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Tales from the Bargain Bin

DrMM's blog about books, the universe and everything (actually, just books). I currently read mostly YA/MG fantasy, although the only thing I won't read is horror.

100 Cupboards - N.D. Wilson Mini-review here: Slow, clunky beginning eventually became a fun book to read. Alas, it took half the book to get there and I'm not sure how many readers will have the patience to wait until the book actually gets interesting.

Even I was tempted to stop during the first chapter (which is really quite dreadful) but continued since I'm currently reading and enjoying this author's Ashtown Burials series. I'll read the rest, but doubt it'll ever become a favorite.
Pulse - Patrick Carman I wanted to like this book. In fact, I'm still trying to like this book. Pulse does contain a lot of fascinating concepts that I really liked. I particularly loved how Carman tried to confuse the reader on whether or not the States were good or bad for humanity.

However, I don't think I'm ever going to succeed in liking this series.

In the first case, I can't say I had any particular fondness for any of the characters. Faith, the main character, wasn't particularly interesting. While I didn't dislike her (at least yet, she has a ton of potential to become quite annoying in the future), I found nothing about her to like either. However, where Carman has really failed is in creating likeable male leads/love interests. Faith should have figured out that Boyfriend One was trouble long before he drugged her just by his general unlikeable demeanor and treatment of her friends. As for Boyfriend Two, so far he has absolutely no personality beyond his looks and his ability to teach Faith to use her powers (and seriously, standing outside someone's bedroom at night for months watching them sleep is called STALKING -- I don't care what his excuse was, he was really just stalking her). The only character I found interesting at all was Hawk, but Carman just seemed to use him as the generic technogeek character and gave him no depth whatsoever. In fact, all the characters in this book were flat and boring with no personality. Perhaps he'll manage to give them more personality in the sequels but given he had three-fourths of the book to give them personality before he actually bothered to explain the plot, I'm skeptical.

Second, it took far, far too long to actually get to the plot and action. Three-fourths of this book was bland, boring and utterly forgettable (and I struggled to finish this until the last third where it actually got interesting). World-building is good, but I understood the basics of this world in the first two chapters. I think the rest of the boring beginning was supposed to be for character building but it didn't work.

I will probably read the sequels because the last section was decent enough to make me curious about what will happen. However, it failed the reread test (I have no desire to reread it). Ultimately, this book has reminded me of a lot of the other books I read by Patrick Carman -- good ideas that just aren't executed very well.

Slathbog's Gold - M.L. Forman Have you ever read a book that you know you shouldn’t like for a great number of reasons, but do anyway? For me, Slathbog’s Gold (actually, the whole series) is like that. I can think of so many things I find wrong about it that I find it hard to understand why I enjoyed reading it as much as I did. Because of this, I can see why a people might not like it. However, I still find it to be a fun and enjoyable read.

Brief summary: 15 year-old orphan Alex is out for a walk one day and sees a mysterious sign in a shop advertising “Adventurer’s Wanted.” When he stops to find out what the sign means, he ends up in a magic world and signing a contract to be an adventurer on a quest to kill the evil dragon Slathbog (and getting treasure along the way).

The cons:

1. This book is the biggest Tolkien rip-off I’ve seen since I read Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. Of course, Shannara was a Lord of the Rings rip-off while Slathbog’s Gold steals its entire plot from The Hobbit, complete with a troll that Alex ends up turning to stone. Not only that but Alex also manages to end up with a magic sword AND a magic ring. In other words, the plot is quite unoriginal.

2. The characters are all unrealistic and one dimensional and fall into typical fantasy stereotypes. Little orphan Alex, the main character, turns out to be a wizard who can use strong magic with little training and his magic sword means that he’s also a very strong warrior. He’s able to save his companions lives multiple times and defeat a troll all by himself. Despite this, he manages to be humble and is more than willing to listen to the words of wisdom his companions give him. Obnoxiously perfect, in other words. The other characters in the book are also given cliché personalities. Arconn = wise elf. Skeld = jokester. Andy = typical and ordinary best buddy. Bregnest = the wise leader. Thrang and Halfdan = gold-loving, cheerful but fierce dwarves. The only one who has any sort of personality is Tayo, who is very depressed through most of the story but when we find out why, Alex is miraculously able to help him and Tayo’s depression is gone.

3. The writing itself isn’t great. Oh, it’s not bad writing but it doesn’t have the flow to it that the best writers have. Not to mention, how the word sly is used drives me absolutely insane. Last time I checked, sly has a sneaky, slightly evil and negative connotation to it. A traitor will make a sly smile. You do not say that someone is smiling slyly when they are joking with a friend. Mr. Foreman, to steal a quote from the Princess Bride: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

4. On the subject of writing, there is an insane amount of feasting. Sign up a new member, have a feast. Leave on a journey, have a feast. Defeat a troll, have a feast. Meet an oracle, have a week of feasts. Meet some dwarves, feast for another week. Defeat a great evil and meet some elves, feast for a month. It’s just excessive. I keep thinking that they’ll end up gaining so much weight that they can’t get on their horses.

5. It’s preachy. The constant repetition of the concept of honor, generosity and resisting evil can get annoying. This might not be a problem for the youngest readers but older kids today expect their books to be more sophisticated. When fifth and sixth graders are being encouraged by their schools to read the Hunger Games, a book like this could seem terribly juvenile by comparison.

So, since I can see so many negative elements to this book, why do I like it so much?

The pros:

1. I love the concept of the “Adventurer.” In this world, being an adventurer is a career choice. Certain people are chosen by an oracle (or by fate, as in Alex’s case) to be adventurers. When someone has a quest that they want undertaken, they send the details and the reward to adventure sellers like Mr. Clutter who then sells the adventures to adventurers. Adventurers have contracts and rules, so it’s a very organized system. I find the whole concept entertaining because its potential is limitless. Plus, since quests are the mainstay of all fantasy stories, it’s a parody of the concept as well. Plus, there are other brilliantly funny things as well – the magic bag, for example. Fantasy (especially for children) has a bad habit of ignoring reality; seriously, who is going to be able to carry a giant treasure back to their home? No one can carry enough food on a single horse to manage to make it through months without seeing people (and quite honestly, hunting takes more time than stories allow). Tolkien created lembas bread, Forman decided to create magic bags with expanding rooms.

2. It’s his first book. If I think an author or a book series has potential, I can overlook flaws that I might not overlook in a more experienced author. I did so with the first book of the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan and was not disappointed because later books in the series were so much better (although the quality decreased again towards the end). I am more than willing to chalk up some of the above flaws (like the Tolkien rip-off) to inexperience. I have read the other books in the series that are currently out and while I won’t say that all of the flaws go away, at least the plots become more original.

3. It was fun to read. No matter how cliche, quests tend to make a good, fun story. Ultimately, isn’t that the most important part? I thought of it as candy – I know it’s not very good for me but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

In other words, I enjoyed the book enough to where I can overlook the flaws and happily read the later books in the series. However, if you think this book is horrible, I won’t argue with you.