Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Book Review: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #37)

Today I am reviewing Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. This book is the 37th installment in the beloved Discworld series. It is also one of the very last books written by Sir Terry before he passed away in 2015. But take a look at this book's cover. What do you think it is about? If you guessed this book is about football, then you are right. The question, is Unseen Academicals only about football? Well, the important thing about football is that it is not about football; just like the important thing about a Discworld novel is not about fantasy. This means, while Unseen Academicals is literally, fantasy football, but it is also much, much more.

So we have fantasy, a parody about football, and a reflection about life. I should be enjoying this book, right? Not quite. I would say, Unseen Academicals, together with Eric, are two of my least favorite Discworld novels. Before I discuss this book, however, let me provide a synopsis.


On the cobbled streets of Ankk Morpork reside a football culture that is not very “cultured”. Why? It is because football translates to pushing and shoving to the Morporkians both on and off the field. This is why the city needs a new type of football; fast, with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go gloing when players dropped them on the ground.

Hang on, did you say pointy hats? That is right. To kickstart the game, the wizards at Unseen University must emerge victorious from the first football match without using magics. Ha, but wizards without magics are just a bunch of old men with long beards, so in a game of foot-the-ball, they will surely end up getting slaughtered, right? Not so fast! The wizards have yet to reveal their secret weapons; a street urchin with an amazing talent for kicking a tin can, a cook with a recipe for making mouth-watering pies, a beautiful but dim young woman who might just be the greatest model ever, and a mysterious man called Mr. Nutt who knows others better than himself.

Four ordinary people teaming up with a bunch of old academics to play a football game. The outcome may just be life-changing and entering Ankh Morpork's annual for sporting events. Mark it down, this team is called Unseen Academicals.

My thoughts on this book:

Unseen Acacemicsls is witty and humorous. Underneath this “fantasy” football comedy is a heart warming story about self-image and self-identity. The wizards tickled my funny bone with their eccentricity and oddness. Meanwhile, I was very fond of the four main protagonists in this book. Unseen Academicals is set in a fantasy world, but its story and characters are about real life issues in our world. In this case, each of the four protagonists embodied a challenge to real things in our world, from stereotypes, prejudices, the fashion industry, and sports as religion.

While Unseen Academicals' theme and humors are worthy of praise, but I don't like this book as much as other Discworld novels. I struggled in the first 200 pages, because it was very slow at establishing its background and the characters. The story remained unfocused from the middle book and all the way to the end. The transitions between POV characters were often poor, thereby disrupting the story's momentum. To me, Unseen Academicals felt like a book that was stuck to the second gear, and I struggled to follow through the story.

Having said this, we must remember, when Terry Pratchett wrote this book he was already ill with Alzheimer's. Perhaps the better way to treat Unseen Academicals, is to examining its meanings, and then looking at how this book explored the issues that matter in our own society. This book is worth a read. And it dawned on me, while this book touched some serious topics in our cultures, but it still made me laugh heartily. Our world, like Discworld, are full of unsung heroes, the small folks, who take on life and all its challenges with goodwill and brevity. So, while the world may not be full of sunshine and rainbow, but every time I read a Discworld novel, it makes me realize that things are only appearing so grim because I am blinded to the good stuff sitting right next to me. 

Until the next time, happy reading!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Book Review: Cold Counsel by Chris Sharp

Cold Counsel, written by Chris Sharp, is an epic fantasy novel with a troll as the protagonist.

Huh? Did you say a troll is the protagonist in this book? Are you trolling? No, I am not trolling, but a lot of goblins in this book got “trolled”, big time! 

Ok, jokes aside, take a look at the book's cover. Can you see that bad-ass, tusked warrior standing there and holding a mean-looking ax? That, is the protagonist in Cold Counsel and he is a troll.

The news for Cold Counsel arrived at the shore of my reading domain, on a barge of internet review articles. It gained a top spot on my list for “to be read books”, because it looked like my cup of tea. Last Friday, The Book Depository delivered this tale of blood and thunder to my mail box. I devoured this book in a gusto and loved every page of it. I highly recommend Cold Counsel, but I believe a certain type of audience will especially appreciate this book. What type of audience? My review will discuss this question. Meanwhile, here is a synopsis for the book.


It was a dreadful day, a raging storm besieged the mountain, and the chief of the Blood Claw Clan welcomed his son into the world. Everyone agreed, there was something unusual about this newborn. Perhaps, his strangeness flows from the fiery gleam in his small black eyes, a pair of eyes that opened the window to blood and fury. They named him Slud, Bringer of Troubles.

