Elantris

Elantris

     Elantris was once the city of the gods. The people that lived there possessed great magical powers and beautiful silver skin. The Elantrians healed people and fed them, and the world was good. But no longer. Ten years ago everything changed, and the power that turned people into gods now curses them instead. Those unfortunate souls that are tainted by the Shaod find that their bodies decay and do not heal, but they are unable to die. They live a life of pain and suffering, separated from their loved ones. Elantris is no longer magnificent but instead a broken city, a tomb for the living dead.

     The plot of Elantris is intricate and complicated, told through the intertwining stories of three different characters. Raoden, beloved prince of Arelon, is afflicted with the Shaod and banished to Elantris. Sarene is the princess of Teod and travels to Arelon to marry Raoden, unaware of his plight until she arrives. Hrathen is a Derethi gyorn, a high priest of the Fjordell religion, and arrives in Arelon with the intention of converting its people before his god destroys them entirely. Though their motives and circumstances are different, the actions of these three characters change their world incredibly and irrevocably.

     More than anything, Elantris is a story about questioning one’s beliefs and challenging the status quo. Raoden, like every other citizen of Arelon, believed that the Shaod was a curse and that exile into Elantris was worse than a death sentence. Once he experiences it, however, his opinion quickly changes, and he strives to make a difference in the lives of those around him. Before his transformation, Raoden worked closely with a group of nobles to overthrow the unfair aristocracy his father instituted. His widow, Sarene, sees the oppression of this system and continues her husband’s work to institute a new government in Arelon. Hrathen seeks to bring his harsh religion to the people of Arelon, using his faith as a guise to conquer one of the last free kingdoms in the known world. Certain events force Hrathen to question not only the methods of his god, but also his very faith and allegiance to his people.

     Elantris is excellent, especially for being Brandon Sanderson’s first novel. It is a tale of prejudice and corruption, of war and political upheaval, of gods and men. Elantris poses moral, philosophical, and religious questions in the context of fantasy literature. It should be absorbed and digested with a critical mind, and is by no means to be considered “light” reading. Fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Orson Scott Card’s Ender Quintet will be very pleased with Elantris, and will find themselves intellectually stimulated and entertained.

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The River is Dark

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     Every small town has its secrets, and some are darker than others. For the town of Tallston, long-buried skeletons are starting to claw their way to the surface. Four people have been brutally massacred over the course of a week, and the only survivor is a young boy who witnessed the slaughter of his parents. Liam Dempsey, an ex-detective and brother to one of the victims, takes it upon himself to find out who is ruthlessly murdering the citizens of Tallston. The River is Dark pulls readers out into its murky waters and holds their attention as they’re swept along in its twisted current.

     Liam is a broken man. The only thing he ever really excelled at — being a detective — has been taken from him. He rarely sleeps. He is plagued by constant anxiety. The cause of Liam’s torment isn’t revealed immediately and is instead unveiled throughout the story. Author Joe Hart does an excellent job with pacing and explaining the pain and grief that Liam Dempsey experiences. But despite his heart-wrenching background, Liam just isn’t a character that most readers will find themselves caring much about.

     The unraveling of the plot is well-paced and well-written, despite its occasional holes. For those readers who are veterans of the horror genre, the monster reveal will probably not be much of a shock. Hart does, however, succeed in creating a terrifying villain with an interesting motivation. The action scenes are engaging and the violence, while often over-the-top, adds another dimension of terror to the brutal nemesis.

     The River is Dark  frequently stumbles into clichés and stereotypes. The first day that Liam arrives in Tallston he randomly encounters a long-lost love interest, and, of course, the flame between them never really died out. She proceeds to follow Liam as they go about investigating the horrific murders, and she often finds herself in need of rescuing. The police are completely inept and depend on Liam to solve the case. While being cringe-worthy at times, these things can be overlooked in favor of Hart’s descriptive language and elegant storytelling. The River is Dark is an entertaining and fast read that is sure to satisfy lovers of the horror genre.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

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     The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a novella about Auri, a mysterious secondary character in Rothfuss’ ongoing trilogy, The Kingkiller Chronicle. Auri is a strange, interesting young woman who lives in the tunnels and passages beneath the University. She is nervous and frightened of most people, but is befriended by the main character of The Kingkiller Chronicle, Kvothe. The Slow Regard of Silent Things follows Auri over the course of a week as she hunts for treasures and sets things to right in her dark, subterranean world. It is highly recommended that one read the first two books in The Kingkiller Chronicle before delving into this beautiful novella.

     Auri is a timid, selfless woman who sees life in everything. Every inanimate object that she encounters exhibits feelings and emotions. The doors along a certain passageway are often shy and easily offended. Her most recent discovery, a large gear, is brazen and bold. Every chamber and tunnel and crevice of the Underthing where Auri dwells has a personality of its own. It is her self-proclaimed duty to set right everything in her world, to make sure that all of her trinkets and possessions are content and happy and in balance. In this, the reader can clearly see how utterly broken Auri truly is. In the author’s note, Rothfuss says of her, “Auri knows she isn’t quite proper true inside, and this makes her feel very much alone.”

     The Slow Regard of Silent Things isn’t so much about the story as it is about the telling. The language that Rothfuss uses to convey Auri’s connection to lifeless items is heartbreaking and wonderful. Because of Auri’s tender care, the readers will find themselves more connected to a bottle of peas than they ever thought possible. Rothfuss manipulates words and meanings in a way that is bizarre and alien and breathtaking. He often invents words that just fit into place, much in the same way that Auri finds a proper place for all her treasures. The tale of broken, beautiful Auri is sprawling and dark and terrifying and exciting — a perfect replica of the Underthing where she lives.

