Sunday, November 6, 2016

Harry Potter & the Cursed Child

Consider this book for what it is - the transcript of a play, based on one of the most popular fictional storylines to have ever been written. And yet, it does not live up to that expectation. Of a play.

I'd like to think of myself as part of the generation that grew up with Harry Potter. Physically, I mean not just in terms of reading. The character itself is actually older than me, but I was only a few years older than Harry when I read the Philosopher's Stone, and 21 when the story ended. Supposedly.

When the Cursed Child was announced, it not only took me by surprise but also filled me with a certain apprehension of how much to expect from rehashing a story that ended on a note of closure.
I was in England the day the book was released and having pre-ordered and picked it up at Hatchard's (with the nerd in me doing cartwheels), I settled in - with cupcakes and wine - to read this much-awaited sequel to the series that was the means of introducing me to my now best friends.

I did not enjoy it. A lot of people were surprised that it was in the form of a script, but that really isn't the problem at all. It's a play, so let's begin there.
The characters from the original series are adults and are all meant to only be supporting characters. Draco Malfoy's and Harry Potter's sons, Scorpius, and Albus, are exactly what their fathers weren't - the best of friends. And so trouble begins.
The two boys, especially Albus, live in the shadow of their paternal legacies. Albus, being Harry's son, is obviously the one to wade into a mess - this one very much a time turner related mess. All the adults get involved, make it worse, and finally everything goes back to normal with lessons learned. Done. End of story.
What's wrong with it all, you wonder? Everything lacks coherence - the newly introduced characters, the situations, and storyline itself. Dialogues leave something to be desired, even for a play meant more for children than for adults.
If you were to read out the script imagining yourself as a part of the actual play, it might make it better, but I'm convinced that a musical version of this play would have given it the charm it certainly lacks.
[Spoiler Alert] To be very honest, what this story was supposed to represent has already been talked about in this edition of How Harry Potter Should Have Ended.

Friday, November 23, 2012

1Q84 - Ichi Kew Hachi Yon

"It feels like I'm experiencing someone else's dream. Like we're simultaneously sharing feelings. But I can't really grasp what it means to be simultaneous. Our feelings seem extremely close, but in reality there's a considerable gap between us." - Aomame

Had I known, before I borrowed the book, that 1Q84 was approximately 920 pages, I might not have read it. I would have, in all honesty, picked up the Lord of the Rings again in preparation for The Hobbit. But I had already checked it out and I obviously could not put it away.

[Writing out a quick summary of this novel is going to be quite a task for me because there are so many details in it that I would love to include. I must, however, try and keep it short, so I will simply restrict myself to sharing my thoughts and opinions of the book].

The plot of the novel is quite large though it essentially boils down to a love story that persists through 20 years of time and finds closure in the alternate reality of the year 1984 - 1Q84. It is told from the perspective of three characters whose lives intersect rather interestingly: Aomame, a fitness instructor and 'serial killer' of sorts, Tengo Kawana, a prep school math teacher and an aspiring novelist, and Ushikawa, a private investigator. The common thread between the three? The alternate universe with two moons, a novel by a teenage girl, a Japanese cult, air chrysalises, Little People, murder and soul searching.
Confused? You would be until you slowly wade through the novel. I've heard that this isn't Mr. Murakami's best work, and though this is the first of his books I have read, I would consider it a very good piece of writing that encompasses all the essentials of good story telling that engulfs you from start to finish.

The main theme of the story is the 'Little People', quite like Orwell's Big Brother. The Little People seem, to me, a mystical sort of personification of whatever it is that makes the world run. They create alternate personalities of people which are devoid of any human characteristic except that they can act as a bridge between this strange world and actual reality. They are good and evil and have existed since before time; they have powers and require a human to channel them through. Weird?
Well, there's another character in the novel that kind of tops it all - Fuka-Eri, the author of a short story within the novel. A slight dyslexic girl who angers the Little People because she has brought their existence to the knowledge of the world in her writing. She, during an absolutely ludicrous encounter with Tengo, ends up impregnating Aomame with Tengo's child and this too is in a way the work of the Little People! Still weird?

The visions and worlds that 1Q84 is, is strangely true. You can relate to it on a different level in that you aren't sure that the world you live in, or the life you know, is the one you actually were born in to. There are shifts in reality and it is very possible that almost everyone that thinks has paused at some point to wonder what the proper definition of reality is because it will be different for everyone. But a lot of the book is too obscure to contemplate. The Little People, for example. Or the religious cult that they seem to thrive on. Or the strange humanoid novelists.

