|Publication year: 2002
Time and place: unspecified/somewhere else
Narrated in: third-person omniscient
First sentence: “This is the story of a man named Neil Fisk, and how he came to love God.”
Verdict: Interesting :)
The daughter of seven neo-gladiators, Lyn is now eighteen and a minor celebrity of her time. Her mother, Allison, is very devoted to gladiator culture, and expects her to have a bright future as a gladiator wife. Lyn is not entirely certain this is what she really wants, so she takes her time, weighing her options. But then Lyn’s last father, Tommy, is killed in the arena, and the family’s situation changes overnight. What’s worse, cultural circumstances force Lyn to marry her father’s killer, or her family will be thrown into the streets. By now however she is certain she does not want to be a ‘glad wife’, so she makes the only choice that seems available to her: challenges her husband-to-be to a duel in the arena, to the death.
For some reason the title made me think of one of those books, Hunger Games-like, where a bunch of people are stranded in a situation where they are supposed to claw their way out, most likely stepping on their adversaries’ bodies in the process. Well, this book is not it. Our main character only spends a few pages at most in the actual arena, and unfortunately I didn’t find the rest of the story strong enough to make up for it.
It all started out like a good idea:
Joe Byers introduced neo-gladiator sport into American life to involve teenage boys in a new form of competition that would be exhilarating while releasing energy in a safe, clean way. He hoped there would be less need for war over time, especially for useless, savage wars like Vietnam.
As time passed, however, the balsa wood weapons the boys trained with became real ones; their matches became sport events broadcast on a national scale. Gladiator schools were formed; in time they were followed by a Gladiator Wives College (“where young women learn in two intensive years to be perfect Glad wives“). A Gladiator culture was formed, with its own set of rules. And somewhere along the way killing one’s opponent became not only accepted but the norm.
I didn’t actually get Lyn. I cannot put my finger on the why, but I could not relate to her, and I don’t think I liked her very much. It’s not like she was bad or anything, she just felt… bland. There was nothing about her that truly stood up, she was just there.
And then we have Lyn’s mother, who most of the time seems to be in various stages of depression, and as such I couldn’t relate to her either. And there’s Thad, Lyn’s autistic brother, who seemed like a plot device more than anything else — there had to be someone depending on Lyn’s choices, to force her on a certain path, and what better way to do that than ‘attaching’ a younger brother to her? And then, why not go for an extra touching factor and make him unable to ever fend for himself. But hey, why make him ordinary? Let’s make him an oracle, of all things. How in the world did Thad know the future, and why did we need a foreteller in the book anyway? That’s never explained. One more thing for me to wonder about I guess.
On the other hand, there is Uber. A born-in gladiator (meaning that his father was a gladiator too), and the current arena champion (which means he was the very best in his field at the time). He could have been such a great character. Too bad he borrows a little from Allison’s way of seeing the world, and as such he’s always dejected or something similar. A bit strange if one thinks about it, after all this was his moment and he had the world at his feet, but there it is. He felt like something carried away by a breeze; he goes where he’s expected to go and does what he’s expected to do, with hardly any initiatives of his own. And to think he had so much potential *sigh*
It felt like all the relationships in the book that had any potential at all were underdeveloped, while much fuss was made about those I cared nothing for. It’s like the author had a good idea somewhere — a love triangle between a girl, her (guy) best friend who’s loved her since forever, and a new guy that everyone pushes her towards, despite the fact that he is responsible for her family’s misery. Lyn could have oscillated a bit between the familiar and the new, between her duty as a daughter and the fact that Uber was in fact rather likable; Mark could have fought tooth and nail to keep her to himself; Uber could have been obsessed with leaving the country to get rid of the gladiator life, or… I don’t know, something, anything. As it is, everyone seems a little too mild. Mark loves Lyn but does nothing to keep her other than mildly telling her so. Uber mildly tells Lyn that he loves her and he wants to leave the country one day and that is that. He never takes a stand, he even fights her in the arena, and even hurts her a few times; how’s that for being in love? As for Lyn, she never knows what she’s feeling and she doesn’t care enough to find out. She may have feelings for Uber, but, like in everyone else’s case, they never go beyond mild. And… I likes books that are intense, I like to read about feeling that blow my mind, I can’t say I much care about mild *sigh, again*.
