The Warded Man
By Peter V. Brett
Over the past couple of years I've developed a sort of book-sharing friendship with one of my co-workers. I lent him a couple of Neil Gaiman novels, and he lent me The Stone War. It's been working out pretty well for both of us.
I'd recently let him borrow my copy of Cordelia's Honor, and a couple of days later he stopped by my desk.
"Have you read The Warted Man yet?" he asked, a note of excitement in his voice.
"Warted Man?" I repeated. "Nope, don't think so."
"I'll bring it in tomorrow," he said. "I think you'll like it."
Of course, it turned out that I had misheard him, and what he had actually said was Warded, not Warted, which makes for a pretty different mental image. Happily, I hadn't read (or even heard of) that one either, so I put it into the queue.
He was right, I did like it.
In The Warded Man--author Peter Brett's debut novel--humanity struggles for survival in a world where demons called "corelings" rise from the earth every night, destroying everything they come across. The only protection offered comes in the form of wards--magical symbols painted onto homes and city walls that repel the corelings. There is no other way to stay safe, no way to fight back, and when someone is caught outside after sunset--or, worse, when the wards on their home fail--death is swift and terrible.
Against this backdrop, we are introduced to three young characters from three different towns, between whom the narrative skips back and forth. Arlen, a boy whose rage at losing his mother to the corelings while his father cowered in fear drove him to strike out on his own to find a way to fight back against the night. Leesha, a Healer's apprentice who becomes an outcast in her village after her fiancé lies about having slept with her. Rojer, raised by a Jongleur--this world's equivalent of a traveling minstrel--after his village is destroyed by corelings. We follow these three through their youth and into young adulthood as they each uncover hidden talents that may help turn the tide against the corelings.
Because it's the first episode in a series, much of The Warded Man works to establish the backstory of the characters and give you a peek into the world in which they toil. Indeed, about the first two-thirds of the book fall into this category, with things not really picking up until near the end. You'd think that would make the book feel slow and uneventful, but rather than relying on exposition, Brett instead largely focuses on the characters' individual stories, giving us only glimpses at the larger world and its history. The result was a book that was hard for me to put down once I got going.
If I had to make a comparison to other works, the closest I can think of might be Terry Brooks' Shannara series, which also features a fallen world in which dark forces run loose. But Brooks had a tendency to rely pretty heavily on cliché--in fact, the entire first book of that series is blatantly derivative of The Lord of the Rings, and though over the course of the next several books he sort of grew into a more compelling writer, I'm not sure I would really put him in the top tier of epic fantasy authors. Brett, on the other hand, seems fresher in his approach to the genre, and although the novel starts out a little stylistically thin, it continues to develop with the characters--a trick that made me suspect that Brett is a better writer than I had initially guessed--and there's also enough content to pull you in anyway.
The only real negative experience I had with The Warded Man was in not discovering that it was part of a series until I was three-quarters of the way through the book. I hate having to wait for new episodes, so I usually prefer to wait until a series is complete (or at least mostly complete) before starting. Based on the strength of this first volume, though, I think I'll just have to suck it up and wait for the sequels, because it seems like they'll be worth my time.
Started: 7/25/2010 | Finished: 7/29/2010
Toy Story 3
I heard today that Toy Story 3 recently passed the billion-dollar mark in worldwide box office sales, making it a member of a very exclusive club--only six other films in history have done that. And, despite the fact that the movie is now over two months old, it's still in first-run theaters and still apparently chugging along. My local cineplex still has three showtimes for it.
What with the movie being pretty old at this point, rather than doing a normal review, I'd like to take the opportunity to meld in a topic that I've been thinking about a lot lately: coming to movies after the hype.
Obviously, at this point we're way after the hype for Toy Story 3, but even though I saw the movie almost four weeks ago now, that was also still far enough after the premiere that I couldn't help but be aware of the huge buzz about the film. That's just how it goes for my wife and I now that we're parents; we see movies late, if at all. On the one hand, it's good for us, because we see so few movies nowadays that we want to make sure we get the most out of our time at the theaters. We just can't waste time with the mediocre ones the way we used to.
On the other hand, though, it also means that it's more or less impossible for us to see a movie without being biased. Of course, now that every movie is previewed and reviewed inside and out for months before it debuts, almost nobody actually goes to see a movie without any preconceptions. But back when we saw 50 or 60 movies in a year, we'd see them before most of our friends and before we knew that this movie was a flop or that one was a critical darling or this other one made a trillion dollars. Having all that information ahead of time can't help but influence the way you view a film.
Take Inception, for example. Everyone I know that saw that film came out discussing theories about what was really going on. None of them gave me any of those theories, of course, not wanting to spoil it for me, but just the fact that I knew that they were doing it meant that I watched that movie with an eye toward "figuring it out." Now, I generally do watch movies with a more analytical mindset than the average audience member, but this one had me examining things like themes and cinematography not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but also with the intention of unraveling some sort of secret. I still enjoyed it a lot, mind you, but I can't help but wonder what my reaction would have been had I seen it on opening night.
