Saturday, September 27, 2014

Book Review: Legion and The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Legion and The Emperor's Soul is a very short book, its author is Brandon Sanderson. At 200 pages, this little book contains two novellas; Legion, and The Emperor's Soul. These two novellas are very different to each other in terms of themes, genre, and settings. I read this whole book in the space of one day. I was so impressed by this book, that I have decided to add it to my list of favorite books. Today, I would like to share some of my thoughts about this book in a review. Let me start this review, by providing a synopsis for this book:



Have you ever had experiences where you hallucinated? Are hallucinations results of unhelpful mental disorders, or can it bring positive benefit(s) to a person?

Stephen Leeds suffers from a unique mental condition, where it enables him to generate multiple personae in the form of hallucinations. Each of his hallucination has his/her own personal traits, but they also possess a spectrum of highly specialized skills. Stephen is nicknamed “Legion” for this unique condition he is in. However, because Stephen can access the unique skill sets possessed by his legion of hallucinations, he became a man who is highly skilled in virtually every field ever existed, making him a renowned detective with unparalleled problem solving ability.

One day, a client seek out Stephen's help. This client brought a mysterious photograph. The story behind this photograph, could open a window to new ways of accessing information that will rock and change the entire world...

The Emperor's Soul

An assassination attempt was made on Emperor Ashravan of the Rose Empire. The emperor suffered a head injury, leaving him without consciousness. Meanwhile, Shai, a master forger, failed an attempt to replace the Moon Scepter with her forgery. She was caught and subsequently imprisoned. For her crime, Shai was sentenced to execution. However, the emperor's arbiters offered Shai freedom, on the condition that she must complete an impossible task: Forging Emperor Ashravan's soul within 100 days.

Being confined to a tiny room, and spied by politicians from the imperial court, Shai embarked the monumental task to forge the emperor's soul, knowing that failing the task would mean her ultimate demise. What will be Shai's fate?

What I think about this book:

My first experience with Brandon Sanderson's works, was Mistborn trilogy. Although Mistborn wasn't my cup of tea, but I did like Sanderson's style of writing. However, I much prefer Legion and The Emperor's Soul instead. This is a short and sweet book. The writings are descriptive and clear. The story is full of energy, while the characters and scenery are portrayed in vivid details. The pace of story development in (both) novellas flowed at a good pace. The storytelling felt natural and not forced, with unexpected twists and turns which led to thought-provoking conclusions.

In my opinion, while Legion and The Emperor's Soul are equally as good. Yet, they are very different tales. Where The Emperor's Soul is a fantasy novella, set in a fantasy world that resembles the Asian culture, Legion is a detective/mystery thriller set in our world at the present time. I found Legion to be thought-provoking, because this 80 page novella explored a variety of themes; from mental disorder, politics, religious faith, to how technology impacts the human civilization. Sanderson managed to tell a full story that is packed with actions and thrills, while exploring the whole spectrum of thought-provoking subjects, all in the space of 80 pages! I think this is an impressive feat, Sanderson is very good at what he does.

On the other hand, The Emperor's Soul is a very unique fantasy novella. While most modern fantasy fictions are set in worlds resembling medieval Europe, The Emperor's Soul is set in a world that resembles the medieval, eastern Asia. This is a refreshing change. The invention of “stamps” played an important role in this story, and Sanderson shared that the inspiration for The Emperor's Soul came into his mind, when he visited National Museum of History in Taipei. I have visited this museum in the past. This museum has an immensely large collection, containing fascinating artifacts that spanned over thousands of years of Chinese history. If you ever visit Taiwan, I would strongly recommend that you stop by, and visit National Museum of History.

I was really impressed with The Emperor's Soul, because in a short space of 140 pages, Brandon Sanderson managed to successfully build an entire fantasy world, that is fully established with its own culture and history. At the same time, while the story is entertaining, but it is also embedded with interesting, philosophical subjects such as personal identity, and the meaning of art. Personally, I would really like to see Sanderson continue with the story from The Emperor's Soul, and write sequels in the future.

