Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque

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Books that I read in June

24. Wurts, Janny. Sorcerer's legacy (246 p.)

25. Tobe, Keiko. With the light: raising an autistic child, vol. 1 (527 p.)

26. Coleite, Aron Eli; Joe Pokaski; et al. Heroes, volume one (235 p.)

27. Cammuso, Frank. Knights of the lunch table : the dodgeball chronicles (141 p.)

28. TenNapel, Doug. Tommysaurus Rex (109 p.)

29. Zelazny, Roger. Jack of Shadows (142 p.)

June total: 1400 pages
YTD total: 8806 pages

Sorcerer's legacy is about a newly-pregnant woman who is taken through time by a sorcerer in order to wed his prince. The prince has a problem, you see; one of his political rivals has secretly cursed him to be sterile, and the country's laws of succession require that a prince must sire an heir by some time after he passes the age of legal majority in order to become king. Otherwise he is executed and the crown passes to the next in line (assuming he already has an heir). So by marrying him to a woman who is only a few days pregnant (and thus the pregnancy is undetectable to normal magics), the sorcerer should enable him to avoid the death sentance that is about to be pronounced. Of course, the political rivals aren't going to make that easy, and the fact that the sorcerer himself dies almost immediately doesn't help matters.

The first half of the book is jam-packed with political intrigue. I wanted more of that. But no, half-way through the book the main villain goes into moustache-twirling comic-book villain mode, kidnaps the princess, and is (eventually) defeated & imprisoned. After that, there's absolutely no intrigue, just suspense over whether the villain can affect anything from within his anti-magic cell, whether the prince's neice is (still?) working with the villain, and whether the protagonist, the queen-to-be, will succeed against all odds with very little support other than the machinations of the just-deceased sorcerer.

There's a scene towards the end, from which one sentence read aloud was enough to make both kateshort and I start to tear up, but it's something that probably wouldn't have fazed us much before we became parents--that really does change your perspective in so many little ways you don't expect.

Overall, this was an okay read, and included some topics and perspectives I don't normally see in the fantasy novels I read, as well as some moderately interesting twists, but I generally wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to seek it out.

With the light is one of those books that I think everyone should read, whether or not you have any familiarity with the basic subject matter and whether or not you end up enjoying the experience. It's an award-winning graphic novel, translated from Japanese, that tells the story of a first-time mother, Sachiko, and her autistic son, Hikaru, from his birth up through age eight. While fictional, it is based on the real lives of several autistic Japanese children, and there are notes at the end. It is presented in the original right-to-left manga format, which takes a little getting used to if you don't normally read manga.

As a new parent, it is heartbreaking to see Hikaru start out as a happy baby, but then rapidly become walled off into his own head as his autism takes hold, to the point where Sachiko's greatest desire is simply to someday have her son look up at her and say, "Mommy."

As a human being, it is heartbreaking to see how he and his mother are treated, first by her husband and mother-in-law, then by the parents of "normal" children Hikaru's age, and then by various institutions and schools, and society in general.

I found it especially interesting to learn right alongside Sachiko how the autistic mind seems to work, coping mechanisms for both care-givers and autistic children, some teaching techniques that work well with autistic children, and how beneficial mainstreaming can be--when possible--for both autistic and normal children.

I'm tearing up just writing this summary/review, and that's not something I normally do even when reading a book, let along thinking back over it. (Of course, I also generally avoid this sort of book in favor of escapist literature--though I'm very glad I made an exception in this case!)

On the negative side, except for Sachiko and Hikaru, the characters are not particularly well-rounded, but for the most part, they do not need to be. Most of the supporting cast are really there to demonstrate some point, so they come on stage, do their thing, do it well, and get out of the way. There are also some "conversions" from antagonist to supporting cast that happen a little too neatly, but I think that's actually part of the "josei" ("ladies'") manga genre from which this originates. However, even taking all of that into consideration, I'd still rate this as one of the best, most moving books I've read so far this year. I wasn't in the least surprised to hear that this was adapted into an award-winning Japanese television drama.

Each English volume was originally published as two volumes in Japan. The second English volume continues Hikaru's experiences in elementary school; in the third English volume, Hikaru is a teenager, and with 10 Japanese volumes published so far, there should eventually be at least five English volumes. While later volumes probably require too much continuity from earlier volumes to be fully enjoyed on their own, this first volume is relatively self-contained and the ending provides the reader with a good sense of closure.

Once again, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Heroes, vol. 1 is a collection of the first 34 comic-book stories that appeared on the NBC website during the first season of Heroes. The first few either expand on things we saw in the TV show, or tell stories around the edges or between scenes (including one that shows how Linderman met the father of Nathan & Peter Petrelli, and another that shows how Peter Petrelli and Niki got together in the dystopic, post-bomb future that Hiro visited). The last third or so of the book, however, is entirely taken up with the story of Hana Gitelman, code-named "Wireless", who appeared very briefly in one or two episodes towards the end of the first season. Her story eventually parallels the last several episodes, as Hana works bring Parkman, Bennett, and Ted the Nuclear Man together and working against the Company, then works to take out the satellite being used by the Company to track the people with powers.

If you like Heroes and can't wait for the new season to start in the fall, this book is an excellent way to satiate that craving for more. (And I think the stories are much easier to read on paper than they were to read online.) If you've never seen Heroes, much of this book is probably going to go way over your head, as it doesn't include enough of the TV show's storyline for anyone new to the story to be able to put the pieces together. (The pieces are often good enough that they might still be enjoyable on their own, but--perhaps except for Hana Gitelman's story--there's frequently so much assumed knowledge being referenced that there'd probably always be a sense that something was missing.)