The book felt like there was a plot somewhere in there but it kept eluding me. I was quite interested to see how the relationship between Lyn and Uber will evolve, and whether the two of them will manage to beat the system, and how. These things however kept taking a backseat, as the focus kept being on other secondary characters — mostly Lyn’s mother and brother. There are pages after pages describing Lyn’s interactions with Thad, their routines, and I kept feeling they added nothing at all to the story. Ok, I got that Thad was very attached to Lyn and Lyn loved Thad in one of their first scenes together, I did not need any more of them as they seemed repetitive after a while. There are also many pages about Alison, and her reactions to various things. And yet none of those pages allowed me to grasp the essence of the character — or perhaps I did grasp it but kept thinking there must be more to her. But there are so very few pages about Uber, and how Lyn deals with the fact that he killed her current father (surprisingly enough, Allison made such a big deal of having lost her best husband but seems to have nothing but benign feelings for his killer). I kept wanting more, I kept looking forward to things getting to actually develop… but they never did.
What I liked most
The whole backstory of Glad culture (how it came to be, how it evolved to its current state) was quite well done, in my opinion. While on the whole I doubt that there are that many people willing to die in the arena to get the trend started at first, there is nothing in the author’s depiction of events that challenges my suspension of disbelief — it’s one of those improbable but not implausible things that I could actually see happen, should stars align in a certain way. And yeah, I thought that was cool :)
Also, a fun detail I enjoyed, also in the course of presenting the timeline, there’s this:
Then four things happened: Chuck Palahniuk, 9/11, the war in Iraq, and a self-help book selling in the millions called The Mystery. Drawing on the self-actualizing techniques of The Mystery, Caesar’s Inc., a holding company located in New York City (not to be mistaken with the Las Vegas group), recognized an opportunity.
A self-help book called The Mystery, get it? ;)
What I liked least
As much as I liked the backstory of it all, there were a couple elements I heartily disliked.
First, the premise of the book (that Uber had ‘captured’ Lyn’s dowry bracelet and in their culture this means they had to get married) seemed to me very contrived. Not only because I cannot imagine how such a custom ever came to be (who, male or female, would ever want to have such an important choice stripped from them?), but also because I find it a bit too silly on Lyn’s part to offer the thing that could imprison her for life so carelessly to someone else. Last but not least, the concept was insufficiently explored (no details were ever given about the bracelet — how did the tradition started? How/when did a girl get hers? etc), and so the whole thing felt like a gimmick to force the two main characters together. Yawn.
The second is more of a pet peeve and it has something to do with the Living machines. Leaving aside the fact that I don’t quite see how they got developed in the first place, in a society so similar to ours (gladiators aside, the pop culture is mostly the same; they even have Second Life and youtube), the ‘implementation details’ are a bit fuzzy to me. Let us assume that having a sentient copy of someone else is doable. But projecting a 360 degrees 3D image without a projector in sight (also, more than one such character walks from one place to another, from example Tommy appears outside and then comes into the house) is… well, not something I see happening in the next centuries. And then they eat!! How in the hell can a projected image physically interact with the physical world? Not in the least, why did the author felt the need to include this tidbit anyway? It’s not like it had any relevance to the rest of the story, yet it jolted me right out of the moment. Why yes, I work in tech, why do you ask? :)
Thoughts on the title
Well, there was a girl. And an arena. And even a girl in the arena for a short while. I imagine it can be called appropriate (although as previously stated it was rather misleading to me).
(also, can I pretty please complain about the cover? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful cover, and I love love love the girl’s hair. It’s only that in the book Lyn’s scalp was shaved)
Thoughts on the ending
Wow. It’s been ages since I read a book whose ending I simply did not understand. And to think people criticize the lack of fighting in Breaking Dawn. If there was a prize for most useless climax ever, well, this book would take it.
Recommend it to?