I had a great time reading Legion and The Emperor's Soul. This book proves that fictional novella is not dead. In fact, because the stories in this book are short and sweet, I can see myself re-reading this book in the days to come. In the world today where so many books appeared in the form of series, this one feels refreshing. If you are looking to read a book with an engaging story, but do not feel like picking up a whole series, then I recommend Legion and The Emperor's Soul to you. This book will not disappoint.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Review: Salem's Lot by Stephen King

  Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897, he brought the folklore about vampires into the mainstream culture. In the two centuries that followed, stories about these blood sucking, undead creatures became the centre stage for many books and movies. Over the years, the image of vampires has evolved, from scary and brutal monsters, into exotic and sexy superhuman (which has become the predominant image for vampires in today's popular culture).

Personally, I am not a fan of these modern-day, exotic interpretations on vampires. In my opinion, vampires are supposed to be scary and evil. Instead of being champions for love in romantic novels, vampires should be nightmarish creatures playing the role of antagonists in horror stories. This is why I adore Stephen King's book, Salem's Lot. I think this is what a “real” vampire novel should read like. Let's have a further look at this book.


The Martsen House, a derelict building with a sinister reputation, squatted on a hill, overlooking at the sombre town of Jerusalem's Lot. Meanwhile, its terrible past, lie buried and forgotten from the minds of the town's populace.

For decades, the people of Jerusalem's Lot lived in disquiet peace, going about their own businesses. One day, Kurt Barlow, an immigrant from Austria, treaded into the town. He purchased the Martsen House and opened an antique store. Barlow himself was barely seen in the town, only his business partner, Richard Straker, appeared in public. After the duo's arrival, people began to disappear under mysterious circumstances, a once quiet town gradually fell into a deadly silence. Underneath this silence, is a growing trend of a lurking horror.

Who, or what is behind these strange disappearances?

What I think about this book:

This book is scary, really scary. I read this book in 4 nights, usually after work. This book is so scary, that I developed the habit of closing the windows in my apartment while I was reading this book. What made this book truly terrifying, is not the vampires, violence or the gore, but the creepy, sinister atmosphere that constantly lurks in the background in each page. For example, in this book, there is a sub-plot about a woman who was unhappily married, and often vented her anger by secretly abusing her 10 months old baby. The way this sub-plot is portrayed in the book, creates an atmosphere that is equally as sinister as the terror emanating from the main plot, which is the secret in the haunted Martsen House. These evils, are locked away in the vault of secrecy, festering under the guise of a disquieted peace. It makes a reader think twice about the reality of evil, and what may lie hidden underneath the cycles of everyday life for ordinary people.

Some have complained, that the pace of the book is slow. Admittedly, Stephen King did spend the first 200 pages to setup the premise of the story. He ventured into details, describing the daily lifestyle of town people in Jerusalem's Lot. He also spent a good chunk of his time, to build up the background story for the protagonists. Personally, I did not mind the first 200 pages. I actually enjoyed the first 200 pages, because Stephen King vividly described the lives of these town people with masterful storytelling. In my opinion, the first 200 pages of this book is important, it is told at a good pace, allowing a reader to become attached to the town people, such that when the town people began to disappear in large numbers, a reader can feel how tragic and sinister this outcome truly is. Once the book passed the 300 page mark, the pace of the book quickened, as a surge of terror electrified the story all the way to the closing chapter.

Stephen King explored the topic of religion and faith in some of his books. Salem's Lot is one of them. In one of the scenes, a terrifying, ancient vampire challenged a priest to throw away his holy cross, then face the vampire by relying on his faith, instead of relying on a religious object. I thought that was a rather interesting comment about the nature of religious belief. It seems to me Stephen King was implying that all the sacred "stuff" is pointless if one does not have faith. In my opinion, Stephen King has hit the nail on its head, digging straight to the heart of Christian faith. I think this is a good example, showing that not all horror stories/books are meaningless nonsense as some in the Christian community tend to believe.

I enjoyed Salem's Lot. This is one of the classics belonging to the genre of horror fictions. It is appropriately scary, as a vampire novel should be. When you read this book in the deep of a starless night, as you hear strange outside noises, perhaps you too would feel the urge to fasten the bolt for your window. Vampires aren't real... or are they?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book Review: The Secret of Excalibur by Andy McDermott

  I am very fond of Arthurian legend. From literature, films to documentaries, I have the tendency to develop interests in most things related to King Arthur. Some of my favorite books include The Once and Future King, and Le Morte D'Arthur.

