Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Review (No Spoilers)

 

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This week’s novel is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This is the second instalment in J.K. Rowling’s insanely popular Harry Potter series. A series that was without a doubt the central building block in my love of reading and fantasy. Prior to cracking this book open I hadn’t really it in quite a long time, preferring to keep my memories fond.

To no surprise of mine, it held up completely. Chamber of Secrets builds upon and expands the magical world of the first book. As I wrote about in my previous Harry Potter review, the novels are mystery books masquerading as action fantasy books. The mystery in this novel is just as engaging and well put together as in the first book. A mysterious monsters running around the school attacking people. What’s not to love?

The character building continues also, especially between Harry and Ron, this book helps build the bromance that will grow and be challenged throughout the whole series. Other memorable characters are introduced (yay Dobby!) and overall the Harry Potter world is expanded and made deeper.

The book builds to a great conclusion with Harry, Ron, and Hermione doggedly searching for clues, slowly putting the pieces together just in time. The final showdown is pulse-pounding and sets up events that happen down the line. In fact, if you look at the series as a whole, Chamber of Secrets is one of the most important, with the gang learning things that will come in handy down the road.

Honestly I could talk about this book for a lot longer but I don’t want to get into spoiler territory for anyone who hasn’t read them. Although if you haven’t then I pity you. This book is great, Harry Potter in general is great and that’s not the nostalgia talking. (At least not all nostalgia). There’s a reason that this series is one of if not the most popular and successful of all time. They’re simply magical. I’m going to be working my way through the series, reviewing each book so look forward to that!

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Something Wicked This Way Comes Review (No Spoilers)

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Something Wicked this Way Comes Is this week’s novel. It was written by Ray Bradbury and originally published in 1962. I don’t think it is out of line to say that this novel is a classic of literature and has had a wide ranging influence. Despite this it took me until 2018 to read it! Late, but better late than never.

I loved this book! Honestly, I finished it a couple days ago and I’ve been trying to think what to write about it but it’s difficult. Theres something intangible about the way Bradbury tells the story. I shouldn’t like it as much as I did. It’s overwritten but that doesn’t bother me. The dense almost poetic prose fits the story and setting. It’s strange and abnormal but then the whole book is.

There’s just and honesty to it that cuts deep. Especially with the father character. I won’t spoil anything of course. (Though you have had 56 years to read it.) They always say that you should try to challenge your characters with their greatest weakness and that happens in spades in this novel. Temptation and regret are huge themes and Bradbury plays with them quite well.

The novel is just one of those that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go anywhere. The stakes are high, for the specific character at least. They have to work together to overcome the obstacles which tests and offers the chance to strengthen their relationships. Bradbury is able to really create an atmosphere that is both spooky and almost melancholic.

Overall this novel is just really good and a must read for people. I’ve seen criticisms about about it and I can’t really argue them too much. It’s one of those things that if you don’t buy into the style in which it’s written than you won’t like it. Despite that I would recommend that everyone gives it a go. It’s a pretty short novel and it reads quick.

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Oathbringer Review (No Spoilers)

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This week’s book is Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. This is the third novel in the Stormlight Archives series. At 1233 pages, this book is a monster. It took me quite a while to finish, though not just because of the large page count. I’m going to preface this review by saying that my opinion does seem to be in the minority here, though I have seen some people echo what I’m about to say.

Firstly, I did enjoy this book. I loved the first two, and I was extremely excited to get my hands on Oathbringer. There was a number of things that I did like, as I made my way through it. The world-building that Sanderson laboriously expands is beyond impressive. This book expands the story and the world beyond even what the first two did.

However, this is part of what soured my perception of this novel. There are two things that can ruin my enjoyment of a book, excess world-building at the expense of plot and too many flashbacks. This novel is long, well over a thousand pages. A lot has to happen in order to justify that length, in my opinion. The long and the short of my complaint is that not enough actually happens to justify all the pages. The plot progresses sure but not nearly as far as I thought it would. Honestly, it felt like the story ran out of steam.

