Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files #13)

Following the cliff-hanger ending in Changes, Ghost Story comes knocking on fans' doors with another dark and twisted chapter in the saga of Harry Dresden, Chicago's only residential wizard. This is the 13th installment in Jim Butcher's super popular urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files. In this installment, Jim Butcher rewards his readers with a spellbinding tale of thunder and lightning, and it's all happening at Chicago's downtown.


Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, the one and the only professional wizard in Chicago, has died.

Shrouded in the mist of confusion, Harry returned to consciousness and found himself a permanent resident in a strange afterlife existing beyond his wildest imagination. You see, Harry has become a ghost.

Is this the end of the mighty Harry Dresden? Trouble found Harry again before anyone could say to him, Requiesce in Pace. It seems for Harry, being dead and ethereal does not translate to being done with mortal affairs. This time, Harry has no body, and no magic. Yet he must find a way to aid his friends and countering a black shadow gathering around Chicago. Meanwhile, Harry is also charged with a mission to find the man who killed him.

Ok, I know what you are thinking. Nope, the latest adventure in the life (or afterlife) of Harry Dresden is nothing like Patrick Swayze's romantic thriller; it has nothing to do with making out with Demi Moore next to a pottery wheel. No, Harry Dresden is about to narrate a ghost story as wild as it is twisted, wizard style...

My thoughts on this book:

Last week, I wrote a book review for Changes and shared my opinion about how good it was. So what about Ghost Story? How does this novel's quality compare against its predecessor? Simply putting it, I like Ghost story. I think this novel entertains and it is a fun, fast-paced read. But Ghost Story has a small problem - I couldn't help but feeling that in this book, Harry's new adventure wrapped up in an anticlimax.

Ok, let me start by sharing what do I like in this book.

The narratives of Ghost Story run on a very fun and interesting concept; that the series' protagonist, Harry Dresden, once a powerful, fireball-throwing wizard, has died. He lost all of his powers and became a ghost while trying to help his friend by interfering with mortal affairs. There are many stories about ghostly protagonists, so why did this story attract my interest?

The best element about Ghost Story, in my opinion, is the parts that narrated Harry's introspection as he reflected on his previous life and his relationships with his friends. This “introspective” Harry does NOT cast the story into a melodrama. Instead, I found Harry's reflection rather insightful because it revealed a new dimension to Harry's character who I have never met in the previous novels. In this sense, I think Harry climbed a very steep ladder in the character development here, and I liked what I read about Harry in this book.

When it comes to the writings, Jim Butcher is a true master of his craft. He packed this book with suspenseful mysteries, mysteries drenched in lucid, but vivid descriptions for the fictional Chicago. Ghost Story, like all of its predecessors, is soaked in a neo noir atmosphere. Meanwhile, Jim Butcher also threw punches of action scenes left, right and centre at his readers, and adrenaline never ran short on supply in this book.

So far I have described the positive aspects for this book. Next I will discuss, in my opinion, the only negative aspect for this book; that is, this ghostly adventure ended in an anticlimax. Make no mistake, however, the story in this book is anything but simple and straight forward. Its complex plot twists and turns along the unfolding narratives, and readers can expect to see dozens of surprises in the story. Despite the many twists and turns, the story ultimately ended in an anticlimax. Yes, Ghost Story also ended with a cliff-hanger, but it doesn't have the strong kick that was felt in the ending of the previous novel.

Even as a ghost, Harry Dresden still emanates a lot of star power. In this book, the chapters narrating Harry's introspection painted his character with much color, while also adding a new dimension to the Dresden saga that was never seen in the previous novels. Ghost Story takes the quality of The Dresden Files series up a notch with a rather impressive character development, but its anticlimax ending is preventing Ghost Story from being the best book in the series. Having said this, Ghost Story is an excellent novel, and veteran readers of The Dresden Files series will not want to miss out on this important chapter in Harry's life.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Book Review: Changes by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files #12)

Changes, the 12th installment in Jim Butcher's urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files, materialized on my bookshelf as it shaked the paranormal world of Harry Dresden, Chicago's one and only professional wizard.

How is this book? Simply putting it, Changes restored my interest in The Dresden Files. When I reached the final page in Changes, I was keen to finding out what will happen in the next book. And I have not experienced this type of keenness since Dead Beat.

That is right, Changes is one of the better books in The Dresden Files series. As its name suggests, Changes snapped out of the formulaic storytelling found in its predecessors, and refreshed this series with a major overhaul to the narratives. And the result is very positive.