     I will be straightforward: The Slow Regard of Silent Things is certainly not for everyone. It is easy to get lost in the labyrinth of language Rothfuss employs. There are those who will put it down and wonder if I’ve lost my mind, the way I’m raving about this crazy and strange story. There are others who will completely agree with everything I’ve said and wonder how anyone could feel differently. This is one of those books. Whether you read it more than once or leave it unfinished out of frustration, The Slow Regard of Silent Things deserves your attention. It is completely unlike anything you’ve read before.

Sixth of the Dusk

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     Sixth of the Dusk is a trapper of the Eelakin people. He was trained by his uncle on the island of Sori, one of the forty-some islands that make up the Pantheon archipelago. The trappers’ duty is to capture and breed Aviar — special birds that grant their owners unique magical powers. At the end of their training, each trapper selects an island where he will employ his skills for the rest of his life. Dusk chose the largest and most dangerous of the islands — Patji, the Father. The Eelakin people worship these islands as deities and burn offerings to buy their graces. The islands are sacred, and the trappers are their priests.

     Patji, and the water surrounding it, is teeming with vicious and deadly creatures. These predators hunt minds, reading the thoughts and emotions of their prey before employing the lesser, mundane senses. Because of this, Dusk is a cautious and wary man. He’s meticulous in everything he does. Dusk is also quite rough around the edges, seeing no need for human companionship and no reason for talk in most situations. His personal Aviar, Kokerlii and Sak, keep him company as well as protect his life with their magical gifts.

     The tradition of the trappers stretches back before remembrance among Dusk’s people, but soon their way of life will be threatened. The Ones from Above push progress upon the Eelakin, visiting them with ships that fly among the stars, promising untold technological wealth. The Ones from Above are sowing the seeds of change, causing many of the Eelakin to no longer be content with the way things have always been. The Ones from Above grant iron-hulled ships and powerful cannons so that more and more people can visit the Pantheon islands, seeking out the Aviar and their mystical abilities. No one seems to know the true motives of the Ones from Above, or if they can truly be trusted.

In a mere 94 pages, Sanderson creates a vivid, deadly, and complicated world. His imagination runs rampant while depicting the dangerous creatures that inhabit Patji such as deathants, nightmaws, and bloodscratches. The magic system he’s constructed is both unique and mysterious, as he reveals only enough about the Aviar and their abilities to leave the reader wanting to know more. Sanderson depicts a civilization at war with itself: tradition fighting against progress and change. Sixth of the Dusk forces the reader to question whether change is a good thing, and whether technology furthers a society or harms it. Can tradition coexist with progress, or must one destroy the other?

Heart-Shaped Box

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     It’s no small wonder that Joe Hill, son of legendary author Stephen King, decided to adopt a different name with which to publish his writing. Living in the shadow of the “King of Horror” must be intimidating, especially for an author set out to forge his own place in the genre. Hill’s debut novel Heart-Shaped Box offers a refreshing, terrifying look into the supernatural realm and establishes him as a prominent voice in the world of horror literature.

     Heart-Shaped Box is primarily about Jude Coyne, a 54-year-old washed-up musician with a penchant for occult memorabilia. He’s a womanizer that uses women less than half his age then sends them packing when he’s done; he never bothers to call them by their actual names, instead referring to them simply by their state of origin. He is impulsive and never takes responsibility for his own actions. Jude blames his abusive father for his calloused nature and proclivity for the dark and perverse. Jude abhors weakness and sensitivity, and there isn’t much that shocks or disgusts him anymore — he made his wealth off the profane and distasteful.

     Jude surrounds himself with broken people and feeds off their pain. His current girlfriend Georgia, whose real name is Marybeth Kimball, is a 23-year-old former stripper. Marybeth was sexually abused by her father’s friend at the age of 13, and she attempted to kill herself upon graduating high school. Jude’s personal assistant and only real friend, Danny, is a subservient kiss-ass that Jude often finds annoying and revolting. Danny’s sister over-dosed on Heroine in her teens, which led to his mother committing suicide soon afterwards. Danny was the one that found her body.

     One afternoon, Danny comes across an item on the Internet that he’s sure Jude will be interested in: a ghost for sale. The woman selling the ghost, Jessica Price, claims that it is the spirit of her stepfather Craddock McDermott, a nomad and self-proclaimed master hypnotist. Jessica’s 11-year-old daughter was the first to see her grandfather’s specter and describes him as possessing terrifying black scribble marks over his eyes. Jessica claims her stepfather’s spirit is connected to his favorite suit, and he will follow wherever the suit goes. Jude buys it immediately for $1,000, and it later arrives in a black heart-shaped box.

     From the moment the suit arrives, it’s obvious that Craddock’s ghost is not benign. Jude and Georgia are tormented by the vengeful wraith in various and gruesome ways. A hypnotist in life, Craddock’s spirit is able to manipulate the living into doing his will by planting his sinister instructions directly into their thoughts. Hill’s depiction of these scenes is impeccable and leaves the reader, just like the characters in the novel, clueless to what is happening until it’s happened.

     Despite the ethereal nemesis that can control thoughts and actions, the novel is not entirely about the supernatural. Heart-Shaped Box tracks the progression and evolution of Jude Coyne as he is forced to examine the choices he’s made and how they’ve affected those around him. Jude sees Craddock’s ghost as a representation of his past sins, and he’s forced to face them or be destroyed.

     Heart-Shaped Box is an intense ride from beginning to end. Hill’s use of descriptive language sets a tone of absolute terror, transforming even inanimate objects into menacing demons. The plot takes several unexpected twists and turns, always leaving the reader one step behind the truth. Hill effectively paces his disturbing story and builds to a gripping finale: an action-packed and revealing sequence of events that will keep you reading late into the night and leave you afraid to turn off the lights when you’re finished.