A week ago, I was browsing at the local library, and I came cross The Secret of Excalibur. I was immediately drawn to this book because of its title (and the fact that this book belongs to the exciting genre of historical thriller). The author of this book is Andy McDermott. I have read other books written by him in the past. Despite the fact that I was not impressed with other books from this author, I decided to try this book anyway, because this book seems to promise an interesting, treasure hunt story based on the legend of the once and future king. So I quickly snatched this book off the shelf from the library. After a magical swipe with my library card, I came home with this book in my hand.

Today, I would like to provide a review for this book.


Excalibur, the sword of power, is a legendary weapon belonged to the mythological King Arthur. It was said that King Arthur was invincible when he wielded Excalibur in battles. Is the story of Excalibur just a legend? What if it is real? If it is real, where is the sword now?

Archaeologist Nina Wilde, and her fiancee Eddie Chase, were on a trip to England to meet Eddie's family. During their trip, Nina received an unexpected meeting invitation from her parents' friend, a scholar possessing immense knowledge in Arthurian legend. The meeting revealed to Nina and Eddie, the hidden knowledge about the secret of Excalibur. This piece of knowledge drew Nina and Eddie into a global hunt to gather the clues that would lead to King Arthur's final resting place. Nina and Eddie needed to recover the sword and prevent it from falling into the wrong hand, lest its secret be exploited by ruthless individuals, plunging the world into darkness.

What I think about this book:

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the positive side, I like how the author implemented Arthurian legend to form the background of the story. I also like how this adventure took place over a few exotic locales around the world. This is a fast paced, action packed thriller. This book has car chase, fist fights, gun fights, and lots of explosions. Yet, I was not particularly impressed with this book.

Let me explain:

Personally, I prefer a book of this genre to maintain the esoteric atmosphere, where the story unfolds gradually as secrets and mysteries are solved, then leading to the climax at the end. In The Secret of Excalibur, however, the structure of the book made the story feel anticlimactic, because Excalibur was discovered halfway into the book, then the remaining book focused on how the protagonists tried to prevent the sword from falling into the hands of the bad guys. This means for me, when I was reading this book, my interest in this story disappeared rapidly past the halfway mark. It felt like the story reached its climax halfway, and then the rest of the book just descended into prolonged sequences of action scenes, which were often over the top and unrealistic. The result was I skimmed through the second half of the book, because I just didn't care about the action scenes.

Overall, my opinion is that The Secret of Excalibur is the kind of book to read, if you have nothing else to read, or if you just want to read a book where you don't have to think. The premise of this book, centred around Arthurian legend, is intriguing. But ultimately this book did not impress me. I could not maintain my interest in the story, because its structure created an anticlimactic feel about the book after the halfway mark. While the unrealistic, over the top action scenes made this book feel cliched and formulaic instead of being entertaining.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson (The Mistborn Book 2 and 3)

  Since its publication, The Mistborn trilogy has been well received by readers, and gained a strong fan base. The trilogy's author, Brandon Sanderson, has become a prolific author in the genre of fantasy fiction. Last week, I read and reviewed the first book in this trilogy, The Final Empire. Since then, I have read the second and the third book, and finished this trilogy. They are titled “The Well of Ascension”, and “The Hero of Ages” respectively. Today, I will like to review these 2 books.


At the end of the first book, The Final Empire, Kelsier, Vinh and their crew managed to defeat the tyrannical Lord Ruler, bringing the oppressive regime of the Final Empire to an end. In this new era, Elend, a good natured, young scholar with high ideals, was elected to be the new king at the capital city of the empire. He brought equality between nobility and skaas, while giving the power of government to back to the people.

However, with Lord Ruler removed, more and more problems spawned across the land. Numerous political uprisings caused civil wars and upheavals plagued the empire. Yet, unstable politics and civil wars were not the only problems, while Vinh and Elend labored to keep peace in the capital city, the mists began to behave strangely. Rumors emerged where people were getting killed or sickened by the mists. Every event seem to be leading to, and converging at the mysterious well of ascension, where the fate of the world rests upon the prophecy about the hero of ages.

What I think about these books:

I have mixed feelings about these 2 books and the trilogy in general. On the positive side, I think the mechanics behind these books are excellent; the worldbuilding is masterfully blended into the story, featuring a very interesting, unique magic system, the writings are clear and descriptive, and the plot advanced at a very good pace. It is very hard to find fault in the mechanics behind these books. I never felt bored when I was reading these books.