Contributing to this was the extreme use of flashbacks. I’m not saying they didn’t serve a purpose, because they clearly did. They character built, and expanded the history of the world. However, they did this at the expense of the plot in my opinion. Every flashback slowed down the story. A story that was already pretty darn slow. For many people this is fine but I found it grating.

Essentially, it just felt like the plot was third fiddle in this instalment, behind world building and character development. In all fairness this is what made a lot of people love Oathbringer. Unfortunately I’m a plot first kind of a guy.

All this is not to say that it was a bad novel, because it wasn’t. Just in comparison to the first two I felt like it suffered. Which considering how good they are, is not too surprising. I’m still excited for the fourth entry, I just hope that it does a better job of continuing the momentum of the overall story.

I won’t say too much more about it, because I don’t want to get into spoiler territory. If you’re a fan of fantasy and you haven’t read any of the Stormlight Archive, I would recommend picking up The Way of Kings and giving it a go. This really is one of the most ambitious and interesting fantasy series of all time in my opinion.

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James Reads Pawn of Prophecy By David Eddings (Spoiler Free)

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Pawn of Prophecy By David Eddings is this week’s book. This novel is the first one in the Belgariad. At the time of writing, this books is coming up on forty years old. And it shows. It’s hard to judge this book taken out of it’s time and thrust into modern times. It feels dated in some parts, especially in regards to it’s female characters, something that I’ve notice in other Eddings books.

However the novel is still enjoyable and entertaining. The characters are likeable enough and the plot is engaging if super predictable. The real strength is the world building with is robust and very deep. Gods and magic and prophecy, are all woven pretty deftly.

Honestly there just isn’t much I can say about the novel. If i’d read it as a younger man I would have liked it a lot better. I don’t want to write a criticism because it wouldn’t be fair to compare it against modern works. Books that built upon the legacy that Eddings created. Things fine are tropes now probably weren’t back then.

To sum up, this book just felt kind of left me feeling empty. It almost felt like a two hundred page prologue. It sets the stage for the next book but didn’t really leave me with a burning desire to pick them up.

But that’s okay, not all art ages well. Clearly this novel was very popular when it came out and people loved it. I just wasn’t around then and I probably lost out on the magic. Due to this I can’t really recommend this book like I can others of his. (The Elenium for instance I love.)

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James Reads Jingo By Terry Pratchett (No Spoilers)

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The Pratchett’ing continues this week with Jingo. Jingo is the 21st Discworld novel and the 4th in the City Watch series. Personally, I love the City Watch books. The characters feel like old friends, and the City of Ankh-Morpork is one of my favourite locations in all of fiction, right up there with Hogwarts and the Shire.

This novel really gives the characters of the City Watch room to do their thing.The plot focuses on the reemergence of an atlantean type continent which promptly begins to be fought over by Ankh-Morpork and a rival nation, despite it being a desolate, blasted rock.

This book is surprisingly relevant to current day politics on the global stage. The books title Jingo is a direct reference to Jingoism. Jingoism is defined as “extreme patriotism, especially in the form of aggressive or warlike foreign policy.” This is clearly something that is growing even more present in our current society.

In this book Pratchett dissects and makes fun of aggressive patriotism, racism and xenophobia. The rival faction Klatch is an obvious analog for the middle east and by facing them against Ankh-Morpork, you get a pretty robust comparison. Thought the novel Pratchett shows the dangers and folly of extreme aggressive patriotism, mainly by highlight the character ignorance and also showing how a like people can be, despite living in wildly different places.

Honestly, it’s a bit eerie and more than a little depressing how spot on this novel is, being that it was written in 1997.

The story itself is classic Discworld fun. Vimes is on a case, hunting for criminal, accompanied by the Night’s Watch. What’s more, they get to go traveling to a distant land, creating some ridiculous and hilarious situations. The plot is engaging and has enough twists and turns to keep you more than engaged. The characters live and grow throughout, learning lessons and passing trials.

