Log et al – Peter Curd

An irreverent peek into the inner rumblings of Peter Curd

Jan

13

Review: Spellsinger

By pcurd

Spellsinger
Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads pops up the question “I would recommend to:” when you fill in these reviews and I usually start there whilst my review forms in my head. Today, however, I really can’t decide if I would recommend this book or not. First, because of what it would say about me and my tastes (such as they are!) and second, because of what it would say about this book.

I really dislike that it’s half a story – without giving spoilers, the book leads up a big plot point that hangs over into (at least) the next book – and this isn’t clear from the beginning. I dislike being duped into reading more of a series, even if I would probably have done so anyway.

I dislike some of the framing, not so much the “world of animals” but the “xx creature is xx type of person” lazy writing style. It’s not used as a complete crutch, but it is a little annoying.

I do enjoy the characters, each has something unique about them which rounds out the group, although new characters keep being introduced right up to the final chapters – my first clue the story wasn’t going to resolve itself was a new main character around the half way mark – and my attention (and care) is split a little too far I think.

The nebulous evil introduced on the first pages is fairly well done, not too hard on the fantasy tropes, and would serve a good few stories (there are 8 books I think..).

One early scene has the human avatar character watch (with rapt attention) a strip tease performed by a mustelid – this isn’t to say the entire book is one big animal-human romp, but if you’re put off by that I’d stay clear.

Overall it was quite fun, and I have dived into the second book straight away but I can’t help feel like I’m being forced to rather than wanting to.

Oh, and the “I would recommend to”? I’ve left it blank. You’d better make your own decision.

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Jan

3

Review: Caliban’s War

By pcurd

Caliban's War
Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I stopped reading this over Christmas but not because the story is bad, because I was listening to the audio book and not commuting as normal. When I got back into it in January I devoured (with my ears) the last third – the ending is fast, exciting, and much more like the first book. This part of the series is slow in my mind, there was a lot of characterisation and scene setting which definitely at times took away from the pace of the story. The plots are well intertwined and the suspenses created by the swapping between characters were well executed and (almost always) worth the wait.

The saga of James Holden and his crew continues forward and the politics of the Sol System continue to be the main focus of the overall story – with an ominous threat at the back of everyone’s mind – told through a variety of different perspectives ranging from high politics to grunt soldiery. I enjoyed the new characters for the most part and hope many of them continue into the next book. The main driver of the plot was.. dull, unfortunately. I think Corey wanted something believable, human, and easy for the audience to latch on to but to me it took away from the wider story, the human story being faced by everyone. I’m sure you could rewrite the plot to change the MacGuffin and it would change nothing of substance. I did sense some foreshadowing though so it may turn out to be important later – but I don’t bet on it.

Overall a good story, I will definitely dive into the next one after a suitable pause.

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Dec

22

Review: Grave Peril

By pcurd

Grave Peril
Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve been using this book as a go-to audio book for long drives so my “read” has been spread over maybe a year. This is also my second go through so I do have memories of the later stories and how characters turn out after more development.

Butcher sidelines a main character for most of this story to allow some new ones to be introduced, and it feels like lazy writing. Later on he gets better about changing the dynamics but right now I think the story was complex enough to have allowed a better approach. Still, the characters enlarged (and introduced) are good, different (from each other and from existing), and interesting. I don’t think the dialogue that, for me, marks the series is fully developed here – one more book and Butcher’s skill begins to shine through.

Harry faces one of his many Superman moments (having his powers disabled), which is a common theme in all modern supernatural books, through this story and instead of being boring it shows his fallible, human side. Perhaps overplayed but never out of place, his ignorance of the wider magical universe is well handled – Bob remains an important source of world building and exposition without being an overwhelming info dump.

Overall, not a bad story but I fear too many ideas are jostling for time without there being any real clarity on what Butcher wants you to focus on.

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Dec

22

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

By pcurd

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the best Harry Potter book I think, although Half Blood Prince is a strong contender. Once I got to 80% through I couldn’t help but read the rest, the ending is so good. There are no sub plots in this book (which is why it went to two movies I guess) and there is almost no filler.

There are a few things I’d change, and some areas I’m desperate for more information about, but it’s a compelling story with a few twists to give older readers and invested fans alike something extra.

Harry is miserable in this book, for all of it. You can understand why – gone is (most of) the teenage angst from the early books, instead we have grown up problems and grown up reactions. The story peaks as the battle between good and evil meets head on – it’s classic stuff but the story doesn’t have to be complex to be enjoyable. The main thing I disliked was the cheapness of some of the deaths in the story – to give the world a grim sense of fatalism I think they should have been spread out across more of the story and even over the earlier books rather than chucking a bunch in at the end.

But the story would have no payoff if you haven’t read the earlier books, you do have to stick with Harry through most of it to really benefit – which is a shame as some of the early ones really aren’t as good.

One day I’ll get the urge to re-read them again and it will be this book, and the memories of power reading the last few chapters, that convinces me to do it.

