Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review: The Dark Tower book 1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The dictionary defines the phrase "Magnum Opus", as the greatest single work of an artist, writer, or composer. Author Stephen King proclaims The Dark Tower series, is his Magnum Opus.

The Dark Tower, is an epic fantasy series originally consisting of 7 books. Stephen King published The Gunslinger, the first book of this series in 1982, with the final entry of the series published in 2004. In other words, this is a finished series.

The Dark Tower, is very interesting in both its setting and story telling. It is an original idea, blending The Lord of the Rings together with Westerns, creating one of the most unique fantasy fictions in the genre. It has been adapted by Marvel into graphic novels, and a while ago there were talks of adapting the series into movies (but the project was cancelled).

I am a late comer to The Dark Tower. Though I heard good things about this series a few years ago, but I only picked it up recently. Having read the first book in this series, today I will like to review book 1 to the Dark Tower series, titled "The Gunslinger".


The story of The Dark Tower took place in a parallel universe. The world of The Dark Tower shares characteristics with the American old West, sparsely populated by people and governed by fuedal society. Traces of technology often found from relics, indicating the existence of advanced society in the past. The world is also filled with magic and horrific creatures of unimaginable caliber.

The protagonist of the story, Roland Deschain, is the last surviving member of a knightly order known as "gunslingers". In the first book, Roland is on a quest to find the mysterious Dark Tower, by tracking down clues which can only be found from an individual known as the "man in black". As Roland trekked across the deserts, his search for The Dark Tower and the truth unfolds..

What I think about the book:

The Gunslinger is a very short book, the total page count is only 224 pages. This book not only serves as an introduction to the character of Roland Deschain, but it also did a great deal of world building, giving readers insights to Stephen King's fictional world. Furthermore, it sets up premises to future installments to this story.

When viewed by itself, The Gunslinger is very short, and after reading this book you will still have no idea just exactly what mysteries the Dark Tower holds. But this is exactly why right now, I feel like reading the next book. Because the story is pretty interesting.

Stephen King's narratives and descriptions are superb. Say one thing about this book, and that is images and scenes are so vivid you will feel like you are watching a movie in your head.

I found a lot of interesting use of Christian references in this book. Actually, that is an under statement. This book is packed with references straight out from the Bible. Stephen King also demonstrated a sophisticated grasp of Christian theology. So, while many Christians will brand Stephen King as anti-Christian because he writes horror, I sense there is more to Stephen King's works than meets the eye, and the stereotype (existing in the Christian sub-culture) that horror authors are always anti-Christian is obviously an unfair stereotype that is incorrect.

So yea, if you are interested in reading Stephen King's books but never did; or if you are a fan of epic fantasy fiction but looking for something unique, then make sure you check out The Dark Tower.

As for me, I am off to read book 2 to this series, "Drawing of the Three".

Happy reading!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

The first law trilogy is a series of fantasy novels, written by British novelist Joe Abercrombie. This trilogy has received critical acclaims and very positive reviews. In fact, if you google "best 20 fantasy novels", chances are, you will probably see it in the top 10.

There are 3 books in this trilogy: The Blade Itself, Before They Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings. Joe Abercrombie is often compared with George R.R. Martin, apparently both authors excel in writing gritty, epic fantasy filled with interesting but flawed characters, set in a world where not everything is black and white, but in shades of grey.

I am a big fan of George R.R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. So when I heard Abercrombie's First Law Triology is comparable to Martin's novels, I immediately grabbed all 3 books, and spent two weeks plowing through this trilogy. And what do I think of it? Today I will be reviewing this triology:


The story of The First Law Triology is told by POV style, and consists of different story threads. There are a few major characters in the story, as well as a full cast of supporting characters.

The story took place in a fictional world resembling medieval Europe. The Union is a prosperos kingdom consisting of several pronvinces.. South of Union is the empire of Gurkhul, a land full of deserts and sandy wasteland. The land to the north of Union live many tribes of Northmen, warlike people who fight constant civil wars and blood feuds on the frozen terrain.