However, at the same time, I didn't really connect, or identify with the characters in the story. This means for me, reading The Mistborn trilogy was a strange experience. On the one hand, I thought these books were well written and interesting. But on the other hand, I didn't feel involved in the story, because I didn't really care about the characters, so while I thought was reading an interesting story, but I also felt detached from the story emotionally. For example, there are 2 protagonists in this trilogy, Vinh and Elend, who also happen to be romantically involved with each other. Vinh's character, is a young woman with a past haunted by painful memories, while Elend, is a good-hearted young man with high ideals, always trying to do the right thing. From my perspective, I found Vinh's character a bit annoying, and I thought Elend's character was a bit unrealistic, he seems.. too good? It seems this trilogy is mostly targeting at fans of YA, dystopian novels such as Hunger Games or Divergent, so maybe it's just me, but I guess I am just not the audience this trilogy is targeting at.

These books also explored some thought-provoking themes. I recall I once read an article, where it mentioned Brandon Sanderson's religious background is Mormon. It seems to me Sanderson, based on his religious background, blended some interesting themes into these books, such as; the definition of faith, the question of morality, and the idea that power corrupts. Nonetheless, because I couldn't really identify with the characters in the story, so these themes did not have great impacts on me. However, I guess for the large number of Mistborn fans, these books may prove to be both thoughtful and entertaining.

After reading The Mistborn trilogy, I can see why Brandon Sanderson is an author accredited with high regards. He is capable of writing very good books. While The Mistborn may not be my cup of tea, but I do like Sanderson's style of writing, so I would like to read other books by Sanderson in the future.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Review: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn book 1)

Mistborn trilogy is written by Brandon Sanderson, a very well known author in the genre of fantasy fictions. This trilogy is very original, featuring a very unique magic system, and a story set in an interesting world. I found out about this trilogy from Goodreads. I was drawn to read this trilogy after I read some good reviews about it. Last week, I finally started reading the first book to this trilogy, titled The Final Empire. Today, I would like to review this book.


For centuries, Lord Ruler reigned supreme in the Final Empire. None can match his power. Legends say he is god-like, a mighty Allomancer whose power is as unending as the reservoir of immortality. Under Lord Ruler's regime, the society in the Final Empire was divided under the class system, separating people into nobility and skaa. While nobility generally enjoyed their lives full luxuries, the skaas were treated as slaves, living in poverty, robbed of their freedom and dignity. This is a bleak world where ashes fall from the sky, and the mist clouds the night.

A spark of hope glittered in the darkness, when a troublemaker named Kelsier, and his young apprentice, Vin, put together a crew, plotting a coup against the Final Empire. If they succeed, the centuries old oppression and inequality in the empire will cease. However, toppling an empire is no small feat. They must first deal with the powerful Lord Ruler, and his dangerous minions.

What I think about this book:

Overall, I like The Final Empire. It is a very unique fantasy novel. The storyline reminds me of Ocean's Eleven. The "magic" system in this book, is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story. It is called Allomancy. Basically, in the world of Mistborn, some people have the inborn ability to “burn metals” by ingesting it. “Burning metals” allowed them to perform superhuman feats, such as strength, agility, constitution, pull/push metals, or even influence people's minds. Practitioners of Allomancy, are called Allomancers (obviously). In this book, the author did an excellent job at explaining how Allomancy works, and it fits very well into the background of the story, and its world-building. The characters are well depicted and portrayed. The protagonists in this book, are likable, 3 dimensional characters, with complex motivations and unique background stories.

From what I understand, Mistborn trilogy is meant to be epic fantasy for mature readers. However, when I was reading this book, I felt as if I was reading one of those dystopian YA novels such as Hunger Game or Divergent. In my opinion, the tones, themes, and the story elements in this book seem to be targeting at young adults. It does not feel like it's targeting mature readers. This is not to say I did not like this book, although dystopian YA novels are not my cup of tea, yet I found this book quite enjoyable. It has many innovative, and original concepts not found in most fantasy novels. The characters are likable, the story is well knitted together (though I found the romance subplot in this book is a bit cheesy). Overall, I like The Final Empire, and I am planning to read the second book in this trilogy, titled “The Well of Ascension”.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (Folio Society edition)

Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the almighty maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds,
Into this wild abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage...
                                  -John Milton, Paradise Lost

His Dark Materials trilogy is a children's fantasy series written by the British novelist, Philip Pullman. This trilogy is one of the most revered children's book series in recent history, it won numerous awards and is fast becoming a modern classic. Interestingly, this trilogy was also ranked second, on US banned book list during the 2000s. It is within a reasonable curiosity for one to inquire, why were these books banned? Aren't they just children's books? The answer is, the main themes in these books heavily criticized the religion of Christianity and its worldview, it generated a storm of controversy among religious circles following its publication. Today, these books are still viewed as subjects of controversy among some religious communities.

