Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ravnica: Dissension (Book III of the Ravnica Cycle)

In the chaotic aftermath of Utvara’s infestation, Crixizix, the new firemind, finds that Utvara is still under threat of the Nephilim, and those ancient creatures have grown to even larger proportions. Meanwhile, Teysa Karlov finds herself called in to handle the strangest case Ravnica has ever seen, while Sunhome comes tumbling toward Prahv. Kos is dead, but his ghost still lives on as an Azorius guardian spirit, and that means he can be called to active duty anytime the guildmaster declares it. Fonn and Jarad find trouble when their son Myc goes missing, and his disappearance leads them right back to old Rav and to the demon Rakdos. All that and more fills this last installment in the Ravnica Cycle by Cory J. Herndon.

So, the story goes that all the angels were killed by Szadek while they were visiting Agyrem, the spirit world of myths. But before they were killed, Feather managed to find her friends/family and attempted to rescue the falling tower, only to find that she’s too late. But when she returned to the world of the living in the end of the second book, she accidently opened a path that allows Sunhome to come tumbling out of the sky, and fall directing into Prahv, the city center of Ravnica.

Unfortunately for the angel, she can’t do anything about it, since she’s been placed under custody and waiting trial for various crimes that she admits to committing. I guess it’s not the best thing when you have an angel for a client. And as such Teysa is put in a predicament: how to get an angel acquitted for crimes that she admits to having commit. But there are reasons why Teysa was selected to be the Orzhov baroness, and her quick wits are just was Feather needs to not only get released for her crimes, but also to get the other guilds in motion to stop the failing Guildpact. But as Sunhome comes down, so does the Damnation of Damocles.

Meanwhile, in another part of Ravnica, Fonn investigates some murders that have been popping up all over the city. Having found a way to balance her time between the Ledev and the Wojeks, she works as a Selesnyan first and a Boros second, finding her inherited police skills not quite adequate enough to figure out why there are rats at the scene of every crime. But Jarad would have known the answer, if Fonn would have asked him when she went to pick up their son as per their divorce agreement.

But as Fonn takes Myczil Zunich, her son, out to be trained with all the other Ledev scouts, the group manages to stumble across a very bloodthirsty group of Rakdos, who fall upon the group in a cloud takes off with the trainees. Fonn comes too and begins to panic as she finds no evidence as to where the Rakdos might have taken her son. And in her panic, she calls Jarad through their cell-phone like magical communication stones.

Jarad instantly knows where the Rakdos have taken his son and leads Fonn there in less than a few minutes. Unfortunately for him, storming the Rakdos stronghold costs him his life, but being the guildmaster of the guild of necromancers has it’s perks, and Jarad finds that these tricks are fairly useful when one finds oneself dead.

Myc ends up becoming friendly with the demon-god Rakdos, but things go sour as the Rakdos blood-witch manages to gain control of the demon for her own purposes. Unfortunately for her, this happens right before Rakdos attacks the Simic Project Kraj and falls in the battle. Linked consciousness is not what it’s cracked up to be, especially when one of the consciousnesses has declared war in a chaotic manner against more than one guild. But Rakdos and his rats cause a significant amount of damage, while the Ledev scouts bring down the Nephilim and the Lurkers in the only manner they know how, with explosions.

Kos is brought back from the dead in this novel, and he and Pivlic find themselves once again taking on an enemy bent on destroying the world. But Kos has an advantage against this enemy: he’s a ghost. Armed with the ability to inhabit the bodies of anyone with a semi-harmonious astral signature, Kos moves from body to body as he gets inside the Simic safe house. Face to face with yet another delusional enemy with bodyguards and a power-trip, Kos did what Kos is known to do: he killed the idiot. And following this display, Kos makes his way back to Prahv to face the true ringleader of the chaos, and the true enemy behind the failing guildpact.

Though this book saw the return of some of my favorite characters in the series, I couldn’t help but feel robbed by many of the different loose ends that only partially got wrapped up in the end. For example, in the end of the first novel, it is clear that the necroanalyst for the Wojek Tenth Precinct has become a lurker, but even though this same character appears near the very beginning of this novel, nothing about his nature as a lurker comes forth. In fact, there is several instances where the lurker presents itself and then fades away into nothing. I was very disappointed that this lurker angle simply becomes a convenient way for Herndon to come up with another enemy for the characters to be fearful about, but never able to stop.