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Dec

14

Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

By pcurd

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The opening chapter of this book is possibly the best J.K. Rowling has written – it’s an excellently composed scene which fills you with excitement for the upcoming story and covers all the back story you need. It’s a marvellous introduction to a great story. Sadly the next few chapters slow down, and the middle of the book isn’t as compelling. I probably binged the first third in a few hours, but the middle third took a week at least. The last third picks up again and is almost un-put-downable.

The darkness of the plot really marks this as the turning point, it’s no longer a children’s book series and becomes a young adult series. Evil is rife in Harry’s world and everything is changing. After spending so much time in these stories (6 years by this point) it’s interesting to see how different the same people and same locations can become.

I really wish the middle had been edited tighter, the entire Quidditch sub plot feels unnecessary for example, but it’s still a good story.

The final few scenes are powerful, and I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t leave themselves enough time to read the entirety in one go!

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Dec

9

Review: Sharpe’s Fortress

By pcurd

Sharpe's Fortress
Sharpe’s Fortress by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is last book of the introduction trilogy – written considerably after the first Sharpe book – and it was clearly written with the ending in mind (it of course can’t change Sharpe’s history, but only clarify it). That being said, as someone who didn’t know what would happen (I haven’t read the “later” books) it wasn’t boring or predictable. Sharpe remains an enjoyable character, and the secondary characters are still believable and well rounded. Baddies are complex, mostly (with one notable exception..), and good guys are thin on the ground.

The historical details are excellent as always and Cornwell has clearly done his homework. Whilst a triumphant period of British history, it’s never clear whether the spread of British Rule is a good thing for India or not. The complexity of the campaign is carried over into the story and the early career of the future Duke of Wellington is a secondary theme throughout rather than overwhelming. This style of explaining the past by telling a good story is a Cornwell specialty and it’s here in spades.

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Nov

25

Review: Sharpe’s Triumph

By pcurd

Sharpe's Triumph
Sharpe’s Triumph by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a lot shorter than Sharpe’s Tiger but was no less of a good story. The characters remain great, and Sharpe’s life is brought into ever greater focus.

Wellesley gets a much large role in this story as well which was very pleasing. He is one of the best characters, of course!

I am keen to continue with each of these stories but I have little to add to my review of Sharpe’s Tiger – the locations are excellently detailed, the battles are vivid, and the pain and suffering the soldiery experience is clear and well described.

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Nov

22

Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

By pcurd

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was looking forward to this book as to me, this is when the story starts. The scene setting is out of the way and the last main character (I think) is introduced. I was strangely saddened when I finished it, as it really sags in the middle. The first 1/3 flew by, the last 1/3 I pretty much read in one night, but the middle 1/3… I lost all enthusiasm for it.

Umbridge is a potent character and her presence in this book is not as extreme as it was in the film, which I think captured the repressive atmosphere better, but she is still unlikable. It felt like she is intentionally over-evil to make Dumbledore all the more over-good by comparison. His flaws and his attitude feel very different to the previous books in which he was all-knowing.

I believe this is intentional, it shows Harry growing up and realising he has to stand for himself, etc, but it’s heavy handed. The film again covers this better.

There is some foreshadowing echoing Fred and George to Harry, Hermione, and Ron which I missed the first read through but I’m not convinced it’s intentional!

It’s OK, but not as good as I remembered sadly.

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Nov

22

Review: Sharpe’s Tiger

By pcurd

Sharpe's Tiger
Sharpe’s Tiger by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m listening to Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe books in chronological order as recommended by his fans and so this is a “middle” book in the series but the first book in Sharpe’s life. He is 22, a private, and bored with the army.

Throughout the book we learn quite a bit about Richard Sharpe and his desires. The characters are (in typical Cornwell fashion) well fleshed out, the baddies are bad, the goodies are complex, and the rest are just doing what they think best.

I was attracted to the series because they are acclaimed to have a fair and true representation of the period and I’m a sucker for historical fiction.

Other than some terminology that had to be researched (what is a shako!) I’ve found it easy and comfortable to follow – it’s written entirely in modern English bar some slang – and a delight to visualise the environments and characters going about their life.

For many people I imagine the book is a little boring since you know what is going to happen to Sharpe but I’ve managed to stay fairly spoiler free so I honestly don’t know what will happen to him (I assume he doesn’t die, there are at least 21 more books!) as he progresses through the story.

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Nov

3

Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

By pcurd

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Took me a bit longer to finish this because the story isn’t as compelling and I found myself doing other things rather than read it. I think that sums up the writing fairly well, it’s a better story than some of the earlier ones but the ominous sense of dread that should be building in this story.. just isn’t. I assume the editors/publishers wanted a more kid friendly tone but it spoils the book quite significantly.

It’s sad to say that I think the film version of this book is better (a first for the Harry Potter series in my opinion) because it manages to capture the atmosphere better.

It has some twists (unusual in a story aimed at children) that I wasn’t expecting – even on my second read through I had forgotten it was coming up. The final scenes (with the big payoff) are very short, edited to within an inch of the minimum words needed – I’m not sure if that was a good choice or not.

I don’t think this is a good book to jump into the series with, but it’s essential to understand the next book – where the series takes off IMO – so it becomes a must read just for that reason.

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