Similarly, with Toy Story 3, I went in with the knowledge that a huge percentage of my friends (both offline and on social networking sites) had talked about the fact that they cried at the end. So I knew that there was going to be a big emotional moment, and it absolutely changed the way I reacted to the plot and characters--there were several points in the film, for example, where my predictions about what was going to happen next were way off base. Even the fact that I was consciously making predictions in a movie that isn't about "figuring it out" says something.
And this brings me to the "review" portion of this post, because the fact that I knew what everyone else's reaction was, my tendency is to remove myself to a cool, analytical distance from the story and characters, one where I'm more likely to notice how a scene evokes an emotion than to actually experience the emotion for myself. So the fact that I was still hit hard by that emotional payoff and did cry, and that it came in such an unexpected and truly heartwrenching manner, that speaks volumes to the skill and talent of the filmmakers.
That I can still be amazed by what Pixar does, that I've come to the point where I can simultaneously take for granted that their films will be amazing and yet still be profoundly touched by them, that is something wonderful. With every new offering, Pixar keeps managing to bring me back to that place where film is new and exciting, where I remember what it is that keeps me coming back to theaters, and for that I cannot thank them enough.
Viewed: 7/27/2010 | Released: 6/18/2010 | Score: A
It feels a little silly to write a review for a movie that opened almost six weeks ago, especially since I already wrote up a piece about my interpretation of the movie, but, you know, that's where I am these days.
What can I tell you that you don't already know about Inception? Probably not a whole lot, if you're even remotely interested in movies. It is, like many Christopher Nolan films, complex and layered, and rewards looking closely and (I would think) watching it more than once. On one level, it's basically a heist film and even if you view it as just that and nothing more, it's a very good movie. But, as I pointed out in my previous piece, there may be a lot more going on than initially meets the eye.
As far as the performances go, my appreciation of Leonardo DiCaprio continues to increase--a trend that kind of started with Catch Me If You Can but didn't really kick in until The Departed. I do still find his performances a little on the heavy side--he's clearly a guy who takes himself and his profession very seriously--but given the sort of films he does, that's probably appropriate. It was also very nice to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who I quite liked in (500) Days of Summer) take on a more adult role, one which he handled expertly. The one who stole the show for me, though, was Tom Hardy in the role of the "forger," Eames. I've only ever seen him before in Star Trek: Nemesis--which was a pretty forgettable movie overall--but here his combination of charm, dry wit, and occasional seriousness came off just perfectly for me.
There's a lot more to talk about with a film like this, of course, but at this point it's kind of yesterday's news. Besides, the best part about a movie like this is the face-to-face discussions with your friends that you have as you're walking out of the theater, so if you haven't had a chance to check it out yet, grab a couple of friends and get to it.
Viewed: 7/25/2010 | Released: 7/16/2010 | Score: A
The Vorkosigan Saga
Since committing to a regular update schedule of normal blog posts and photos, my reviews seem to have fallen by the wayside. I've actually managed to read seven books in the two months since my last review, but somehow I just haven't had the time or motivation to write about any of them. To those three or four of you who enjoy reading these reviews: I apologize.
In the interests of speeding things along, rather than reviewing each of the six remaining Vorkosigan novels and omnibuses separately, I'm going to do all of them at once in a single giant-sized, no-holds-barred mega-review. Except, you know, it won't actually be any longer than a normal review and there will be no wrestling or any other form of physical combat involved.
One of the great strengths of this series, I think, is in how each new episode both maintains and extends the overall world and narrative while still remaining relatively self-contained. For people who like to take breaks in between books, this means that you have convenient stopping points along the way. If, on the other hand, you prefer to charge straight through (as I did), you have the effect of a very long story that rewards you with extremely satisfying milestones along the way.
Of course, there's a danger with open-ended, episodic series in that they can get either repetitive or suffer from a sort of "Superman syndrome," wherein the writers have to go to increasingly absurd lengths to continue to challenge the central characters. In this respect, writing open-ended series well can be more challenging than single novels or closed series. I'm happy to report, though, that Bujold has enough skill and imagination to keep her Vorkosigan novels fresh all the way through.
Part of this lies in the way that science fiction lends itself so well to new ideas. So, for example, in Cetaganda and Ethan of Athos, Bujold can give us a look at new civilizations and cultures, and explore the differences from and similarities to what we're used to, while in Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance, she can tackle topics like identity and brotherhood. As it progresses, the series twists and turns through different concepts and angles, all the while maintaining the same central "feel." It takes a pretty skilled writer to accomplish something like that, I think.
If I had to pick a favorite episode it would probably be either Cetaganda or "The Mountains of Mourning"--the former for the fascinating construction of a civilization both utterly alien and distinctly human, and the latter for the strong characterization and emotional content. My least favorite is probably A Civil Campaign. Really, though, even at its worst, this series is still at the very least a lot of fun to read, and at its best it's grown to be among my favorite works of "light" science fiction.
Miles, Mystery & Mayhem:
Started: 6/21/2010 | Finished: 6/25/2010
Started: 6/26/2010 | Finished: 6/30/2010
Started: 7/1/2010 | Finished: 7/4/2010
Miles in Love:
Started: 7/5/2010 | Finished: 7/14/2010
Started: 7/15/2010 | Finished: 7/20/2010
Started: 7/21/2010 | Finished: 7/24/2010