Harry Dresden has had a rewarding career as Chicago's only Supernatural P.I. In a decade, Harry helped the police and cracked down dozens of supernatural crimes, while waging countless battles against malicious, preternatural entities lurking in Chicago's shadowed alleys. From vampires, demons, fairy queens, werewolves to dangerous warlocks, Harry has fought them all to protect those he loved and he triumphed in every encounter. Harry risks his life on a daily basis, while he may not be earning big $$$ for his detective works, but he is doing what he loves and he is the best in the business.

Then along came Harry's ex-lover, Susan Rodriguez, who brought Harry's world crumbling down when she revealed a secret to Harry; that they have a daughter and she is being kidnapped by Harry's past enemy Arianna Ortega, Duchess of the Red Court vampires.

Suddenly, Harry found himself racing against the clock to free his daughter from the claws of the blood-thirsty Red Court...

My thoughts on this book:

Set in the metropolitan city of Chicago, pulsing with a strong neo-noir vibe, and fueled with explosive actions, The Dresden Files series captured the hearts of millions of readers with its vivid characters and compelling stories. It suffices to say, The Dresden Files established itself as a major player in the genre of urban fantasy. These novels, featuring the stoic, supernatural P.I. Harry Dresden, stormed my reading world some 16 months ago and I have been enjoying most of these books; they are fun reads.

Jim Butcher is a talented writer. His stylistic writings painted stunning visuals in the dark, magical world of Harry Dresden. Jim Butcher's prose breathed life into his memorable characters, Chicago, and its supernatural communities. These books are immersive. They are dark but colorful. Dreadful entities reside in the world of Harry Dresden, haunting Chicago's streets under the shadow of black nights. But Dresden's world is also a place of hope, where larger-than-life heroics, committed in the hands of courageous people, are serving as a radiant light to keeping the shadows at bay. This is a place I love visiting, a place I want to visit again and again.

Having praised the series, my biggest complaint about The Dresden Files is its episodic, repetitive nature. Jim Butcher has the tendency to recycle plot devices in his books. This means, not only are these books formulaic, but when it comes to establishing a sense of urgency and continuum these books leave much to be desired.

Then along came Changes, where Jim Butcher revised his storytelling and injected much welcomed refreshments into the tale of Harry Dresden. How? For the first time, Jim Butcher finishes a Dresden Files book on a cliffhanger. It is an ending that keeps its reader guessing, and it also hints at many interesting things to come. When I finished reading Changes, I could not wait to read the next book because the story reverberates a sense of urgency and mystery.

This also means, if you are a new adventurer in Harry Dresden's world and found the first 4 books repetitive, then exercise perseverance. This series is worth it. My personal opinion is, starting from book 7, The Dresden Files novels got better and better with the coming of every new installment. If your dream is to reading an urban fantasy series flavored in detective fictions, then don't hesitate, The Dresden Files is for you. On the other hand, if you are a veteran reader to The Dresden Files series, then you wouldn't want to miss out on Changes. This book is one heck of a roller coaster ride.

Until the next time, happy reading!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Book Review: Half a War by Joe Abercrombie (Shattered Sea #3)

Most novelists take years to finish a fantasy trilogy. For Joe Abercrombie, the prince of grimdark fantasy, writing a trilogy is a matter of 12 months. In July 2014, Joe Abercrombie brought more gritty goodness to the table of the ever-flourishing fantasy genre when he published Half a King, the first installment in a new trilogy called Shattered Sea. One year later, Abercrombie finished his trilogy on high ground with Half a War, the third and the final installment in Shattered Sea. But before I continue and review Half a War let me ask you two questions:

  1. Do you like Jack Vance's Dying Earth?
  2. Do you like Frans G. Bengtsson's The Long Ships?

If your answer “yes” to both questions, then Joe Abercrombie's literacy creation, Shattered Sea trilogy, might be right up your alley.

Upon the first glance, the story in Shattered Sea appeared to being set in an epic fantasy world. However, as the story in Half a King led into its sequel, Half a World, Abercrombie gradually unveiled his was in fact, spinning a tale of blood and thunder in post-apocalyptic Scandinavia. A world where thousands of years after a great cataclysm, its civilization has regressed to an equivalent of medieval level. In other word's, reading Abercrombie's new grimdark trilogy is like reading post-apocalyptic novels packed with Viking actions!

I love both Half a King and Half a World. Recently I received a copy for Half a War, and ever since I finished reading it I have been bursting with an eagerness to review this book.


Only half a war is fought with swords

So what do you fight the other half of the war with?