There is a lot of this book that I did not understand as I read it. But Murakami has a fascinating way of connecting the dots. The parallel stories of Aomame and Tengo come into flashing collision at the end of the first book and then it's only a matter of time. And time drags on and on and on.
A lot of the book is repetitive and snail paced. Maybe it's just me, but Aomame quite easily jumped into believing in the alternate world, while the others took their own sweet time going about it, and then suddenly everyone is thinking the same thing over and over again. While it may be necessary for the characters, it isn't required for the readers, I don't think. Fuka-Eri's character, though interesting, gets annoying after a point because there's nothing new. She provides for comic relief at times, but it's very disconcerting when there's nothing more to know of the character and then she has a sexual encounter, thinks nothing of it and disappears even though her life and connections is what causes all of the trouble throughout the novel.

Don't get me wrong, I am fascinated by the power of story telling in the author's magnum opus publication. I probably expected more closure, more explanation that what was provided. Some characters just fall out of the pages when everyone is scrambling about. Parts of the book bind you to the pages and then there are bits that make you wonder if it is still in the same book. It's a very bipolar read which you can indulge in when you are unsure of what you want to read.
Either way, this book has now made me want to read Kafka on the Shore because it does have higher ratings and I would love to see Murakami's magic at its best.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vampire Empire - Books 1 and 2

My mind, the part of it that appreciates a good book, was rather wary and numb of mainstream portrayal of vampires and their kin. It's too much glitter and falling into arms of an immortal one who will protect the helpless heroine for all eternity going on there. It may be what makes them read by all and produce a senseless fan gathering, but it has not allowed imagination grow. Therein lay my mindset when I picked up Vampire Empire by Clay and Susan Griffith. The blurb on the back of book set my expectations - as simple as it seemed. I was so pleasantly taken in, hooked and surprised.

This trilogy, titled Vampire Empire, written by Clay and Susan Griffith, begins with the premise that the Great Killing of 1870 pitted the entire world into a horrifying war. A plague, if you will, of vampires. Millions of humans died at the hands of the parasites while the aftermath ensured the death of more. Empires were brought down and humanity driven to the edge of despair. Vampires settled into the northern, colder regions of the Earth, while humans fled to the tropics. Shattered in their beliefs and urged by the drive to strike back, humans flourish, still under threat of the savages, building their kingdoms, filling it with technology, knowledge and the will to reclaim what they once knew as theirs.
The center of this epic trilogy is the kingdom of Equatoria, Alexandria serving as its capital under the reign of Constantinople II, and the powerful vampire clan of Britain, under King Dmitri. It should be known now that history, from the late 19th century on, involves vampires. Everything until then is almost exactly as we know it to have been.

Princess Adele, heir to Equatoria, is engaged to be married to the 'butcher', Senator Miles Clark, an American soldier who fought and won several battles in America. She departs just a month before her scheduled wedding on a tour of her European provinces. Right at the beginning, her convoy is attacked and she is taken captive by Prince Cesare, second in line to the throne of Dmitri and the king's right hand man. Cesare is aware that the whole point of the arranged union between Adele and Clark is to unite human establishments and combine forces to declare war against vampiric clans all over the world. Portrayed as a ruthless, power-hungry king, who has literally usurped his father's throne (Dmitri, an eight hundred year old king, is leader in name only), Cesare believes he will frighten humans enough to prevent them from launching an attack which will only cause more ruin among those living. The Greyfrair, a legend and crusader of sorts for the humans - and one whom you would suspect to be either a super-human or a vampire - rescues Adele, loses her, then rescues her again, falls in love with her, makes her fall in love with him, reveals his true identity, fights for his right, saves the princess and lives to return to his kingdom. It isn't as confusing as I made it sound. The essence of the story from the point that Adele is captured by Flay, Cesare's war-chief, is that Prince Gareth, Lord of Scotland and the rightful heir to the British throne, is opposed to his brother's view of the world. He takes Adele under his wing and proves to her that vampires can be good too. That there is a possibility of co-existence if only each of their species would pause and try to understand the other. Clark, Adele's betrothed, attempts to rescue her and succeeds but not before Adele has fallen in love with Greyfrair a.k.a. Gareth. Gareth, in the process of his blossoming romance with the fair princes realizes that she will be the death of his kind.
The book ends with Adele returning to her beloved kingdom to be married as soon as she is well, Gareth returns to pretend to forge an alliance with his younger brother, Clark plans his revenge on the vampires, and the world prepares for victory or utter destruction.