To be honest, I was not really impressed with this book, especially after the intrigue of the first novel and the spaghetti western feel of the second. I just expected more out of this tale, but it seems, from the very beginning, that Herndon was pressured into ending the novel within some sort of time limit, because the characters have some sort of time limit. Being that as it is, it becomes incredibly convenient that project Kraj, supposedly the only project developed by the Simic that will be able to take on the greatest beasts and demons of the world, immobilizes the demon-god Rakdos before he can rip down the Life-Tree of Vitu Ghazi.

I wish he had, and I wish that Szadek would have been working of his own accord and not under the spiritual slavery of some up-tight know-it-all Azorius. It seemed as if Herndon was going for some sort of twisted plot device that added more intrigue into the story, but to be honest, I thought it was just a pile of stupidity. Why? Because there already was a twisted plot between the Rakdos, the Golgari god-zombie Svogthir, and the Simic. And even then, Szadek was part of that plot for a moment, which would have been wickedly awesome if it had played out that way, but apparently it didn’t.

As a matter of fact, I found that to be an inconsistency in the book. First we see Szadek with the Simic and the god-zombie early on in the book, but later we find out that Szadek was completely under the command of the Azorius guildmaster Augustin IV. What? Does that mean that Augustin IV was working with the Simic and the Golgari rebels, who apparently were helping the Rakdos, in overthrowing all of Ravnica? Because it seems to me that without the Guildpact, the Azorius would fold under the pressure of the other guilds and collapse. Why would the Rakdos or the Golgari follow a supreme overlord of Ravnica? The Rakdos are far too chaotic and the Golgari don’t really care anyway.

No, I wish that he had been a true good guy until the end, and that the story would have taken a better turn somewhere else. Perhaps there could have been way to resolve the situation involving the god-zombie, who’s still not dead. I would have liked to see the god-zombie or Szadek feeding off the Azorian man’s soul while Kos tried to figure out how to stop them. It would have been a better ending I think.

Truthfully, I think that after all the great things that have come from Cory J. Herndon, I can’t say that he is a terrible author, because he’s not, but I feel that he did drop the ball on this story, trying to figure out cool ways to end situations that could have very easily been solved with some small and simple means. Small and simple means, Cory, not bangpops. That’s what I was expecting and still hoping that my fanfiction actually becomes something worth a darn.

All-in-all this was an entertaining read, but it wasn’t of the same caliber of the previous novels, which was disappointing. However, if you have about a week of free time, and you’ve already read the other two, you might as well pick up this book and finally get the complete story of the characters you come love. If you do that, then you will not be disappointed, but you will be disappointed if you read the story for its plot and intrigue. Happy reading.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Pocket and the Pendant


When you were a kid, did you ever wonder what would happen if time were to just stop? Well, one day, Max and Casey found out. And the answer wasn’t good at all…

Okay, time for the plot rundown and then to my thoughts on the matter. Max is a very extraordinary boy, more extraordinary than he even knows. Max thinks that he’s years old, but as the story goes on, we find out that he’s much older than that. But Max doesn’t remember, and the only people who do are grown ups…so grown up in fact, that one is in a retirement community, one is criminal with a family, and one faded away long ago, leaving a copied image behind. But Max doesn’t remember these people, though he wishes he did, because if he did, then he might be able to understand what’s going on when time completely stops.

Casey was a normal little girl growing up in the same small community as Max. She lived a normal life with divorced parents, never seeing her father, but living with her mother, until the day that her mother stood still. And not just her mother, her neighbors and her friends were also “stuck” in time. After some manipulation, Casey began to realize that she could unstuck things stuck in time, but it was all too terrifying. Plus, she stumbles across another power that only she seems to possess. And when she traps herself with this power, only Max can hear her pleas for help.

The two characters are then launched on a world wide search for others like them, others unstuck from “the Pocket” as Casey deems the time-stopped world. But their search takes them for miles and into civilizations that didn’t exist before “the Pocket” began; civilizations formed by kids like them, unstuck from the world. That’s when they meet Ian, who has some tools and some theories that help the three of them realize that they are not alone. And when the begin to search deeper, they find out that those “aliens” Ian noticed are after something, something important, something Max became involved in so very long ago.

