Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Book Thief – A Review

A little over a week ago I finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I feel that my review of this can be summed up by just two words – ‘Read it.’

In the interest of completeness I will try and do a proper review. The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany and follows the story of a young girl named Liesel Meminger. What is perhaps most interesting is that the narrator of the book is Death – though he is quite clear that he doesn’t actually carry a scythe.

The novel has a non-liner approach. We are told what is going to happen before it happens. While River Song might say ‘Spoilers’ – this style of story telling works.

The characters in this book are well developed and the story works well in its unconventional style. There are parts of it that are drawn, ostensibly by one of the characters, unfortunately these don’t work too well on the kindle version.

I’m desperately trying here not to give too much away so I think I’ll change tack. As the story is set in Nazi Germany it naturally involves the war. When we learn about Nazi Germany in school it is taught in a relatively simplistic way. Its all too easy to fall into the idea of the evil Germans and the glorious British fighting the good fight. However, as John Green is found of saying, ‘Truth resists simplicity.’

The truth, as is important for this book, is that Britain did drop bombs on Germany. German civilians went to the shelters and huddled there waiting for the all clear. These parts made for some uncomfortable reading as I realised that the enemy they refereed to was us. It is important to note that the German civilians were hardly a united front. Obviously Hitler had has supports but many, maybe even most, disagreed with the evil things he was doing. People were scared and caught up in a dangerous predicament.

‘They don’t have to be everywhere to make people believe they might be living next door.’ (‘The Exercise of Vital Powers‘ Babylon 5)

It is difficult to say more about this without giving the plot away. So I will close this review by saying…

The Book Thief is an excellent book with great characters, a interesting setting, and a fantastically unique narrator. It is a book about war and death but offers a new perspective on a period of history we think we know. Of course it is fiction, the places aren’t real, but the essence of the story is true. I suggest you read the book now or, if you so prefer, go and see the film.

Vila: I’m entitled to my opinion.
Avon: It is your assumption that we are entitled to it as well that is irritating.
Blake’s 7: “Bounty”
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Kill Your Darlings

‘Kill your darlings,’ is a phrase coined by William Faulkner. It refers to when I writer becomes overly attached to a chapter, scene, even just a sentence, of their own work. However, when looked at objectively, the inclusion would actually be to the detriment of the work. Kill your darlings is a call to remove those parts and focus on what needs to be there for the story. The ‘darling’ could be something as simple as a very flowery description.

With writing though, as many have I’m sure said before me, nothing is wasted. While the darling might not belong in the novel you are currently writing there could be a place for it elsewhere.

Below is a scene I was going to include at the start of my novel. I’ve now found a better way to begin. Its not exactly a darling but it is out of the novel.

Tournament

Anbe Frell drew his long slender sword. His opponent Thancha Chalshol drew her weapon too. Around them the rest of the squadron looked on. Frell and Chalshol held their swords aloft and bowed their heads.

After a second they pointed their swords at each other. They tapped them together as if testing each other. Then the fight started more earnestly. Frell lunged to the left. Chalshol‘s swords was there to block him.

Chalshol lunged but Frell was there to answer. Her swords knocked Frell’s aside. They started to move round each other and the company stepped back. “Now,” Frell said, “you never know what situation you might be fighting in.”

“It’s never going to be this controlled,” Chalshol said, “the Anbe and myself know each other’s technique. We can anticipate.”

“Like that.” Frell moved his head to one side as the sword came in close. “You always have to be looking one step ahead.”

“In any normal fight you will have your staff with you…” Chalshol made a swift wrist twisting move that would have been painful for someone less well trained.

“But it is sometimes advantageous to lean in parts. After our last drill we found that all of you are lacking in some areas. It is my job and the Thancha’s job to make sure you all come back alive!”

The two of them continued to move around each other. The swords continued to clank. Nether was able to make contact with the other. “A battle will never be this controlled,” Chalshol said, “but we have to start somewhere.”

“Indeed,” Frell said. The two of them started to speed up as they twisted their wrists in combat. Frell held up his hand signalling an end to the demonstration. “We’ll pair off.” Frell begin pointing at members of the company at random. After a couple of minutes all the members of the company were assigned a partner. “Spread out,” Frell ordered, “we’re going to have a championship.” Frell walked with Chalshol away from the group. “Begin!”

Chalshol folder her arms as she watched the combat taking place. “Illth! Don’t drop your arm like that.”

“Tielul,” Frell called the woman Illth was fighting, “remember you can use both hands!”

“What do you think, sir?” Chalshol asked.

“We’re getting there, Thancha” he said, “they need to learn.”

“Without the staff it is difficult.”

“The enemy won’t present us with easy situations.”

“No, sir,” Chalshol said.

“We have our first winner.” He beckoned the two fighters to come forward. “Well done Dacsoshell.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Alcan. Do you think you know where you went wrong?”

Alcan absent-mindedly scratched the point of his ear. “No, sir. Dacsoshell was just better.”

“You can be better too,” Frell said, “both of you sit down be ready for the next round.” Frell folded his arms as be continued to watch. He looked away from the fighting and saw Loostal coming towards him. Loostal was a tall and lanky elf with a long face. He stopped a couple of strides in front of Frell.

In salute Loostal steepled his fingers and bowed his head. “Sir. Ma’am.”