Young Adult & Dystopia fans I guess. While the book fell short for me in some ways, this doesn’t mean that a true fan of the genre cannot find it enjoyable. Or so I think :)
Main characters: Jake Epping/George Amberson
Time and place: 2011/1958-1963, US (a small part of the book takes place in Derry, Maine)
First sentence: “I have never been what you’d call a crying man.”
Verdict: Loved it :)
Meet Jake Epping, 35. An English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and recently divorced. He leads quite an ordinary, uneventful existence, until one day a phone call turns his life upside down.
“When you go down the steps, it’s always 11:58 A.M. on the morning of September ninth, 1958.”
Turns out time travel is in fact possible. Sure, it’s always in the same time and the same place, but it is quite a huge discovery nonetheless. It’s also a chance for Jake to put right things that once went wrong, starting with the day a demented father killed his wife and children, and ending with (why not) one of the biggest events in recent history, the JFK assassination.
However, the past does not easily accept to be changed. Each step away from the original timeline is a struggle — would Jake be able to win?
Oh, how I have waited for this book! Ever since I first read there was going to be a Stephen King book involving time travel and wanting to change history for the better I was totally hooked. And now that I have read it I can only say that it was every bit as good as I imagined it to be :)
Getting to see the life in 50s/60s-small-town-America through the eyes of a contemporary was quite a treat for me. I loved how, particularly at first, Jake kept comparing the old ways with his present-day ones, and usually it was the present that kept falling short. Life seems to have been a lot more peaceful half a century ago, complete with people that are (were) nicer and a lot more trusting. Some of the official IDs (the driving licence, if I remember correctly) didn’t even have photos!
One of my favorite scenes regarding past/present differences was when Jake went to a bank to make a deposit, and noticed how everything was done on paper. A thing that was only to be expected, since the PCs were still a long way off, and yet the mere idea struck me as novel in an it’s-so-obvious-why-didn’t-I-think-about-it-before kind of way. For some reason I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around a computerless bank (which only goes to show how used I got with having computers everywhere around me, since I cannot quite imagine a world without them).
Another notable difference between the then and now was that smoking seems to have been everyone’s favorite pastime back then. A thing that’s only natural, I guess, since no connection with cancer had yet been made, and all the papers were filled with ads portraying smoking as the coolest thing ever — and yet I, like Jake, found somewhat strange a world more often surrounded by blue smoke clouds than not, simply because it was so very different from the way things are now. I love books that make me think of things I have never thought of before, so this book was to me a winner from this point of view at the very least.
To be honest, Jake felt a bit Mary Sue-ish to me (or whatever the male counterpart of a Mary Sue is). He is supposed to be this ordinary teacher, but as the book unfolds it turns out there is nothing he cannot do, be it lindy hopping, killing people in cold blood, directing a successful play or writing what was quite likely to be a best-selling novel. His drive to do (what he considers) the right thing never falters, despite the fact that he knows the past will not allow to be changed without putting up a brutal fight. And, Mary Sue or not, I very much admired him for that. As I liked the way he always ended up teaching English, because this chance to help young minds expand was what he considered his vocation. I really do not have anything to reproach him, other than his being a tad too close to perfection :)
As a character, Lee Harvey Oswald was sort of a weaselly young man. There was no way in the world for the author to pull off making him sympathetic, and so he didn’t even try. The first time we ever meet Oswald is during an argument with his wife, Marina, whom he treats like dirt, and it all goes mostly downhill from there. And, of course, adding to that we have the fact that we only get to see him through Jake’s eyes, and Jake is not exactly an objective party (I am quite certain that Oswald would have been despicable enough even if he had the benefit of a not-so-subjective narrator, though). This however makes him feel more like a caricature (having some traits exaggerated while others are ignored) than a real human being — not that I am complaining in any way, the book is long enough as it is, plus the author didn’t have that much creative freedom in this case, as Oswald’s character has been documented over and over again. And yet, wouldn’t it have been even more interesting if the line drawn between good and bad had been at least a little blurry?