But in order to unlock his memory, Max must talk to an ancient being known only as Mister E, or Enki as some call him. Many times Enki has freed Max’s memory so that he might remember what’s going on, but each time Max wishes that he hadn’t remembered, and each time Enki erases the memories. This time, Max wants to try to fix things without having his memory freed, which gives the enemies a leg-up, but also means that Max might be able to change everything once and for good this time. Too bad that means he’ll have to deal with his family without remembering why he dislikes them in the first place.

This novel by Mark Jeffrey is an interesting read. From start to finish, the simplicity of the diction and the juvenile word use gives us the feeling that we are going along with Max and Casey, traveling with them as they experience “The Pocket”. And to be honest, I felt myself cheering for them right away. I felt myself sympathizing with their plight, laughing when they succeeded and crying when they faced adversity. And unlike other time-related books I’ve read, this book did not disappoint in some aspects that most others do.

In most of the novels related to time that I’ve read, the characters suddenly became very concerned about time issues (i.e. they would not be able to get to a certain point with enough time to stop the bad guy, or something very important somewhere else happens and they miss their opportunity to do it, etc.), but this novel didn’t present these issues. When you have all the time in the world to accomplish the most important tasks, in my opinion, you probably wouldn’t rush yourself. And Max, Ian, and Casey illustrated that when, at one point in the novel, they take 5 days planning and practicing everything they would need to do to rescue Sasha who had slipped out of the SuperPocket.

And then there’s the issue of action. You see, this is definitely a family story, the kind of tale that you would read with your kids before they fall asleep, the kind of story that you share with your grandkids when they come to visit your house. And most adults tend to steer away from these kinds of stories because they think that it wouldn’t appeal to their more adult understanding of the world. However, I would like to state that you should not mistake innocence for ignorance. In my generation, we had Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles…kids certainly understand violence, but to a lesser form of painful understandings. Jeffrey responds to this by having action, but showing it in the same form that you would see in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, namely the good guys beat up the bad guys and then the bad guys stumble away. No killing, but threats of it; no blood, but spilled pride. I found it quite refreshing from some of the other novels that I have been reading recently.

As I said, this is the kind of story you would read to your children before they fall asleep. In truth, when I have children, I will read this novel to them as they fall asleep. I can guarantee that the diction is simple enough for children 7+ to understand and will tickle their creative. I felt as though it was easy to follow along, without complicated plot twists that would fly over the heads of any preadolescent trying to understand. And, I’m certain that any boy would imagine himself as Max or Ian, and any girl would imagine herself as Casey. If you read this to them, don’t be surprised if your children as you to play Enki.
Have fun with this great read. Happy reading.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ravnica: Guildpact (Book II of the Cycle)


When a man retires, the last thing he wants to become is the sheriff of some backwater town on the outskirts of the biggest city in the world. But when an old mining town suddenly becomes the site of a new wave of destruction, Kos has no choice but to shine his badge, strap on his pendrik and get to dishing out justice, frontier style.

This is the second installment of the Ravnica Cycle, written by Cory J. Herndon and published by Wizards of the Coast. Like it’s predessor, Ravnica: City of Guilds, this novel stars Argus Kos and his business partner/friend Pivlic, as well as several new characters, in an rousing adventure full of intrigue and mayhem. With their new friend Teysa Karlov, baroness of the frontier zone named Utvara, the two begin to unravel an Izzet secret that delves deeper than many of them wanted to ever go, all the while searching for the missing messenger of the Zomaj Hauc, Izzet Guild upper manager and lead engineer of the Cauldron, a powerplant supplying energy to all of the Utvara region.

Crix the goblin finds herself in the hands of the indigenous peoples of Utvara while Baroness Teysa and her minions attempt to gain control of the region that has now become her’s to own. But Crix finds that the plains around Utvara are mysterious, full of bizarre creatures that trace back to the ancient days of Ravnica, as well as a race of people who wear fungus on their backs to protect themselves from a spore that got thrown up into the air after the Izzet Guild attempted to “reclaim” the Utvaran region for the previous owner, Teysa’s uncle and prodigal father. But as Crix stays out in the spores, strange occurrences with the natives lead her to believe that something against the natural order is occurring, and that the answer can only be found within her master, Zomaj Hauc himself.