Baby Slud's presence changed his father, who united his fellow trolls and took the mountain from the goblins. The elves, however, were unnerved by the return of the lesser giants. They stormed the mountain with twenty thousand warriors, wiping off the trolls from the face of the earth.

But the elves missed two trolls.

Among the smoldering fire and the crimson deaths, an old witch from Ironwood carried baby Slud away before the elven blade could touch him. In the two decades that followed, the old hag molded Slud into an instrument of one purpose - revenge.

My thoughts on this book:

Let me present a checklist to you. If your literary taste matches this checklist, then you will probably love Cold Counsel as much as I did.

If you like:

  • Grimdark fantasy
  • Conan the Cimmerian
  • Norse mythology
  • Morally ambiguous characters
  • A revenge/heist story
  • A story with a wicked sense of humor
  • Bloody and thunderous battles
  • A troll for the protagonist

Then you will love this book.

This is not to say Cold Counsel is perfect. While every character in this book is pure awesome, but I would have liked to see more character development. Otherwise, when I finished Cold Counsel, I let out a sigh of contentment. Among the sea of fantasy books, Cold Counsel is a rare breed. Why? Not only is this a self-contained story with no loose end, but it is also short, only 270 pages in length.

Seriously, in an age when most fantasy books are 600+ pages, and in serials, where will you find a fast-paced, compact, and self-contained story like Cold Counsel? This book is built with the savage economy of a desert wolf; in a surprisingly short length, the author jampacked the book with a hella of an adventure, vast and epic. Its worldbuilding draws heavily from Norse mythology, with a perspective from the monsters and the creatures that stalked the night. It offers an interesting, and alternative take on the classical mythology – what if the struggles were never about good vs. evil, but that of power and influence?

Slud takes on the centre stage of the story. As a troll, Slud has the brawn, a lot of it, but he is also surprisingly resourceful and intelligent. The combination of his qualities made him a force of nature. Slud reminds me of Conan the Cimmerian, the kind of guys you don't want to mess with. They are neither good nor evil, they do things because it needs to be taken care of, and they will fight anyone who stands in their way, be it a god or a monster. Other than Slud, Cold Counsel also features a cast of intriguing characters; a witch/hag, an (almost) unkillable goblin warrior, and a giant wolf who is also the descendant of Fenrir, the bane of Odin. I particularly liked the goblin warrior, the dialogues between Slud and him often made me grin from ear to ear, it is wicked and humorous. Let me put it this way, the cast in Cold Counsel is like the medieval, fantasy equivalent of Suicide Squad.

When I closed this book, the sound of battle and clashing steels receded in my head, but I wanted more stories about Slud and his band of cutthroats. On Goodreads, I asked the author if there will be a sequel. Mr. Sharp replied, he is planning and hoping for a sequel (a trilogy, in fact). However, his sales numbers are currently a bit light so there is no surety. Therefore, if you like Grimdark fantasy, then make sure to check out Cold Counsel and give this book some support. Spread the words.

I highly recommend this book.

P.S. Some reviews have complained about Slud's dialogues for being unintelligible. The author confirmed, he intended Slud to sounding like a pirate. When I was reading this book, I read out Slud's dialogues, loud, in the deep, guttural voice of an orc but with an accent of a pirate. The result? It was great fun! Try it out.

A Book Review: The Affair by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #16)

Lee Child has sold more than 100 million Jack Reacher novels, so this series requires little introduction. However, I have a tag line for promoting these books and I think it is very good. Here it is:

If you don't know Reacher, then you don't know Jack.

For the full effect, read out this line with the dramatic voice from Hollywood movie trailers.

Ha ha, very funny, Daniel.

On a more serious note, as a fan of these books, I have always wondered how Jack Reacher came to be the way he is. That is, a vagrant wandering from town to town and dispensing justice. At the beginning of Killing Floor, we were told in a few sentences, Reacher lost his job as MP, but it also teased at a bigger story, an untold story. If we don't have Reacher's origin story, then it is true that we don't know Jack. See?

In The Affair, the 16th installment in the series, Lee Child finally gave us an origin story for Reacher, and this novel is splendid!


The year was 1997. In Carter Crossing, Mississippi, someone cut a young woman's throat and dumped her body behind a bar. It was down the road from a big military base. Who killed the girl? Was it some local creep or an army guy?