Knights of the lunch table is a graphic novel featuring Artie, the new kid at school. With the help of locker #001XCL (which seems to be able to give Artie whatever he needs most), he and his new friends Percy, Wayne, and Gwen form a dodgeball team that takes on the Horde, the school bullies who happen to also be the school's champion dodgeball players (and the apple of the principal's eye). His sister Morgan and science teacher Mr. Merlyn also put in significant appearances; there's also a running subplot featuring Percy's runaway pet spider. (I kept waiting for Lance to show up, followed close behind by Trish, Kay, and company; maybe that'll happen in the next book...)

Tommysaurus Rex is a graphic novel about a boy who discovers a real, living Tyrannosaurus Rex in a cave. The T-Rex becomes his pet, but isn't really trained and thus gets in lots of trouble. The town mayor challenges him to prove the T-Rex is trainable, though his efforts in towards that end get thwarted by a bully, only to have the T-Rex prove his worth to everyone's satisfaction (including the bully) during an emergency.

This book is generally billed as a kids' book, but parents who hand this to their kids without having read it themselves first may quickly find themselves with some explaining to do, as the boy's pet dog is hit by a car and killed in the first few pages, there is the intimation that the T-Rex may be his dog's reincarnation, the bully turns out to have been abandoned by his father, and there are a couple of later scenes in which the action may be a bit too intense for some younger children.

I expected to be mildly entertained by this, and ended up thoroughly enjoying it. The plot was a little predictable and pat, but that's perfectly okay for what this is. Definitely recommended--I read this at the library, and liked it enough that I may end up picking up a copy for myself.

Jack of Shadows is by Roger Zelazny, better known for his Amber series; this is not related to that series, but the mix of fantasy with real world technology feels somewhat similar. Jack set on a world stuck in orbital lock with its star, so that on one side it is always day and on the other it is always night. The day side is basically modern Earth (at least, "modern" as of the early 1970s, when this book was written), for most intents and purposes), with cars, satellites, an Ivy League-like university, etc. The night side is a fantasy world where magic works and the world is divided into fiefdoms ruled by magicians whose powers wane the further from their castle they get. Also, "lightsiders" have souls, but when killed, they are dead forever; whereas "darksiders" have no innate souls, but they instead have a certain number of lives, so that when killed, they are resurrected at the "west pole", the point furthest from the day/night boundary. That process takes years, and the west pole also happens to be the location of the extensive "Dung Pits of Glyve"--basically an larger version of the Bog of Eternal Stench--which is ruled by a despotic baron who enjoys hunting down newly reborn folk and either forcing them into his service or executing them, so it's not exactly a pleasant experience.

The protagonist is the titular Jack of Shadows, a master thief and one of the "powers" of the night side, except he only has powers in shadow (not dark, per se, shadow--there must be both light and dark areas present and he has to be at least partly in a dark sector in order for his powers to kick in). What starts off feeling like it is going to be a standard high-fantasy quest story gets derailed when Jack is caught and executed right off the bat. From there the quest transforms into a thirst for revenge, and Jack spends the rest of the book trying to make his way through hostile territory to the light side, where he uses a computer to discover the key to gaining phenominal magic power. He uses this to first wreak his revenge, then to conquer the entire dark side (becoming an evil dictator in the process), and then destroy the machines that keep the world in orbital lock, thereby causing planetary-wide upheavals in order to purge the evil that become mired there (and he realizes that that he himself should be include in that) and give the entire world a fresh start. Along the way he also sort of gains a soul (and thereby, a conscience of sorts).

This is an odd story, with the action jumping ahead to a new in media res situation every few chapters so that it almost feels more episodic than linear, and yet the main plot very quickly rises back to front and center each time. (It was originally serialized, which may explain this structure.) Also, while the reader may initially want Jack to fit the mould of the lovable rogue with the heart of gold, he starts off as a very flawed character--perhaps to the point of being an anti-hero-- whose decisions continually land him in bad situations, though by the end of the book, he has not only changed as a character, but has also grown significantly.

I basically enjoyed reading this, but whenever the action jumps, it disrupts the flow and takes the reader a bit to figure out what's happened in the meantime and get back on track. In particular, the shift from fantasy to modern fiction and back was a bit jarring. Also it's hard to root for a protagonist who is this self-centered and for much of the book thinks nothing of stealing, taking things by force, and magically forcing people to do his bidding--and yet, I found myself doing exactly that, especially when he realizes how evil he has become and goes on his final quest. There are also some very inventive creatures (and situations) here that would be possible additions to a fantasy role-playing game, such as the moss-covered, light-emitting boulder that has major psionic powers and consumes anyone who gets close enough for it to affect, or the sphinx-like Morningstar, cursed to be trapped in stone atop a mountain just on the night side of the of the day/night division until dawn comes, and who can see the future except where he himself is concerned. (Or, for that matter, the whole concept of resurrection in the heart of the Dung Pits of Glyve. Or a planet where one side is technology-based, is kept temperature-controlled by a physical shield of some sort, and whose residents believe demons in the planet's molten core keep the planet locked in place, and the other side is magic-based, is kept temperature-controlled by the most powerful magicians taking turns monitoring a magical shield, and whose residents believe a gigantic machine in the planet's otherwise solid core keeps the planet locked in place--and have both world-views simultaneously be provably correct and yet also be allegorical representations of exactly the same concepts.)

If any of the above sounds interesting, you'll probably enjoy this book. Also, if you enjoyed Zelazny's Amber books, you might also like this, but probably not as much as you liked those.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
Tags: books

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