The main character in the story is Logen Ninefingers, a warrior from the Northern land. Logen lived a life full of violence, his bloody reputation is well known and feared in the north, but deep inside, he wishes to put his bloody past behind and start a new life. During a battle, Logen was seriously wounded, but he was rescued by the apprentice of a powerful wizard. Logen was told, the wizard is looking for him. As Logen made his way to meet this mysterious wizard, a series of events unfold, based on an age long struggle. Wars will be fought, lives will be lost, and nations will crumble..

What I think about these 3 books:

The First Law Trilogy is a very good fantasy series, period. But it has its flaws. First of all, two thumbs up to Abercrombie, because he wrote a series with interesting characters, extremely cynical characterization, and a complex storyline set in a immerse, fictional world. I don't think I have read a story with characters as cynical and as funny (in a twisted way) as this one. And he did all of these marvels in just 3 books! Which is quite an accomplishment. I also want to mention, Abercrombie is a really good writer, these books are very well paced, and I never experienced a moment when I was bored.

The main strength of The First Law Trilogy, is the characters. In this story, none of the characters are "good", but they are not totally bad neither. A lot of readers commented there are no likable characters in this story, and I agree with their assessments. Characters in this story can be so noble at one moment, then really despicable the next. As you read these books, you will cheer for them, only to become absolutely appalled by their actions 50 pages later. It's a roller coaster ride. However, despite the fact no characters in the story is likable, but they are memorable. I mean, highly memorable. The first law trilogy has some of the most colorful characters appearing fantasy series yet.

Despite all the good stuff in these books, but the series does have a few flaws. The biggest flaw, in my opinion, is the ending is somewhat dissatisfying. It's kind of a cliff hanger ending, where nothing is explained and a lot of loose ends are left behind. After reading all 3 books, I was expecting the ending will address all story threads, but it didn't, and I felt like the series is an unfinished story.

Having said this, The First Law Trilogy is really good, while I still enjoyed George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire more, but I am really glad I read The First Law Trilogy, and I am planning to re-read it in the near future.

A word of warning: These 3 books contain heavy violence, sex scenes and crude language. Read these books at your own discretion.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Movie Review: Pacific Rim

It's been a while since I stepped into the cinema. I don't know if it is just me, but these days, almost all Hollywood movies feel the same. When my friend showed me the trailer of Pacific Rim, it appeared to be a rip off of Transformers movies. At the time, I thought it looked stupid, nothing more than a quick cash grab. Initially, I didn't even want to spend time to see it, let alone making a trip to the cinema.

Then the movie came out, and I read many positive reviews about it. I also found out, the director of Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro (the director of Pans Labyrinth, The Hobbit, Hellboy etc..), I am somewhat a fan of this guy. Therefore, as the weekend arrived, I thought perhaps, I should give this movie a try. After all, all those positive reviews should mean something.. right?

So I made a trip to the cinema, and guess what? I had fun watching this movie. Most importantly, it was a refreshing experience to see a movie like this appearing among epitomes of Hollywood blockbusters. Today, I will review Guillermo del Toro's new movie, Pacific Rim.


A giant portal opened up at the bottom of the pacific ocean. Giant alien monsters (big as a building) come through the portal, assaulting cities on earth. These monsters, are called "Kaiju" (Japanese word for monsters). To combat this threat, governments around the world set aside their differences, put together all resources and technologies, and build 250 feet tall, giant robots called "Jaegers" to combat the monsters. These Jaegers are controlled by human pilots, whose brains are linked to the machine. The Jaeger robots require at least 2 pilots, to share the mental loads required to pilot these highly sophisicated machines.