Crix manages to manipulate the natives into helping her get to the cauldron, partially to deliver the message she had been sent to deliver and partially to get to the bottom of this deadly mystery. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the courier, Argus Kos and Pivlic have also become aware of the strange behaviors of the natives and begin an expedition to rescue the intrepid Izzet. However, as they work forward toward their goal, both the human and the imp find that it is not as easy of a task as it originally appeared, especially not when the Nephilim, those ancient creatures Crix encounters, become more rampant in this area of the frontier. Since Kidnapping is a crime, Kos is propelled forward, but unfortunately for him, his path leads straight to the gates of the Cauldron, and on the eve of yet another attempt at ruining Ravnica.

Back in Utvara, things seem to be simple and reclaiming the once lost territory is becoming a task that Teysa Karlov has turned into a lucrative business venture. But as business is getting better, Teysa begins to discover a mystery and a magic that has been plaguing her for most of her life. And the lies and deceptions strike directly into the heart of the woman who is beginning to get too old be able to deal with it. Be that as it may, the Guildmaster, the first Baroness of the Orzhov guild, meets her enemies face to face and proves that royal blood does make a difference.

I did enjoy this novel, mostly because it was a new take on the Ravnica series. In the first book, we got a gritty look into the world of municipal policing in a metropolis that sprawls over most of the world, but this book takes us to a western frontier town with little to no crime and little to no police to take care of it. This being the case, it was like reading a western Magic: the Gathering style. In this novel, Kos became the epidemy of the old sheriff we read about in westerns and Pivlic the owner of the Saloon. And like saloon scenes, Kos gets too drunk and throws another too drunk man out the door and into the dust outside. Sobering up, bar-fight-style.

I didn’t really find this book lacking anything. The intrigue was just as twisted as it was in the previous novel, and it didn’t really leave any loose ends to worry about. It was a self-contained novel that, surprisingly enough, any casual reader could enjoy, whether or not they’ve read the previous novel. Interestingly, Cory J. Herndon has a way of reminding the readers about things that they may have forgotten, or informing the readers of things they may never have known. Being that way, a lack of any previous knowledge is overcome, an aspect I think Herndon was aiming for.

But the action was great and I spent most of my time pondering the turn of events in the end, but I could not actually guess what was growing in the Cauldron, so I was surprised when the secret came out. I also could not guess how the situation was going to be resolved, but I had a feeling that something bad was going to happen. The back of the third novel in the series had me waiting to find out how a certain character died, which was a good thing, but I don’t recommend that anyone purchase them and read their synopsis before they actually read the book.

My only complaint with this story was the grammatical mistakes that appeared every so often, just often enough to get annoying. Clearly, the team that edited this particular novel had a lot on their plate, or just spaced it when they were reading, but I felt inclined at some points to reorganize the syntax until the misplaced modifier was no longer misplaced. Cory J. Herndon, pay attention to how you modifier certain ideas, my friend.

All in all, I found this a very entertaining and easy read. I nearly swallowed it in a week, which is a relatively impressive task for me. I just found that once I started the novel, I couldn’t put it down until I had finished it, which made it interesting when I started cooking my curry. If you read quickly, which I don’t, then you’ll probably have this done in a few days, but if you are like me, you’ll find that no matter how slow you read, you’ll find time to read this novel from cover to cover. Happy reading.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner

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Written in 1719, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe has been considered a classic amongst academics for years. I was not all too familiar with it, so decided to go ahead and read the book, which is titled thus The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an uninhabited Island on the coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pirates. Written by Himself, and discover for myself why it is called a classic. And my discovery may just get me annexed from the annuls of academia.

The majority of people out there have some vague understand of the story when I say the word, “Robinson Crusoe”. Maybe it’s because they’ve made movies of it, or maybe it’s because they’ve made movies and shows based loosely upon the premise, or maybe still it’s because the book is old and considered a classic. Whatever the reason, an image or idea springs to mind simply upon hearing the words: “Robinson Crusoe”.