I should now say something about Sadie too. However, for most of the book I didn’t have that much interest in her. Sure, I loved to see the relationship between her and Jake develop (mostly because I liked him and so I wanted him to be happy), but other than that there was always something that felt to me a bit off about her, although try as I might I cannot quite put my finger on it. Perhaps she seemed to me overly-fragile and likely to break — I say that because somewhere in the last bunch of pages she starts acting sort of badass (she even threatens someone with a knife), and I actually liked her then, despite the fact that the said change did not seem all that plausible to me. Or who knows, perhaps I have just read her wrong, or did not pay her enough attention or something. Either way, we just did not click.
Jake however totally clicked with her :)
By now I have read quite a bunch of reviews, and mostly they all agree that the relationship between Jake and Sadie was one of the best things in the book. Ah, and it is indeed a nice relationship (particularly if we consider I enjoyed reading about it despite my less-than-lukewarm feelings for Sadie), but was I as impressed by it as some of the rest of the world? The answer is no, but this may well be my fault; after all, I started this book in order to read about time travel and affecting timelines and the likes, while a love story I could very well take or leave :)
I was very happy to discover that this is a very tame book, horror-wise, as there is almost no gore at all (at least by Mr. King’s standards), and there’s only a slight hint of evil lurking nearby — just enough of it to be deliciously creepy, no more. The vast majority of the plot revolves around Jake’s attempts to create a better future. At times this can turn out to be somewhat boring, as in order to take action Jake needs to stake out his ‘targets’ for a while, however for me there always was present an underlying sense of excitement: “will he be able to pull it off?” and “how will he be able to pull it off?”
What I liked most
The time travel! I am first and foremost a time travel buff, so how was I not to like it? :)
The history part of it! Seeing as I am also a history buff, I was bound to jump for joy seeing how I had an opportunity to learn more about a couple of people (JFK/LHO) that up until now I knew rather little about.
And then there’s of course the small details, such as I found it interesting how Al could afford to have the cheapest burgers around the area because he bought his meat from the past, at ’58 prices :) Although in his case it would have been a lot wiser if he had raised the prices a bit, methinks; as things were most people avoided Al’s establishment thinking that the meat in the burgers couldn’t possibly be actual beef given how cheap it was.
What I liked least
The time for nitpicking is upon us: at one time Jake is writing both a book and his memoirs, saying about the latter something like “these are the pages you are reading now”. But. But then he is forced to make a quick escape to the present day and he leaves the pages behind1 :) (and of course they get lost in the reset when he gets back in 1958)
Other than that, the one moment I found least enjoyable was the one when Jake sees a part of Sadie’s name (“DORIS DUN”), and it was the same as a part of the name of a woman whose husband has tried to kill her — so boom, all of a sudden Jake has this crazy idea that Sadie’s husband too will do the same thing. While I did get (and enjoyed) the parts regarding the past “harmonizing” with itself, this particular moment seemed to me to be pushing it a teensy tiny bit too far.
Thoughts on the ending
Unexpected and, as such, nothing short of brilliant :)
Recommend it to?
The Goodreads rating is 4.27, so if you have at least a passing interest in either Stephen King or time travel stories, I heartily encourage you to give it a try.
Written by the same author:
- I am actually hoping to be wrong about this one, it seems to me quite a big slip up if the author did indeed slip. [↩]
After the events in LOC, life goes on. Egwene’s rebel army marches on towards Tar Valon. Elayne and Nynaeve, and sometimes Mat, continue their search of Ebou Dar after the Bowl of Winds. Rand continues his quest for convincing leaders to be by his side, while also continuing his plan to kill Sammael. Oh, and Perrin and a bunch of his folks start a campaign to stop the destruction Masema and the rest of the Dragonsworn are leaving in their path.
I have postponed this since forever. The first book in this series is one of my favorite fantasy books and, as such, it’s only natural that I want to know what happens next. And I do. However, I found the sixth book rather long, and somewhat boring, hence my hesitation to pick up this seventh. Now that I did though, I was happy to discover that this one wasn’t that bad after all (or perhaps my expectations were just very low :) ). Don’t get me wrong, the things that I am not fond of (the way-too-many characters, the male-vs-female conflict, Rand loving three women at once, the Aiel in general) are still there, and yet I cannot say I did not enjoy it :)
Four more books until Sanderson takes over! I am quite curious to see the way he’ll deal with all the things I find annoying, while still preserving the continuity of the series.
