Book Reviews

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Dragon’s Trail by Joseph Malik is a fantasy techno-thriller, which is to say it is a mash of two genres that rarely get seen together. The magical nature of fantasy—with elves and men riding about on horses, wielding swords—combined with the detail-oriented techno-thriller, which uses technology to solve whatever horrid problem is facing the main character and the world that particular day. This story follows two people from Earth: Jarrod, a former fencing and martial-arts master who now works as a stuntman; and Carter, a former linebacker who has a penchant for medieval style fighting. These two are summoned to Gateskeep, where they are tasked with getting the army up to snuff in order to combat a sorcerer named Ulo. Jarrod and Carter do this, only they bring some of the might and knowledge of Earth with them. The result? A fantasy with huge amounts of actual information on fighting and strategy, where the characters have an advantage and are still faced with struggles, and where the major conflict hinges on bringing a gun to a knife fight, relatively speaking.

1. Thoughts on the plot

If you look at this story from the surface level, the plot is a fairly typical portal-fantasy novel. A person—usually from Earth—is brought in, accidentally or otherwise, to solve a massive problem facing some fantasy realm. This person applies their Earther knowledge and faces the fantastical challenges with great aplomb. Or, at least, a whole lot of style. If you zoom in to the plot, this story is a whole lot more complex than the typical fantasy, portal or otherwise. There is strategy behind the decisions that characters make on either side. The things that you would expect to be so are not quite what they appear. And the characters from Earth are indeed quite capable and do have great style and aplomb (I’m looking at you, Carter, with that massive suit of armour) but face actual challenges from all quarters.

Then, there are the technical details that make this a techno-thriller. Technology is central to any society. This book explores the technology of the time and does so in such detail that you know precisely that it matters. A lot. And, as it turns out, the technology does matter. A lot. These details, combined with the strategy of a grand-scale fantasy, make this plot one of the more interesting and complex ones that I have seen in a while.

2. Thoughts on the main character

Jarrod is the primary main character here, though Carter plays a rather significant role. Initially, he seems a bit arrogant and probably mad at the world. However, it is soon shown that he actually knows what he is doing and asks rational questions. Okay, yes, he is still arrogant, but there is reason.

The interesting part is watching Jarrod’s development as he explores the world surrounding Gateskeep. He doesn’t change quite so dramatically as some characters do in fantasy novels, but it is definitely there. The arrogance, though, doesn’t ever really go away. Frankly, I’m okay with that. It makes him an entertaining character and I enjoy the snark a fair bit.

3. Favourite part

Well, I’m a linguist. I shall say, then, that my favourite part of the book started with the discussion of the phonetic attributes of the word gbatu and continued with the various descriptions of the language-learning process. I liked all the technical pieces, too, but honestly, language. What’s not to like?

4. Critique

If I had a critique for this book, it would be one of two things. I would say that Jarrod and Carter seem to make mincemeat of their challenges. The odds are stacked in their favour, for obvious reasons. However, since that is rather the point of the book and the challenges are, well, actually challenging, I would say just sit back and enjoy the technology. Even if you have to look up some of the terms.

The other critique I have is that the map at the back of the book is rather unhelpful for people like me who need a map constantly.

Basically, the few critiques I had were more or less irrelevant.

My overall rating for this book is definitely EXCELLENT, which tops the scale. A good way to start the year, no? Now, on to book two, where I imagine things are going to get rather worse for our characters. This should be quite entertaining.

In this modern time, people are often surrounded by social media. Taking pictures for Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, posting status updates on Twitter or Snapchat, these things are all normal activities for many people every day. It can be an empty feeling to be unconnected in the world of social media, but it can be just as pressure-filled to be always connected. Ideal Angels by Robert Welbourn explores the idea of connection in the age of social media. This book follows a whirlwind relationship between two characters as they navigate the ups and downs of living a life online. Ideal Angels is written in the second person and throws you right into the middle of one of the fastest weeks of your life.

1. Thoughts on the plot

The plot itself is fairly simple. Boy meets girl—probably the perfect girl—and they end up in a relationship. Said relationship moves quickly until life happens and then, well… spoilers. I would say that this familiar plot is actually a useful device, as the book takes a very, very close look at what goes on during this whirlwind week. Everything explored is a typical reaction or feeling and yet it is quite different seeing things on such a minute scale through the eyes of a character that is meant to be, as strange as it is, you.

2. Thoughts on the main character

It is a very strange thing to be told that you are the main character. Often people can relate to characters in books and they can see themselves participating in the plot, facing the problems, saving the day. However, when you are told that you are the one doing all of the action as opposed to just watching it, things become very strange. The main character makes questionable decisions. I know they’re questionable, you know they’re questionable, even he—you as he—knows they’re questionable. But suddenly everything feels different because it is not some person that you’re reading about making these decisions. You are making these decisions.

For me, this was a very bizarre sensation. I found it easier if I thought about myself as the narrator and the main character as someone I know and can picture in the situation. This made things easier and it was then possible for me to distance myself from the character enough to see the story rather than the moment.

3. Favourite part

I found the progression of the main character as the most fascinating part. He developed in a direction that I would not have expected. It was very interesting to see that progression in regards to you/myself as the main character. It was also interesting because the reader got to see every thought, every idea, every action, as the character saw and participated in the action. The imagery was vague, but the thoughts were clear. It was, frankly, very much like life. And to see that character progress in such a manner was extremely intimate and a little disconcerting. But fascinating.

4. Critique

This was one of the first times I’ve read a longer piece in second person perspective. I would have to say that it, combined with the longer, run-on sentences and the slightly disjointed progression of thought, made this book a little difficult to read. Reading Ideal Angels felt unlike any book I’ve read before (well, except some of the samysdat books from the twentieth century Russian authors). Instead, this felt very much like reading an avant garde piece of art. Which is to say, it was interesting, I understood it, but it was a little unsettling and bizarre. I imagine this is rather the point, but even so.

Overall, this book read a lot like an Albert Camus novel with a modern take on the world. It was a completely different artform from what I’m used to and it was fascinating and a little strange to see how it turned out. Still, the message was very clear and this is definitely a story that will stick with me for a while. I would rate this book as right between GOOD and VERY GOOD.

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