Initially, the Jaeger program managed to halt the threats of monsters. However, as years go by, the frequency of monster attacks became more frequent, and those monsters were getting more powerful as well. Governments around the world decided to cancel the Jaeger program, and instead, build a coastal wall to protect humanity from the monster attacks. In the meantime, personnel on the Jaeger program around the world, were told to consolidate and bring all Jaegers to Hong Kong. However, the commander of the Jaeger forces, Stacker Pentecost, devised a strategic plan to end the war by using nuclear weapon to destroy the portal.

And this is where the story begins, pilots of Jaegers from around the world, gathering at the base in Hong Kong, preparing for the final mission to end the Kaiju problem, once and for all...

What I think about the movie:

Pacific Rim is a blend of Transformers + Iron Man + Godzilla + Cloverfield. However, make no mistakes, Pacific Rim is very original in terms of its designs for robots and monsters. My childhood is filled with memories of Japanese cartoons about robots and mechs, such as Gundam. So as I was watching Pacific Rim, those memories were rekindled. And here is where Pacific Rim succeeds. This movie managed to make you feel like you are seeing something original, even if you are a fan of Japanese cartoons.

The CGI is breath taking, action scenes explosive and exciting. There are plenty of fighting scenes between robots and monsters, lots of them, and it is a good thing. I saw this movie in 3D, and both robots and monsters look gorgeous, imaginative and awesome on the big screen. Visual effects and designs in Pacific Rim is topnotch, definitely the strength of this movie.

The story of Pacific Rim however, is somewhat predictable. The story is definitely not going to win any awards for best screenplay. But there are a few things I really like about the story of Pacific Rim;

1) It has very good moral messages. The story celebrates and inspires the spirit of self sacrifice and trust. Good moral message is a rarity in Hollywood sci-fi and action movies these days, and turns out Pacific Rim is one of these rarities.

2) Although there are a lot of action scenes in Pacific Rim, but once again, unlike modern day Hollywood movies, Pacific Rim does not have many scenes blood or depictions of human death. Instead, human lives are portrayed as valuable, something to be respected and treasured, where every death is meant to be a tragic loss.

3) Unlike many Hollywood superhero movies, Pacific Rim does not objectify women by using sex appeals. Remember Megan Fox in Michael Bay's Transformers 2? You won't see that in Pacific Rim. The female protagonist in Pacific Rim is memorable and likable because of her characterization, not because of sex appeals. It is very refreshing to see a female character being portrayed as real human and not just a sex object in a Hollywood superhero movie! 2 thumbs up for this one!

These elements make the story of Pacific Rim very likable despite some story moments being predictable.

At the end of the day, I am glad I saw Pacific Rim despite my initial prejudice against it. It is a good movie, and a memorable cinematic experience. I had lots of fun watching this film. When judged by the breath taking visuals, sense of originality, and a story filled with positive moral messages, the predictable storyline becomes forgivable.

I give Pacific Rim, a solid 8 out of 10.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Book Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

"Sometimes all it takes is a tiny shift of perspective to see something familiar in a totally new light"

                                   - Dan Brown, The Lost Symbols

People are fascinated with esoteric subjects; hidden secrets, conspiracies, ancient mysteries, secret societies, etc.. And Dan Brown is particularly gifted at making up thrilling stories based on these things. Following the success of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown published the novel, The Lost Symbol in 2009. As usual, the story involves secret societies, ancient mysteries, hidden ancient passageways, and a memorable villain. But is this book any good? Let's find out.


Unlike the previous books where the settings were in Europe, in The Lost Symbol, the story is set in Washington D.C, US. In The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's fictional hero, Professor Langdon is tangled up in a heart pounding adventure, racing against the clock to save the life of his friend, the consequence of it could change the world forever.

Peter Solomon, is Robert Langdon's long time friend. Peter, is also a 33 degree Mason, which tremendous power and wealth. In the beginning of the story, Robert Langdon accepted an invitation and a request from Peter to speak at a lecture about Masonic symbols. A private jet took Langdon to the Washington DC, as he stepped into the United States Capitol, he found out no lecture was ever scheduled to take place that night. Realizing something is amiss, he received a call from a mysterious individual, claiming that Peter has been kidnapped by him, and unless Robert Langdon help him to decode an ancient secret hidden by the Masonic order, he will never see his friend again.