The weather itself feels the influence of the Dark One, and drought makes people starve more often than not. There is unrest and conflict everywhere, with people struggling for power and leading armies to war. Bonus? The Seanchan are back, with their damanes and their winged beasts, trying to conquer the continent that once was theirs.
It’s up to Rand to keep all things (and all the now ruler-less kingdoms his armies have taken) in line. His job is not an easy one, making him feel like some juggler who has to keep too many balls flying. People still die under his command, Maidens too. By now however he has no choice than to accept who he is and try to make the best of it.
First of all, I know I said this before but it bears repeating: I cannot believe the way the author insists on naming each of the vast cast of characters. By now there are tens of Aes Sedai identified by name, and quite a few Aiel women and men. I’m starting to tune out whenever I see yet another new name, as I have long lost all hope of keeping track of them all.
Also, I still cannot believe the way all the people in the book have the exact same reaction towards their opposite sex: “Men/Women! Who can understand them!”, which is particularly annoying when the opposite sex person doesn’t act particularly irrational. It’s getting incredibly tiring after a while, especially as I keep finding these kinds of musings (“A woman would do a thing until you were sure she always would, then do something else just to fuddle you.“) rather unfair towards whichever sex is maligned in any particular one. All in all, the fact that not a single person remotely has any idea about the workings of the opposite sex’s mind makes me wonder about the author himself — has he really gone through life with these kinds of thoughts towards women? If this is so I find that really sad. We may be complicated, at times more so than others, but totally beyond comprehension we are not.
That Jordan was not very good at getting a woman’s way of thinking is actually fairly obvious in the way he portrays his female characters: almost all of them are unbelievably annoying. The notable exception in this volume is Egwene, whom I’ve actually liked, as it is obvious she’s maturing as fast as her newly found title requires; also, she doesn’t get to really interact with any male character, which means she had no reason to step on my nerves.
Alas, the same cannot be said of Elayne and Nynaeve. I actually liked the latter in the first volume, I think she was one of my favorites, if not the very favorite, but in this book she acts like a spoiled child (tantrums? she’s throwing tantrums??), making me want to shake some sense into her (assuming that was possible, which I don’t think is the case). Both their attitudes towards Mat (who not only saved their hides once but still wants to protect them even now) were *I’m running out of words to express my displeasure here*… let’s just say I pity the guy for having to put up with them. And then there’s Faile, who, in a completely different context, is acting very much the same. Her being jealous of Berelain would have made a tad of sense at first, but by now she is SO overdoing it I’m actually pitying Perrin a bit.
Men on the other hand are mostly heroic (can you guess that the book’s written by a guy? :) ). Rand is struggling to keep his sanity as much as possible, and to make the best of the rotten situation he finds himself in. Perrin too, although he feels really uncomfortable with his new position and his mission, he realizes that this is what fate has dealt him and there’s no escape, so he might as well get on with it. I never would have guessed it after book one but in this book Mat was about the only character that I actually liked (which isn’t to say I dislike Rand or Perrin, it’s just that neither of them manages to really catch my interest the way Mat does). “[A]n untamed rogue, a gambler and chaser after women“, Mat takes very seriously the promise he made Rand, to watch over Elayne and Nynaeve, despite the way these two keep treating him (my jaw almost dropped when he offered them his fox medallion!). He manages to hit the perfect balance between being a bad boy (with a colorful language, my favorite example being “Sheep swallop and bloody buttered onions!“) and an honorable one, and right now I like him for that.
Almost all the relationships in this book made me scratch my head in wonder.
First of all, Min and Rand. I used to love Min prior to this book, and yet as this book opens we see her transformed in a random court lady, having abandoned what made her special in order to be liked/noticed by her love interest, aka Rand (aka sheepherder, yet another thing that became tiring after a while; I got that she didn’t want to say his name because her feeling would have shown in her voice, yadda yadda, but does she have to keep insulting him?). I thought the part where they got together was rather nicely done; too bad there’s also and Elayne and Aviendha to consider (could this scream ‘male fantasy’ more than it does? being in love with three women at the same time and all three of them agreeing to play nice with each other, yeah right).
