Archive for August 31st, 2010

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Read Lately

August 31, 2010

I’ve been devouring books like a beast in the past few weeks.

Guild Wars 2: Ghosts of Ascalon by Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb

As usual, we’ll start off with game fiction, and as always, there will be no spoilers. For a synopsis of the novel as well as a sample of the first chapter, go here.  As reviews go, mine will be nowhere near as detailed as Hunter’s (who even had a live blog going) or Anjin’s over at Bullet Points, but I’ll give my take anyway. For one thing, I had a very different take on the novel as someone who started off knowing very little about the lore of Guild Wars. I had to have a bestiary open on my browser just to look up the races of some of the main characters. Needless to say, there had to be some details of important events or figures that were surely lost on me.

Despite that, I was able to enjoy the book. At first, I thought getting through it would be a struggle because I had expected to lose interest the moment I realize I have no idea what’s going on. That and I had gotten used to the fact that game tie-ins are notoriously bad about giving background information, as if they expect anyone picking it up to be an uber fan of the game and already have all that knowledge. So I was a little surprised to find that I did not have this problem with Ghosts of Ascalon. While there were many details I wish the authors could have elaborated on, all the relevant information was there so I could follow the story with ease, and not once did I feel confounded by the timeline of the major happenings in the lore.

The characters were also a pleasure to get to know, even though most of them were corny cliches that adhered to familiar and therefore standard and very specific archetypes, but that’s to be expected. The way I see it, at least each individual character has a personality, even if they are two-dimensional and never stray too far from their roles. I enjoyed the dialogue and the witty banter, and found myself drawn to the main character Dougal Keane and especially to Kranxx the Asura.

The story itself was also straightforward, conventional and everything you would expect from game fiction, and I would have lost interest if not for the quality of the writing. While it may be cliched and excessively flowery at times, I have lots of respect for authors who can tell a story and express their characters’ intents without overtly giving that information away. My favorite writers always show, not tell. Through the descriptions of Dougal’s actions alone, his emotions and motivations became clear to me, and that should be the way it is. Authors who give a play-by-play on every single thought in their characters’ heads drive me nuts.

A part of me even wishes the novel could have been longer, but it ended well and for the most part it was well-paced. It seemed like every other chapter saw our adventurers getting into yet another fight, but at least the story was moving forward. There’s no doubt this book has gotten me even more excited for Guild Wars 2, and has even renewed my interest in playing Guild Wars, if anything to discover what other tales the rich lore and land of Tyria can offer me.

Non-gaming related:

A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

This was a total impulse buy that caught my eye as I was browsing through the bestsellers in the Kindle store. Told in the first-person point of view of a dog looking for his purpose, and has to be reborn several times to find it, one moment this book was making me laugh, and the next I was bawling my eyes out. It’s cute, funny, touching, and perfect if you’re looking for a casual and easy read.

Dog lovers will enjoy it, and while I’m not big on the anthropomorphizing of animals, I still have to admit Cameron does a pretty good job of delving into a dog’s mind. Several times while reading this book, I’ve gone over and give my Cavalier puppy a hug, or thought about my other dog, a Beagle that’s now living with my parents and getting on in years. You don’t have to own a dog to love A Dog’s Purpose, but for someone who does, it definitely makes you consider your role in your dog’s life and vice versa.

The “Millennium” Trilogy by Stieg Larsson

Set in Sweden, it takes a while to get used to the names and customs in this trilogy, but overall the English translation was done really well. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first book, introducing Mikael Blomkvist the financial journalist who after being convicted of libel exiles himself to an island to investigate a family mystery for the man who hires him. Then we meet Lisbeth Salander, a young woman with special talents who rejects social norms but who has been under state guardianship since her early teens. Together, they work to figure out the fate of a teenager who went missing almost 40 years ago, but along the way uncover more depravity and corruption than they ever could have imagined.

First and foremost this book is a mystery thriller, and I knew this before I started reading. So after the first few chapters, I still remember wondering if Amazon had screwed up and sent me the wrong book. The story doesn’t pick up until after about the first quarter, when the plot elements finally come together and I start having a better idea of where the mystery part of the story was going. Several themes like the ugly truth of violence (especially against women), fascism, and financial crime are also interwoven into the main story along with multiple plot lines, and after a while you start to see how it all comes together. At times shocking and unpredictable, by the halfway point of this book I was completely hooked and I couldn’t put it down until its conclusion.

Not wanting to wait, I jumped right into the second book of the trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire. Again, more thrills and investigations when three people are murdered on the same night — and Lisbeth Salander is the main suspect.

I didn’t like the second installment as much, since once again it was slow to take off and took even longer for the story to take shape. Also, I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the mystery and the clue-hunting by the novel’s protagonists. On the other hand, The Girl Who Played With Fire, while having its mysterious elements, is more a thriller than a mystery. Again, there are multiple plots and themes, but they all come together less coherently that I would have expected. The focus here also clearly shifts to Salander, though Blomkvist still plays an important role in trying to prove her innocence.

Despite its flaws, The Girl Who Played With Fire is still a solid book, even if it doesn’t pack a punch like the first one did and drags on at times. At least I liked it enough to continue with the third and final book in the series, and I’m glad I did.

In a way, I like to think of The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest as one big novel. For one thing, the latter picks up right where the former left off so we don’t miss a single beat. In this one we go hunting with Blomkvist for the people who framed Lisbeth for the murders and turned her life into a living hell. It is a book about collecting information, preparing for a trial, and ultimately bringing those who are responsible to justice.

If you read the second book, the third one is a must. It. Is. Good. Again, perhaps not as strong as the first novel, but definitely in my opinion better than the second while providing it with a satisfying conclusion which answers all the questions and ties everything up beautifully as well. For the ending of this book alone, I feel both are worth reading. What a shame it is that the late Stieg Larsson will no longer bring us more adventures of Blomkvist and Salander. After finishing this book, I was actually overcome with a little sadness.