In returning the salute Frell and Chalshol stepped their fingers and each inclined their heads. “What is it, Sethnag,” Frell addressed him by rank.

“Intelligence report, sir,” Loostal said, “they will be here within four days.”

“Have you informed home?”

“Yes, sir,” Loostal said, “it will likely be a small force though. Perhaps forty of them.”

“We will be ready,” Chalshol said.

Frell, Chalshol, and Loostal looked back at the remaining fighters. Three more bouts had ended and Frell told them to sit and conserve their strength. “We’re still going to finish this tournament.”

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Still Haven’t Moved

I still haven’t moved into my shiny new flat. I’m waiting for people to talk to people to talk to my people. It is amazing how long this has taken!

While I’ve been waiting I’ve been considering what I might name my flat. I’ve got several ideas…

  1. Gallifrey – The Doctor’s homeworld in Doctor Who
  2. Enterprise – I don’t think I need to explain…
  3. TARDIS
  4. Seren Wen – Which is Welsh for White Star

I’ve had a few other ideas as well. One of them is to try and translate TARDIS, which is an acronym of course, into Welsh and use that. According to Google it comes out as: Amser a dimensional cymharol yn y gofod – which would be AADCYYG – which is not really pronounceable.

Maybe something will come to me when I move in. It is a funny thing buying a flat – I only saw it for about five minutes about 115 days ago and decided to buy based on that.

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The Name of the Wind – A Review

Three days ago I finished The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I wanted to try to review this book. This is a difficult thing because I didn’t like it.

I think a negative review requires more than a positive review. If a friend tells us that a book is great we might just read it on their recommendation. If something is good we don’t want too much information – we don’t want spoilers.  On the other hand if we are told a book is bad we’ll want details.

Speaking of spoilers there will be some in this…

I read this book after seeing a review, of sorts, on You Tube.

While I would love to share Little Book Owl’s infectious smiling love of this book I just didn’t get on with it. I’m not going to tell you not to read it though. I would never say that. Actually that’s not true there are definitely books that I would tell people to avoid. In fact I’d encourage you to read The Name of the Wind so you can explain it to me!

The Name of the Wind is a fantasy novel that revolves around the character of Kvothe. Kvothe is telling his life story to a chronicler. The book switches between first and third person narrative. This was quite effective. Kvothe talks in first person when telling us his story – third person is used for the in between parts in the present.

The story takes a little while to get going. When the narrative begins proper it is well told. We start with Kvothe with his family and then disaster. I don’t think I’m using hyperbole when I say that my jaw dropped and I brought my kindle closer. This part of the story was great and really ratcheted up the tension.

From this incident Kvothe is on his own. Money is continually an issue for him; however I never really felt the struggle. He always seemed to land on his feet. He always seemed to find a way to get money.

When he arrives at the university he negotiates his entry. He actually gets the masters to pay him rather than the other way around. Although the story shows us repeatedly that he is so much poorer than the other students he never seems held back by it. Some might say this makes him even more the hero but to me it was tedious. Since Kvothe seemed unphased by his setbacks they didn’t interest me either.

After getting to the university the story reads like someone going to school. He has his friends and enemies but to me none of them felt like complete people. There is very little characterisation, with a couple of exceptions, and all the Masters at the university basically merge together. The only thing to tell them apart is if they generally like Kvothe or dislike him.

It is perhaps the first person narrative that hinders the novel. It means we are unable to get into the minds of the other characters. We don’t even get much of a feeling for Kvothe. Even when he is whipped he just shrugs it off.

While I hesitate to make references to Harry Potter – The Name of the Wind is like The Philosopher’s Stone without Voldemort. I’m not saying that The Name of the Wind needs to have a villain. It is actually quite refreshing to see a fantasy novel without that. What I’m saying is there needs to be a pay off. Just some small sign that something has come together for the character. Even if we just here that he won a large amount of money – even if he loses it in the first chapter of the next book it would give some closure. It could be said that this lack of an ending is to be expected as this is the first in a trilogy; but generally each part in a trilogy has a satisfactory ending in and of itself. In the end Kvothe stops his narrative, there is some inexplicable disagreement between the Chronicler and Kvothe’s assistant, Bast, and the characters make for bed.

Maybe, sometime is the future, I might read book two. For now though I was disappointed with The Name of the Wind and have started reading The Book Thief.

Addendum: As I only have my eyes and my brain I can only give my opinion. I will admit that there were times when I was confused by this book. I had to read over a couple of sections. I got characters mixed up and I got taverns mixed up. So some of this may be me. When book three comes out I might attempt Name of the Wind again. Perhaps as one story it will work better.

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Vila: I’m entitled to my opinion.
Avon: It is your assumption that we are entitled to it as well that is irritating.
Blake’s 7: “Bounty”

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A Post So There is a Post

Just a quick update for today. I’m working on a book review, I finished The Name of the Wind today, but its not quite ready. It needs to be edited, it’s late, and I’m lazy. I wanted to post something so as to keep up with posting every week – especially as I’ve failed one of my other New Year’s resolutions – I didn’t submit a short story in January. I’m blaming this failure on the fact that I haven’t been able to move to my flat! My life is on hold – I think I’ll just go by Tibetan New Year!

See you next time.

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