Which brings us to Elayne and Aviendha and their ‘becoming nearsisters’ game. “Already they brushed each other’s hair, and every night in the dark shared another secret never told to anyone else“. Isn’t that a bit overdoing it? I can understand it from Aviendha, who as an Aiel belonged to a culture accepting of multiple wives, but Elayne is the most puzzling one. Especially when it comes to apologizing to Mat — God forbid Elayne should apologize to him because it was the right thing to do, but should Aviendha even blink an eye implying that Elayne should do that and there Elayne is, falling over herself with apologies. Nope, I definitely was not fond of that part.
At least the fates have brought Lan and Nynaeve back together again. It’s interesting to note how Nynaeve becomes far less annoying when she’s near Lan, as she actually puts an effort into holding her temper under control (who knew she was actually capable of that :) ). The dynamics between them are somewhat strange though (“Lan gazed down at Nynaeve, though, with no more expression than a fence post, and for all Nynaeve appeared ready to crawl under the coach and hide, she stared up at Lan as if no one else existed in the world.“), as Lan is still very much affected by Moiraine’s demise due to his Warder bond to her. Which makes everything way less romantic and pleasant than it would have been otherwise, as he is more often described as having dead-looking eyes than anything else. *sigh*
While the first few books had a contained plot arc, this is not particularly the case here. There are many story threads, some of them mentioned in passing (Morgase’s stint with the Children of Light, and her subsequent escape; Egwene’s campaign), some of them advancing but not actually finished by the end of the book (Elayne & Nynaeve find the Bowl of Winds, but how will they use it? Will they be able to use it? What will the effects be? We don’t know yet; the fight between Rand and Sammael does takes place but how does it actually end? We don’t know yet), and some of them merely starting here (Moghedien’s escape and desire for revenge on Nynaeve, Mat being trapped in a Seanchan-attacked city (I am so looking forward to his meeting the Daughter of Nine Moons :) ), Perrin’s hunt for Masema & his men, etc. It is a complex book, with many things happening at once, and no obvious answers about what will be next.
As a bit of trivia, the book spans only 11 days from start to finish (the shortest in the series). I don’t think I would have noticed that myself, so many things happen that I didn’t think of keeping tracks of days and nights.
Thoughts on the title
“As the plow breaks the earth shall he break the lives of men, and all that was shall be consumed in the fire of his eyes. The trumpets of war shall sound at his footsteps, the ravens feed at his voice, and he shall wear a crown of swords.
–The Prophecies of the Dragon”
This is quite an accurate description of what happens around Rand — all the war and destruction his influence on the land has brought. To my surprise, the crown of swords turned out to be a literal one (I actually though it was a cool idea to have a crown “with sharp points of swords” hidden among the decorations, as it made sure “no head would wear this crown casually or easily“).
Thoughts on the ending
And so Rand became King of Illian. I wouldn’t have expected that of him, since he avoided any titles and kingdoms until now.
What I liked most
Awwwww. The wedding of my favorite couple since book one (an event that I knew would happen, after accidentally reading some spoilers, and I’ve been looking forward to for ages now :) ). Their relationship is not precisely perfect (plus one half of the happy couple is really getting on my nerves lately) but it was a happy event for me nonetheless.
Also, I thought the name the underground circle of non-Aes Sedai women who could channel gave themselves was rather cute (the Knitting circle); their rules for governing themselves (by turns, so each of them would have a taste of each position and responsibilities) were quite an interesting idea too.
I was also amused at the author’s own brand of Thanksgiving, as celebrated in the Two Rivers: “the Day of Reflection, when you were supposed to remember all the good things in your life and anyone who voiced a complaint could find a bucket of water upended over his head to wash away bad luck“. :)
What I liked least
Hard to pick among all my hangups :)
I have found rather creepy the part Mat was raped, or very close to that and nobody cared. Not only that, but people were actually laughing at him? I will not get into details, but this is a part I could definitely could have done without (the laughing, not the conflict in itself).
Recommend it to?
Fans of the series :) By now it’s been many thousands of pages since it all begun, and I am not sure one would be able to make sense of things without them.
Next books in this series:
The Path of Daggers