In 2005, the first book of this series, Northern Lights (A.K.A The Golden Compass) was adapted intoThe Golden Compass movie. The movie was received with mixed reviews. Some of the major complaints about the movie were Pullman's criticisms on religion were heavily toned down and diluted. I have never seen the movie. I am more of a book reader. One day, good fortune smiled upon me, when by chance, I discovered and purchased a beautifully made, deluxe edition of this trilogy. It is published by the renowned book publisher, Folio Society. It was on sale at half price during their summer promotion. 

I started reading these books without knowing what to expect. Normally, I don't read children/YA novels. But I must say, after reading the first chapter in Northern Lights, I was deeply drawn to the book. Once I started, I could not stop reading, and I read all 3 books in 6 days. I think these books are excellent. Today, I will like to review this trilogy. (P.S. In this review, I have included some illustrations from the Folio Society edition of these books)


His Dark Materials trilogy consists of three books, Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. The story took place in parallel worlds. The story follows the adventures of Lyra, a girl at 12 years of age, and her friend William Parry, a boy of the same age. Under circumstances, these 2 children were brought together, and together they started a journey to fulfill their destiny, a destiny tied with the mysterious Dust, particles of unknown nature which is feared by the religious authority...

What I think about this book:

His Dark Materials trilogy feels like a rework of John Milton's Paradise Lost. In fact, in the forewords section, Philip Pullman acknowledged Paradise Lost, is the main source of inspiration for these books. The themes and scopes of these books are vast and wide. The background of the story is weaved together by fabrics dyed in the colors of quantum physics, theology, philosophy, and the question of morality, gracefully combined and resonating with the main plot. Children will not doubt, be drawn to the breathtaking narratives and Pullman's mind-blowing imaginations. Adult readers will find themselves exploring some of the biggest questions and debates, while standing on the solid turf of story exposition, told from an irreligious perspective. These questions and debates, such as: existence, innocence, experience, knowledge, grace, good, evil, death, and love, are relevant to us all, and explored in this multi-layered, multi-faceted story,

On the second level, His Dark Materials trilogy is also a rework of the Garden of Eden story. I quite enjoyed this aspect of the story, because Pullman wondrously constructed themes and derived meanings for the Garden of Eden story from an alternative, irreligious perspective. Based on good reasoning, this story contrasted the religious arguments proposed by Christian authors such as C.S. Lewis, in books such as The Chronicles of Narnia. Meanwhile, Pullman offered (in my opinion) a reasonable, and thought-provoking critique to the traditional Christian worldview/theology.

On the third level, His Dark Materials trilogy illuminates the importance of independent, critical
thinking. I love the message that we should always question the authority (religious ones in the context of these books), never believe something just because everyone else believes it, and don't let some authority tell you how should think, but think for yourself. Have the courage to differ from the authority, if you discover good reason(s) to be different. My own experience resonates with this message, and it is the reason why I like this trilogy so much. Without independent, critical thinking, and a questioning, curious, open mind, the fate of our kind will be lost in the dark; because we may commit evils unknowingly, while under the impression we are on the side of righteousness.

There is so much to say about this trilogy, and I am unable to cover and discuss every great ideas presented in these books. I absolutely loved it, I think kids and young adults will enjoy these books tremendously, because it is beautifully written, with a great story wrapped in the author's breathtaking imaginations. The adults will also enjoy these books (perhaps even more than kids), because the story within explores the big questions about life which are relevant to us all. These books carry a strong and important message. Ultimately, it is a heart-breaking, yet hopeful story. One that would stand proud as a new classic in English literature. This is a book series I shall visit again and again, to ponder, to wonder, and to marvel at the big questions that made up the journey of life.