Overall, this is a very good book, even by Discworld standards. The combination of delightful, entertaining plot combined with the biting satire create a novel that is as relevant today as when it was published. I would recommend this book to anyone, be they a fantasy fan or not. It contains an important lesson, one that many people need to hear in the times we live in today.

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James Reads: Maskarade by Terry Pratchett (No Spoilers)

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This weeks book is Maskarade By Terry Pratchett. It is the 18th disc world book and the 5th in the Witches series.  In this novel Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg hit the road and travel to the wacky metropolis of Ankh-Morpork!

The easiest way to sum up this book is that it is a buddy travel movie mixed with a parody of phantom of the opera. Theres lots of opera shenanigans and tropes, many of which probably went over my head. The heart of the story is a murder mystery which is fun. In fact many of my favourite Pratchett books are when he does mysteries.

In any mystery the most important aspect if it can keep you guessing until the end. Personally I’m a terrible detective so I never see twists and turns coming.This was no different, I had a dozen different theories until the big reveal happened. Overall it was a very competent murder mystery, lots of good twists and turns.

As far as how it stacks up against the other books in the Witches Series and the Discworld at large, I would say it was one my favourites. I’m a sucker for a tight plot that forces you to pay attention and plays off of your expectations. This novel delivered on all of that. However I would say that to fully enjoy this novel it would be good to read the other Witches books first. I usually don’t say this with Discworld books but in this case I think it would be helpful! Other than that, Maskarade was a delightful read, one that I would recommend to any fan of the Discworld or Terry Pratchett at large!

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Wyrd Sisters Review (Spoiler Free)

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The Terry Pratchett train continues with Wyrd Sisters. January is such a bleh of a month that I guess I just needed to read something lighthearted and easy. Wyrd Sisters fits that description perfectly. It’s the sixth Discworld novel and the second in the Witches series.

I’ve seen many people praise the witches novels as Pratchett’s best. More specifically the character of Granny Weatherwax. If you’d asked me my opinion before reading this book, I would have told you that Death was my favourite character and it would have been an easy choice. Now, I find doubt creeping into my mind. Weatherwax and the other witches are such deep and interesting characters. You can’t help but love them.

Sir Terry is known for using the disc world to satirize fantasy tropes and the world at large and this novel is no different. Here the concept of destiny and the traditional story of the hero coming to save the kingdom from a evil usurper. Essentially Wyrd Sisters is the first Lion King movie if there was three Rafiki’s.

The plot is interesting and moves at a quick pace. The characters face a real challenge that they have to overcome and they do. Everything ties in together well without the ending feeling cheap. The word satisfying comes to mind, and that’s really what this story is. It’s one of the most well crafted Pratchett novels I’ve read.

Really, there isn’t much more to say about it. The characters are great, the plot and setting are vibrant, the satire is sharp enough for any fantasy fan. Essentially, the hype around the Weatherwax books is extremely warranted and so I would have to recommend this novel to any fantasy fan, especially any that love witches, and magic and all that occult goodness.

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Building a Fantasy Franken-Author

There are no perfect authors. No one can be the best at every aspect of writing a novel. For a while I’ve been kicking around the idea of creating the best possible fantasy author, Frankenstein style. My ground rules are no more than four authors. Five seemed to many and three too few. Also each author can only bring one aspect of their game. Without further ado here are my picks.

The Humour of Terry Pratchett: I think this is the least controversial of all of my picks. Terry Pratchett’s books are a goldmine of stellar jokes and gags. His novels are jam-packed them. The ability to write jokes on a page and not have it come off as too corny or out of place is rare, and that’s why Sir Terry gets a place on my list. 

The Characters of Joe Abercrombie: It’s no secret that Joe Abercrombie is my favourite author of all time. He was going to be on this list, no matter what. However that doesn’t mean that his place is undeserved. Abercrombie’s character building is my favourite aspect of his game. He manages to write character that are both larger than life but also believable and relatable. In my opinion, it’s this that makes his stellar First Law Trilogy as good as it is. Due to this, Joe Abercrombie gets the second place on my list.