Months after her rescue from the hands of Cesare's minions' brutality, Adele puts off her wedding to Senator wanting understand what powers she holds. She realized, through instances in the first book, that she is capable of harnessing powers of the earth and using them against the vampires, something that her tutor Mamoru, from the house of Asian human rulers, wants to train her in. He cautions her against these powers realizing that she can wield them better than most as they can be destructive beyond all measure. No one understands them.
Senator Clark pushes for the wedding to take place just so that he can begin war and Adele is forced to yield to her father's wishes and marry the man she does not love. On the day of the wedding, however, Gareth, who while fishing for information from his brother finds out that he intends to kill Adele and the Senator on the day of their nuptials, swoops in and rescues the princess in a very 'knight in shinning armor coming to the aid of his damsel in distress'. Except it rings true. They escape the city and make for the mountains of Katanga in central Africa. There Adele gets in touch with a burst of the power she truly has, acknowledging in that moment of exhilaration that she would kill Greyfrair with it. She returns to Equatoria - which has been ravaged by vampires under the guidance of Flay in a surprise attack at the very heart of the empire. The personal and political consequences of this do not sway Adele and she, recovering from a close range attack on her person, takes over as Empress Adele. As Adele ascends her throne, Cesare, in a moment of blind jealousy when his father calls out to Gareth instead of him, does away with the old king and takes over his clan.

Why was I drawn by this series, still somewhat hidden from mainstream (thus in my eyes insincere because they don't know of vampire history except from the pop-culture ones I mentioned at the very beginning of this review) fans?
The blending of human history, the allusions to ancient cultures and civilizations, upon which our current society is based, the unique descriptions of geographical locations, be it the mighty Nile, the mountains of current day Congo, the Mediterranean, England and Scotland. Everything, as recent as the early 19th century exists in Adele's world, the British Empire, the kingdoms of Asia. The portrayal of vampires as parasitic creatures without the existence of other supernatural beings is a welcome relief. While the depth of characters might be lacking in some situations, there is enough detail in geography, society, culture, and humanity that makes this series standout.
There is the essence of an actual kingdom - the trust between a royal ward and his or her guard, which in ancient times was true because they probably saw more of their sitters than they did their own father; the political leaders who have their own agendas - very reminiscent of the Roman empire; the heritage and old-fashioned hierarchy which can only exist in a monarchy. There is also the touch of modernism in the form of inventions - air ships, use of chemicals in warfare, proper machinery - proving that the industrial age did happen.
I suppose the only thing that confused me was the clothing. I know it sounds silly, but in my mind's eye I expected flowing robes, from medieval times in fact. But the picture painted is of, almost, 19th century England with a high sense of fashion. Steampunk, I believe the term would be, so I guess it explains it.
The writing, though it begins a little uncomfortably, picks up pace about a third of the way into the first book and keeps with it. There aren't complicated story lines or high standing words that would want to make you rush and look up etymology or meanings. The plot, while essentially new, is a bit predictable, but nothing more than "I knew that would happen". It keeps the pages turning.
The characters are alright too. Adele does get a bit annoying but she grows up pretty quickly through the book. The pace of movement of the story between the characters is perfect in that you don't get bored with them.
I was slightly turned off by the repetition of certain nouns over a few pages until a synonym is found; like, young woman, prince and princess. It bothered me because you'd come across the person presented to you with the same noun preceded by a definite article at least three times in a four line paragraph. Apart from these, just peeves of mine, it is a well written series that sets it apart from, what is considered these days, normal vampire fiction.

The authors, a husband & wife pair, have accomplished in creating a world of urban fantasy where the two extremes of beings are dealt with in an almost amiable fashion - monster versus man where the monster could be vampire or human as could the man. The balance between the two worlds, hinged mainly on their own ignorance of the other, is given due recognition.
Anyway, I'm quite surprised that not many people are obsessing after this series; but then again, a reader of this series would enjoy it more if he or she were somewhat aware of the history of the world and could accept vampires to be the creatures that they were originally written to be. That said, I'm hoping that the third book, The Kingmakers, lives up to my expectation of story telling.