Pentagon sent Major Jack Reacher of the military police to the site. He was supposed to be an undercover. Jack arrived at the once peaceful, little town, and encountered the local sheriff, who was a beautiful woman and a former marine. The more Jack investigated the case, the more dirt and secrets got blown wide open. Someone was hiding something, was it the Pentagon or the beautiful sheriff? What was the truth behind the affair?

My thoughts on this book:

The Affair is sitting on my list of favorite Jack Reacher books alongside Killing Floor and Gone Tomorrow. This book is damn good.

This book, fast-paced and suspenseful, sated my curiosity about Reacher's former life in the military police. It is the untold story about Reacher that deserves to be told. Twists and turns accompanied this story from its beginning until the very end, I never knew what to expect of the book. Just as I thought the plot was going one way, Lee Child would throw in another object or person in suspicion, that could lead to a plot 180. Meanwhile, Reacher was being true to his character; a hardass who never backs away from the truth, no matter the cost. This is a quality that made Jack Reacher such a likable character.

Lee Child wrote The Affair with his signature style – hard boiled, punchy, and to the point. His descriptions for the Southern US town, vivid, detailed, yet efficient, laid down the ground floor for a thrilling ride. From page one, The Affair jumped straight into its story at 120 miles per hour, and it stayed at 120 miles per hour until the very last page. I did not experience a moment of bore in this book. I also wish to mention, The Affair was narrated in the first person. That is, Jack Reacher was narrating the story. Some books utilize a third person narration to give readers an overall view of multiple characters. In The Affair, however, the first person narrative works the best for a thriller of this type. It takes us straight into Jack's head, where we saw how the gears were turning inside his head for various situations, be it solving a crime, or methodically taking down multiple opponents in street fights.

I like The Affair. Every Jack Reacher novel is a stand alone story so you can start from anywhere. But The Affair is special because this book provides the missing piece in the Jack Reacher mythos that most readers are dying to know. So if you want to know how Jack became “Reacher”, then make sure to check out The Affair.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Book Review: The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

On a wintry night, I turned to the last page in The Club Dumas. This is a mystery novel, written by Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte, and it is translated from Spanish into English. If the book's title doesn't ring the bell, then I will mention a movie called The Ninth Gate. Have you seen it? That movie, starring Johnny Deep and directed by Roman Polanski, was an adaptation of the book. While the movie was ok, but after reading this book, I realized that Roman Polanski's adaption captured nothing but a shadow of the book's full glory!


On a cobble-stoned street of Madrid treads a lean, middle-aged man. A pair of glasses rests on his face, making him appear harmless, or rabbit-like, even. However, a careful observer cannot help but noticing a predatory confidence in him. There was something in his demeanor, something about the grin on his face, that made him look wolfish – a hunter ready to strike at its prey. The man's name is Lucas Corso, a book detective and an antiquarian book dealer.

Corso is like Sherlock Holmes when it comes to tracking down VERY expensive old books. He is damn good at what he does. He is also a mercenary, offering his services to the highest bidder. Corso's clients usually have fat wallets and loose morals, such as the powerful individual who just hired him to authenticate the fragments from the original manuscript of The Three Musketeers, written by Alexandre Dumas. The valuable manuscript came into the light after its collector committed suicide.

As soon as Corso began his examination on the manuscript, he was drawn into a diabolical plot involving an underground cult, the devil worship, and a forbidden tome. Meanwhile, adding another dramatic touch to his strange ordeal, Corso also found himself entangled in the lives of a cast of characters resembling Dumas' masterpiece. Corso could have bailed out from the job, but curiosity got the better of him. Assisted by a mysterious beauty bearing the familiar name of Irene Adler, Corso embarked on a journey from Madrid, Toledo, to Paris, where he will uncover an old secret.

Some secrets, however, are better left forgotten...

My thoughts on the book:

I love The Club Dumas! A slow reader, I usually require three to four sittings to read a 400 page book. But I read this novel in one sitting; I started reading it on a Saturday afternoon, and I finished it on the same night. I couldn't put it down. I have not read any book quite like The Club Dumas. The closest comparisons that come to my mind are Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, and Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book. While I like The Name of the Rose, but I found The Club Dumas delivered extra kicks and it was hella fun to read it.

The Club Dumas is a mystery novel about books. The central mystery revolves around a body of literary classics; from Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, to Homer. A bibliophile will fall in love with this book within minutes. Meanwhile, its settings rendered a gothic feel into the story; as Corso's investigations continued, the story took on a very dark and sinister tone. 50% into the book, it resembled more than a detective noir; you begin to feel as if you are reading something esoteric and an arcane story not meant to be witnessed by the mortal eyes!

