa while the gods are throwing obstacles in her way.

I mean… It has possibilities?

However, this comic book has one single positive side: the colors. They are very vibrant, out there and bordering with psychedelic imagery. That’s it. That’s all the compliments I can give for this volume.

Here’s a list of what I hated about it (which is everything else):

  1. All men have been wiped out of existence. Except for one. Ergo, we have to witness an unnecessary amount of boobs, vaginas, baby-birthing, and all things that should be private, but are shown in this comic book, because it has nothing to offer, outside of shocking images. This includes penises. There is one man, so obviously, we MUST see his penis. No, not really. I didn’t have a particular need for that.
  2. There is a very ridiculous system of women and women who can impregnate themselves, who are other beings, created in a lab. It’s a society in which everyone is a woman, but for some reason, some women have beards? And there are mouths everywhere? Like a serious oral fixation? (images at the bottom)
  3. I did say that it’s colorful, huh? Yeah, well, there’s colorful, and there’s I-ate-some-paints-and-then-fell-sick-and-puked-them-back-out. As in a mess of images, colors, explosions, vaginas, mouths, mouths, more mouths, blood, intestines and tits, and you’re not really sure what you’re looking at. (Sometimes that’s a mercy.)
  4. There’s no actual plot. They tried to create a space Odyssey, but failed to include the story. Some things happen, there’s no narration, the characters barely communicate, there are almost no dialogues, what is in fact written is random gibberish.
    I scrolled randomly an stopped at a random page and this is all the text there was in that page. It’s like this in every page:

    • “Something you must understand,” says the wizard, “Is my star is nothing like yours. This is a thing made for wishing by magicks that only a titan as I could conceive.” “What do you mean?” asks Odyssia.

  5. The entire comic book has NO point, whatsoever. You can take a look at the Goodreads page and how no one actually got what they were reading, because there was nothing to get. This entire comic book is an ego masturbation born out of lack of any good ideas. There’s nothing stylish, or provocative, or imaginative in this book.  It’s, in fact, so dull, that they are urged to throw everything gross, disgusting and unnecessary they have in a futile attempt at keeping the reader’s attention. “This episode has no point. There’s no idea. Oh, damn, what do we do? Here’s some bloody boobs. What? Not enough boobs? More boobs? So, do we have your attention?”

And lest you think that I’m exaggerating or making this up, here’s some pictures for your viewing displeasure.

NOTE: EXPLICIT AND POSSIBLY SPOILERISH ILLUSTRATIONS. (that is to say that this thing barely has a story, but there might be parts of what there is below.)

Continue reading

“Going Postal, Discworld #33” by Terry Pratchett

Going Postal (Discworld, #33; Moist von Lipwig, #1)(Author: Terry Pratchett) + (Year: 2004) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Going Postal definitely ranks among my top 3 Discworld books. That is to say, Equal Rites will ALWAYS be my favourite, as it was my first, and the one that got me into Terry Pratchett to begin with. After that, the list gets blurrier, but nevertheless, Going Postal is among best.

I saw the Going Postal movie no fewer than 3 years ago and I loved it. Which was my reason to postpone reading this book after I suffered from a severe Terry Pratchett fatigue. Now I’m back, and I’m happy to be here.

Going Postal is essentially a book about hope. Whatever else is happening in this book, it’s actually a wide frame of the story of hope.

“And this was known as the greatest of treasures, which is Hope. It was a good way of getting poorer really very quickly, and staying poor. It could be you. But it wouldn’t be.”

And then later in the book:

“Welcome to fear, said Moist to himself. It’s hope, turned inside out. You know you can’t go wrong. You’re sure it can’t go wrong…

But it might.”

Moist, as a character, is a personification of the efforts to be good. Or to be better. The struggle against the easy way out, which is to just take what you want (and not even need), as opposed to struggling and fighting for what’s worth it. I found Moist mightily gratifying to read about. He was just my type of a main character, crooked and wicked, but motivated to achieve more; aware of his flaws, morally ambiguous, willing to take a wild chance; Attempting to do the impossible, because where is the challenge, otherwise?

I liked the secondary characters a lot too. They were all cleverly constructed and very interesting. I know that many would say that this is always the case with Terry Pratchett, but I have grown to feel a gap between his books. As in, same author, same world, and yet there are ones that I loved, like Going Postal, and ones that I really, truly hated. And usually, I can set the difference with the witches (whom I adore) and everyone else, most of all the guards, who don’t interest me in the slightest. However, in Going Postal the characters are definitely not magical, but are awesome nevertheless.

I also found something else I was afraid I would never experience again: marveling at Pratchett’s cleverness. It’s just that whenever I dislike the story, I fail to pay attention to the details, and while this is a character flaw, I feel that it is more or less justified with the idea that you can’t force yourself to like something, and the more you dislike it, the more you dislike everything about it.

Going Postal has given me a new push into the Discworld, and I’m excited to read to the end of the series sometime in the not-so-distant future.