But do you know the story as well as you think? I thought I did, in fact, I thought I knew the premise well enough that there was going to be nothing to surprise me. How did Robinson Crusoe become a slave to a Moor? Where did Robinson establish his estate? Do you know who Friday is? What about Poll? Can you tell me how many mutineers were in the boat with Bowson’s mate? If can answer successfully these questions, and do not need the help of Wikipedia or any other outside source, then you have read Robinson Crusoe. Apparently, the book went through 4 editions within the first year of its printing, and hundreds of spin off novels and adaptations have been written. Being that as it is, sometimes people think they have read Robinson Crusoe, and it turns out that they haven’t actually read the complete story, but a spin-off and/or abridged version. Do not let yourself fall into this trap.

But what was my discovery that might get me expelled from academia? The discovery that the story of Robinson Crusoe is not the story of a man stranded on a desert isle, which is usually the way we describe the novel, and neither is it a story about a man who goes mad without human connections, as others have called it, nor is it a tale of culture shock as some have been known to say it is. No, it is none of these things, for it is simply a tale of a man who builds his own nation upon an Island on which he is stranded for 25 years, and the adventures he goes through to defend the said nation.

Robinson Crusoe, despite popular belief, never had to forage for his food or learn how to survive. The first night upon the beach, he builds himself a fire and upon the rising of the sun, he floats a raft back to the grounded boat and spends the next week removing provisions for his own survival, which includes Bread, Corn, Rice, Salt, and enough gun powder and shot to last him the whole 25 years. He never seems to be in real want because he only finds grapes when he goes out to discover the whole of the island. He hunts the wild goats and pigeons and turtles that he finds upon the island, and even has a dog and two cats that he rescued from the boat. After four years, he discovers that he can plant and harvest more than enough Corn and Rice to supply himself with a constant supply of those vegetables for 21 more years, and even enough seed to leave for the Spaniard and Mutineers who inherit the island after his departure from it.

Robinson Crusoe very seldomly relies on the island for any part of his survival. Even the planks of wood that he uses to build his fortress and his summer home are pieces of debris from the wreck of his ship. Only the reeds he uses as camouflage and as thatching for his roof could be considered as living off the land. In true English fashion, he adapts his environment to meet his needs and not the other way around, redesigning the cave to make it a more level storehouse for his goods, hammering nails into the rock so that he can hang shelves for his journals, tilling the ground before he even ventures out to discover what resources the island has to offer. In short, I wouldn’t call Robinson Crusoe a survivalist more than I would call him a colonist.

I didn’t feel like I could sympathize with him, because it never seemed to me as though he were in dire straights. Hint for those of you who are amateur writers: if your character doesn’t have to struggle, you’re going to have a harder time convincing your readers that they’re worth caring about. Not to say you need have an elaborate affliction, but it becomes easier to get readers to care if the character finds themselves experiencing pain. And with Robinson Crusoe, I didn’t feel that pain. With his religious practices, both weekly and yearly, his peaceful resignation to the providence of God, it seemed to me that he was content there upon the island and could ask for nothing more than some soft clean clothes and a cap. Water was in supply, food was in supply, and books were in supply. He was not lacking in tools either, because he found some on the boat.

To be honest, the only time when I really began to feel like I cared about Robinson Crusoe was near the end of the novel when he and the other English travelers are going through France on their way to England and find themselves surrounded by wolves. Friday is the more impressive fighter in the book, and Robinson is well off because he saved the boy’s life. With Friday’s skill and Robinson’s expertise with gun powder, they get away from the Wolves, but only after their guide is maimed.

All in all, I think Robinson Crusoe is more the story of a man who establishes a one man nation and then discovers that his nation is in the middle of cannibal territory. After building his army, he finds his way and from there begins to live the life that had been waiting for him since he left for the Africa’s to open slave trading ports—which he did in the original Defoe version. He grew his nation to the size and quality sufficient of his subjects, and as they grew, so did he prepare and organize and grow his nation to house them. In the end, he had an English Captain and crew, a savage boy name Friday, Friday’s father, and a Spaniard as his merry subjects and more immigrants on the way.

As far as being a quaint Victorian adventure story, it was okay, but I did not like it overall. I thought it too long winded and not really about the superficial things that many people mistakenly think the story is about. I do recommend that you spend some time with the novel, mostly because it is considered a classic, and because it will give you a better understanding and appreciation of the English language.