Princesses Skara is seeking, desperately, for the answer to this question. Why? The High King, guided by Mother Wexen, breached a peace agreement with her grandfather, King Fynn. The High King and Mother Wexen sent a colossal army, led by the infamous warleader Bright Yilling, to invade Skara's beloved country.

Skara fled as she watched Bright Yilling slaughtering her grandfather in the throne room. Meanwhile, the invading army butchered her people and torched the land that nourished her since birth. She swore vengeance against Bright Yilling and she made a promise to reclaim her birthright. But Skara is just a girl of 17, she hardly has the strength to draw a sword from its scabbard, and now she is a princess without a land and subjects. What can she do?

In her exile, Skara met a cast of extra-ordinary individuals; from the deeply cunning Father Yarvi, and fierce fighters such as Thorn and Raith, to legendary kings like Uthil and Gorm-gil-Grom. How will their lives tie in with Skara's plan for vengeance?

My thoughts on this book:

Half a War provides a deeply-satisfying conclusion to Shattered Sea trilogy. With fast-paced, energetic, and character-driven narratives Half a War send veteran readers of this trilogy back to the violent and bleak world of Shattered Sea. Joe Abercrombie's masterful prose and storytelling, famously debuted in his ground-breaking work, The First Law trilogy, returns to make readers fall in love with this book as its narratives spill seamlessly onto its white pages.

Every book in Shattered Sea trilogy features different POV(s). In Half a War, Abercrombie casts three new POVs to take the centre stage of the story; Skara, Raith and Koll.

Out of all characters in this book, I am most fond of Princess Skara. In this book, Skara is a 17 year old princess who was forced into an exile after her grandfather, King Fynn, was murdered in the hands of an invading army. The invading forces captured Skara's land and her subjects, so her shoulder is suddenly yoked with the responsibility of restoring her country. Yet, Skara possesses no martial ability of any sort. In the face of her insurmountable task, Skara had to conquer her fear and sharpen her wits to craft a plan and reclaim her birthright. Her story of survival and revenge is as a lone boat sailing in the raging sea. Skara's character and quality really grabbed me in this book. As the story progressed, her character transformed and grew visibly. Her character development is both steep as well as interesting. Skara reminds me a little of Daenerys Targaryen from A Song of Ice and Fire.

I also like Raith. Initially, he appeared in the story as a bloody-thirsty raider/warrior, a character who gave little thoughts about life and focusing his entire being on blood-letting and raiding works. As the story progressed, Raith witnessed the dark political games played by the rulers in Shattered Sea, and his perspective began to change. Like Skara, Raith's character underwent significant transformation too. His journey of transformation was fascinating, and he certainly left a deep impression on my mind long after I closed the last page in Half a War.

The third protagonist appearing in this book is Koll. He is apprenticed to Father Yarvi, who was the protagonist in Half a King. In Half a War, Koll is training under Father Yarvi to be ordained as a minister. He was constantly torn between whether to take the high path and changing the world as a minister, or taking the path leading to a carpenter's life and marry his love interest. Without spoiling the story, let me just say like Raith, Koll also witnessed the dark political games played by the kings and ministers, leading to his personal transformation and fascinating character development.

Aside the three newly introduced POVs. All of our favorite characters from previous books, such as Thorn, Father Yarvi, Brand, Uthil, and Gorm-gil-Grom, returned in Half a War and playing vital roles as support characters. Readers will find as the stories for these characters unfold, many twists and turns await for them in this atmospheric tale. I believe most readers will not be disappointed with the way Abercrombie wrapped up these characters' stories.

Half a War is an excellent novel. It tells a compelling story, and Abercrombie crafted characters both likable and fascinating. However, I do have a small criticism about this book. In my opinion, the story ended anti-climatically. How? This book is standing at 400 pages, and about 75% into the book, its story reached its climax. This happened at the 300 page mark. Despite having had reached its climax, the story continued for another 100 pages and it was dragging a little. Sure, these 100 pages narrated the aftermath for the main story, and it tied up several loose ends in the story. But I believe the concluding section in this book would have been benefited by a small reduction in page numbers.

Other than some (very) minor flaws, Half a War remains a powerful and fitting conclusion to Shattered Sea trilogy. Joe Abercrombie is at his best here. He weaves a gritty and dark tale of blood and revenge. I highly recommend this trilogy to my fellow lovers of the fantasy genre, and I believe you will find plenty of things to love about this trilogy. Especially if you like grimdark fantasy and enjoy Abercrombie's previous works.

P.S. I strongly recommend reading this trilogy in the order of its publications. That is, starting from Half a War, followed by Half a World, and finally leading to Half a War. This is because the characters, events and stories in this trilogy are narrated in the chronological order.