Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Many and profuse thanks to my buddy Bookmonkey for recommending this totally awesome series way back whenever he did. It was months ago. Check out his blog, there's a lot of awesomeness over there.

Night Watch is kind of the Russian version of The Dresden Files, but better. (Please don't kill me, Dresden fans. He's awesome too.) It follows Anton Gorodetsky's life as a low-level operative of the Night Watch, the organization of good-guy magic-users devoted to foiling the plots of the Day Watch, the bad guys. They have a careful truce set up, so that for every good deed THEY do, the bad guys get to do one EVIL deed, and vice versa.

So, they don't do all that much good. What makes them the good guys, again?

That's what the book is about. It's totally frikkin awesome. There's some navel-staring toward the end, but for the most part it's action, magic, chase scenes, and murders! It's divided up into three separate parts with some time in between each one, so we get an overview of a slightly bigger picture, three major events happening in sequence. We see some of the consequences of actions further down the road that we (or I, at least) never saw coming. It's like life, like that.

In a book with a theme like this, you expect to get a lot of Dark, Broody, Controversial characters (i.e. characters with no redeeming qualities whatsoever), and there is some of that, but I really like these characters and I like how all of them have legitimate reasons for their actions. Not just excuses or "I have to have motivation for my villains" reasons, REAL reasons. Of course, Anton is my favorite, and in no small part because he's one of the few characters who doesn't want to take part in the dance and the compromises, who doesn't just assume things are they way they should be because someone else tells him they are.

This is a book about subtlety. And it's about plots, and intrigue, and mysteries. And also about hurling fireballs. And a note on the translation: Absolutely flawless. I never would've guessed that it was originally in Russian, there's no awkwardness at all, and the writing isn't only competent, it's amazing.

Really, there wasn't a thing about it that I didn't love. There are three sequels, which I'll be reading as soon as possible: Day Watch, Twilight Watch, and Last Watch.

Buy Night Watch

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Captivate by Carrie Jones

Last year, I reviewed Need by Carrie Jones. In that review I said that I enjoyed the book and the basics were excellent, but it was a Twilight read-alike, the execution was shaky, and it wasn't entirely satisfying. I said I hoped she'd write a sequel, because she could make it so much better. This is that sequel. Is it as awesome as I'd hoped? Read and find out. (Sorry guys, it's a pretty long review. I didn't do it on purpose.)

First, Captivate a lot more coherent and solid than the first book, for the most part. It starts to look at the ramifications of the first book and the consequences for the characters' actions, (mostly Zara's,) so you should definitely read the first book first for it to make sense. There's more fantasy, with the odd inclusion of Norse mythology this time around. I love Norse mythology, and it could be a really interesting choice, but I think she's getting in over her characters' heads with Ragnarok.

A note on the pixies. That example for it not being Twilight is out the window, because these are vampires. 1) They drink blood. 2) A pixie's kiss can turn you into a pixie. 3) They can't enter a home uninvited. 4) They're arranged like vampires tend to be, in coven sorts of things under a king or lord. (Or Sheriff, or what-have-you.) 5) They glitter. Aside from the glitter, they're more like vampires than the Twilight vamps are. Need I go on? (Pun!)

Speaking of pixies and Ragnarok: There are plenty of people (like, say, ME) who would be overjoyed to discover a supernatural world, even if it was realistic. (i.e. There are villains, people still die, etc.) There are also characters (less common than I'd like) who are capable of dealing with that kind of supernatural world when they find it. I can only wish that Zara was one of those characters. It's not that she's a waste of space or something, she's a fully-rounded character and I like that, but she's just not mature enough to be dealing with this kind of thing with so little guidance. She goes on and on about "most people don't know about this dark underbelly," but she really doesn't know a thing. She thinks she can take on vicious pixies by herself with a sword, but, as she promptly finds out, she has no idea how to fight (with a sword or without.) And she doesn't have the life experience she needs to make balanced decisions.

(minor spoilers await)
Case in point. Around the halfway mark of the book, something happens to her boyfriend. Instead of, say, being upset that her boyfriend of some three months is gone now, she compromises one of her most integral principles in her despair, then resolves to become the one thing neither she nor her boyfriend wanted her to be, in the name of saving him from something he'd probably WANT in the first place, even though she has no plan for saving him and other people are volunteering who are far more capable of succeeding. She totally derails her life in the name of saving him by herself. Guys, he's not that motivating. He's kind of oafish and bloodthirsty, and while he does genuinely care about Zara, she's obviously not the most important thing in his life, and he never listens to a word she says. Maybe if they'd been together longer and forged more of a relationship, sure, but this kind of reaction after three months of a relationship built on making out is simply not healthy. This is what therapists are for, Zara.

I do approve of the direction in which Zara has derailed her life, but I'd rather she went off and did that rather than making it all about some guy with little or no personality. And the derailing is the ENTIRE second half of the book! It doesn't end in a cliffhanger so much as she ran out of space and stopped between chapters. I might even have believed it more if it was in the heat of the moment, but it wasn't. It was almost 150 pages of Zara being too dumb to live. Does this remind y'all of something? Say, the second book in a certain famous series? (I do give props to Jones for not being afraid of drastic changes, though. I think if you're going to bring up an idea you should go all the way with it, and she does.)

So yes, it is better than the first book, but not by as wide a margin as I would have hoped. It IS better than Twilight though, the plot is way more interesting and the characters have much more depth. Despite all that ranting I just did, for the most part I enjoyed it, and there are some very interesting new developments and characters. I'll still pick up the third book, and hope Zara matures a bit during it.

The series I reviewed two weeks ago, Soul Screamers, is actually really similar, but Soul Screamers succeeds in all the places where Need flags.

I am aware that authors google themselves. To Ms. Jones, should she happen by:
Hello! I just totally dissed your book, and I feel really bad about it. Please don't think I hate your guts. I'm just the sort of person who obsesses about flaws, you know? The point is that I have read your book, and I cared enough about the characters to be this frustrated. I enjoyed the book, I think you have some great ideas, and your characters are awesome. I hope this review brings you business, and I can't wait to read your next book. -Fate