The Prose of Mark Lawrence: I hear a sound. It’s the cry of thousands of Patrick Rothfuss fans crying out in rage. I get it. He writes good. I just prefer Mark Lawrence. His writing is gritty yet beautiful. Poetic and grounded, prose that pulls you in and holds you tight. This was the hardest category for me to chose but I feel confident in my pick. Lawrence gets the nod due to his strong, consistent prose.

The Worldbuilding of J.K. Rowling: First Rothfuss fans and now the Sanderson army. At first it seemed like Sanderson’s category to win but in the end I had to give it to Rowling. Sanderson’s world-building is almost too deep, so much so that I feel it would dominate the novel. Rowling however, brings an amazing balance of whimsy and magic with well thought out worldbuilding. Some may argue this, say that there are elements that don’t make total sense. *Cough* Time Turners. *Cough* The rules of Quidditch don’t make sense. But to those haters I say phooey. The world of Harry Potter is magical and real all at once. I feel I could do no better than the biggest, most important writer of my childhood and so I choose J.K. Rowling to round out the last spot of my FrankeAuthor.

What do you think? Do you agree? Of course you don’t! What would your picks be? Let me know!

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The Light Fantastic Review (Spoiler Free)

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The Light Fantastic is the second novel in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. For a while now, I’ve had this novel sitting on my bookshelf, gathering dust. I’ve heard, as many of you probably have, that it doesn’t measure up to the rest of the Discworld. That Sir Terry was still finding his footing and readers should avoid it until they’ve read more.

Having finished the novel I can see where these people are coming from. If I were to measure The Light Fantastic against some of my favourites from the series, it would definitely suffer by comparison. However, I don’t think that should be held against this book. Novels likes Small God’s and Reaper Man are amongst the best and most clever books I’ve read. That this book doesn’t measure up, shouldn’t mean that it should be kept of of your reading list.

I enjoyed this book. There, I said it. You can fight me if you want. I thought the plot was interesting, the character fit together well, and there were enough jokes to keep me grinning like a goof on my lunch breaks at work. Sure it pales in comparison to some of the other Discworld books but I still think it’s a good enough read on it’s own.

There isn’t much more that I have to say about this novel. I agree with many people when they say that it is not where they would recommend people start if they haven’t read any Discworld. There are better books, much better ones really, that would hook a newbie reader into the world of Pratchett. Still, the book doesn’t deserve to be avoided like I did to it. It was a quick, fun read that many would enjoy! So don’t be scared and grab yourself a copy today!

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Guard! Guards! Review (Spoiler Free)

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This weeks book is Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

First book in the City Watch series. Hard to pin down my favourite of the “series” but after the Death books, it might be my favourite. Though just by chance I did something strange. Most of my Discworld books I bought on sale or at a random second hand bookstore. There was no rhyme or reason, I just grabbed what I could get my hands on.

Due to this, I managed to read all the City Watch books in reverse order. I grew to know and love Vimes, Carrot and the rest for what they became. I hardly knew what they had started as. Maybe my favourite part of the book was the first half, when the Night’s Watch was nothing but a joke, a dilapidated, shadow if it’s former self. Knowing what it becomes only made this more interesting.

Seeing Vimes at his lowest point was particularly fascinating. Throughout the other books, Vimes is a force to be reckoned with. A rock. Yet at the start of this novel his is none of these things. He’s actually pretty pathetic. In later books you hear about his alcoholism and what it did to him, but reading about it really drives home how far his character developed

Another great thing about this novel is that it’s Pratchett’s take on dragons. It was inevitable, he had to write them into a book and he takes apart the trope wonderfully. He skewers the age old story of the hero that defeats the dragon and becomes King. The City Watch book are always full of critiques of human behaviour and this one is no different.

Overall, I really liked this novel. I can’t say it’s my favourite, but it was very good. It gave birth to some of the best characters in the Discworld and was an engaging read in it’s own right. Some of the jokes and gags felt a bit repetitive but there were enough hilarious ones to make up for it. As for recommendations, I would say that anyone who likes fantasy, especially comic fantasy should pick up this book. If you’ve never read any Pratchett, then this would be a great place to start!

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