Once again, Robert Langdon is on a race against a clock, this time, he has to decode an ancient secret to save his friend, a race to find the lost symbol...

What I think about the book:

I thought The Lost Symbol is a fun read, just like all other Dan Brown's novels, but after reading all 4 of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon series, I am beginning to find these books formulaic. Dan Brown seems to follow this pattern in all of his books that often looks like the following: 1)Robert Langdon is thrown into the midst of a conspiracy that threatens the entire world, 2) Langdon meets up with a beautiful, intelligent woman, 3) The duo is on a race against the clock in a city searching for hidden clues, artifacts to unveil the conspiracy, 4) They encounter the villain at the end, 5) The villain somehow dies, 6) Everyone is happy and the world is safe again.

Indeed, I find Dan Brown's books repeats the same structure all the time. Perhaps Mr. Brown should think of something new in his next novel?

Despite the repetitiveness of the story structure, Dan Brown definitely deserve some credits for The Lost Symbol. First of all, I was unable to put down this book, in fact, I finished this book in one day (like all other Dan Brown novels). The pace of the story is very fast, and Dan Brown managed to create the atmosphere of esoteric vibe and kept it flowing in the story. This is why the book is so much fun to read, despite the fact the structure of the story is almost identical to his previous books.

Like all Dan Brown's books, religion is a main element in the story. In The Lost Symbol, Christianity is not portrayed in the positive light, and Dan Brown seems to be promoting the idea that all religions are one. While I agree that all religions are teaching people to be good, but I really don't understand how all religions can be the same, when differences between all religious beliefs are so different at their cores?

Book Review: The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

 When I was visiting a bookshop last year, I came across The Red Knight, the author is Miles Cameron. Although I have never heard of Miles Cameron, but this book grabbed my attention immediately after I read the synopsis on the back of the dust jacket. In the end, I did not purchase the book that day, because I decided to check out reviews on the net before making a purchase.

After reading some sparkling reviews on Amazon, and Goodreads, I made the decision to give it a try and purchased the book. The book finally arrived on my door step, a waffling 600+ tome with very nice cover arts. It took me 5 days to finish it. And today I will be reviewing this book.


The story of The Red Knight took place in an alternative universe, in medieval European settings, with magic, politics, wars, religion and such. The story is told in POV style, similar to George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. There are only 18 chapters in this book, but each chapter is divided into smaller sections of the story told from the perspectives of different characters. Furthermore, The Red Knight is meant to the be first book to the series called "The Traitor son cycle".

The protagonist is the Red Knight, whose origin and birth is skillfully kept as a mystery by the author, and gradually revealed as the plot progresses. The Red Knight is the captain of a band of travelling sell swords. When they roamed into the country of Alba, they were employed by an abbey to fend off attacks from creatures of The Wild. After The Red Knight and his company accepted the contract, they soon discovered, what originally appeared to be a simple contract turned into a mission to defend the kingdom in an all out war....

What I think about the book:

After I read this book, I am having mixed feelings about it. I really enjoyed the battle scenes in this book, I think the author really knows his stuff about medieval warfare, because the action scenes are superbly done. Another good aspect of this book, is there are some very interesting characters in this book. The story is gritty, violent, and quite straight forward (which is not really a bad thing).

But on the other hand, I really struggled to finish this book. The first two thirds of the book was really slow, and I had to force myself to keep reading it, and this is not a good sign. From page 400 and onward, the pace of the story quickened and things became more interesting. Personally, I think there were too many details in the story, and a significant amount of the book could have been cut to make it more compact.

At the end of the day, I like the story of The Red Knight, but at the same time, I was glad I finished reading it because the story development was so slow that finishing the book itself, feels like an epic achievement.