Indeed, The Club Dumas is both cryptic and macabre. The characters in this book, too, are full of intrigues. The protagonist, Lucas Corso, is a man of questionable ethics. But you will root for him anyway. You will root for him not because he is a role model for virtue, but because you are hoping that through Corso, you can see the answer to the mystery (hopefully in the next chapter, always). It suffices to day, the author succeeded at maintaining the suspense and the mystery right until the book's end. Meanwhile, the supporting characters are a memorable bunch. They each hold a clue for piecing together the puzzle in the book, and they are fascinating. I think The Club Dumas is a cult classic of a book, and its characterization is what made it so good. You will remember these characters not because you like them and wish to befriend them. No, these characters will leave lasting impressions on you because they are freakish.

At the beginning of this review, I mentioned the movie adaption, The Ninth Gate, is but a shadow of this book's full glory. And I mean it! The Ninth Gate movie only adapted half of the story, and the film also altered the plot significantly. To be more specific, the movie omitted the plot about Alexandre Dumas and The Three Musketeers. The chances are, if you have seen The Ninth Gate and thought it was mediocre, then you may find The Club Dumas provides a much better story. Meanwhile, if you are like The Ninth Gate, then I think you will love The Club Dumas.

A Book Review: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Curse of Chalion, written by Lois McMaster Bujold, is the winner of Mythopoetic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in 2002. This book appeared on my radar after Goodreads recommended it to me. My local library does not stock this book, so I did not have the chance to read it. Two months ago, at the cost of a dollar, I procured this book at a secondhand book fair. Last week, I read it and realized, I wouldn't be able to appreciate this book 10 years ago; the saying is true - all in good time.


A wretched man, malnourished and crippled, pushed himself along on a dusty road. This poor soul, named Cazaril, had an appearance of an old man, whose worn face suggested a lifetime of suffering and turmoil, making him look far older than his true age at thirty and five. Cazaril made a destination for the noble household of Chalion, where he once served as page. 

Fortune smiled on Cazaril. Upon his return, the royal patroness appointed him as the secretary tutor to her granddaughter, the 15-year-old Royesse, Iselle.

Is Cazaril in luck? Not so fast! Cazaril's appointment soon led him to his worst nightmare. Namely, the royal court of Cardegoss, where old enemies were waiting to ambush Cazaril and his royal pupil with traitorous intrigues. Furthermore, Cazaril discovered that not all adversaries are made of flesh and blood; an ancient curse plagued the household of Chalion and their associates, and its due course was dropping like an executioner's ax from the above. How can Cazaril protect his beloved pupil, and her household, against such odds?

My thoughts on this book:

A slow burn, this is how I would describe The Curse of Chalion.

This is my first time reading a book by Lois McMaster Bujold, and she is a good wordsmith. Her prose is fluidic, captivating, but not verbose. However, if you are looking for an action-packed fantasy novel with thunderous battles, then this may NOT be the book for you. The “actions” in this book mostly took the form of court intrigues and political machinations. You will find the dramas in the dialogues and the story instead of in sword fights. Mark my words, however, in this book the court intrigues are deadly, and the political machinations are suspenseful, it is nail-biting stuff! The first 33% of the book focused on the character introductions and worldbuilding (including a very interesting magic system). This book had a slow start. Yet, those who persevered beyond page 150 will find the story quickly grow into a compelling tale, alive with unforgettable characters.

Cazaril is the protagonist, and I rooted for him after reading the first 10 pages of the book. I think it is because he and I are similar in age, and I resonated with Cazaril's thoughts and outlooks about life. Meanwhile, Cazaril is an unusual hero. What is unusual about him? Many fantasy novels feature larger than life protagonists, such as “chosen ones”, or individuals with extraordinary abilities. Cazaril, on the other hand, was a reluctant hero broken in body and spirit. He was seeking a low-profile life, yet ended up being dragged, unwillingly, into a game of fortune, glory, and perils, where he had nothing to rely on than his own wits and life experiences. In my eyes, Cazaril's qualities, combined with his circumstances, made him a likable and realistic character. I believe many readers will be fond of him too.

Sometimes, picking a book to read is like choosing a chocolate to put in your mouth, where it is worthwhile to pick the hard one because it lasts longer. I think this is the case for The Curse of Chalion. This book has a slow start, but it has a moving story layered in excellent character developments. I would recommend this book not only to fantasy readers, but to all those who like a good story.