Sunday, August 29, 2010

Carrie Ryan - The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Book Review)

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Zombie apocalypse came and went, but generations later, there is still a group of survivors left – not that zombies are gone, though. Mary is a teenager growing up behind well-guarded fences in the middle of Forest of Hands and Teeth. Her village, run by the Sisterhood, is in constant danger of being overwhelmed, but Mary has other problems: the boy she fancies decided to marry her best friend and her mother just got bitten by one of the Unconsecrated.

When I first heard about The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I was all 'Yay, another post-apocalyptic book!' and was eager to see how this particular zombie apocalypse turned out. The beginning was not what I expected, though - the setting is interesting, but the world of Forest of Hands and Teeth only works if you don't think about it too much. The zombies (or the Unconsecrated, as Mary calls them) are presented as if they were an unstoppable force of nature, even though it's not clear where they all even came from, seeing how it's been generations since the original outbreak, and they seem to be able to swarm even the most prepared villages. People from Mary's village also seem to have a habit of wandering too near the fences, there seems to be an unlimited amount of fence material and the more I read about how the village works, the more similar everything seemed to The Village. Luckily, this village is not the main focus of the book, but instead only provides a background for the protagonist's various problems and dilemmas.

Mary is a typical teenager – stubborn, a bit naïve and capricious. This was why I had a hard time deciding whether Forest of Hands and Teeth is a YA book or not, because she, despite her age, is also a very non-typical YA character, mostly because not only she's far from perfect, I also find her very hard to empathise with. She rarely speaks her mind and abides by the norms of the society she's trapped in, even though she despises them; any rule-breaking she does seems coincidental. She is quick to notice other people's failings, slow to realise her own and most of the time completely passive. Even though she mentions all kinds of sacrifices she's willing to make, those, too, would require only minimal participation from her (for example, agreeing to a 'scandalous' proposal, but not voicing it). I actually found all that pretty refreshing – I'm used to YA protagonists who are rebellious, active, and all in all the person most teenage readers would love to be. I can't imagine that many teenagers would want to be Mary, but she does strike me as a pretty realistic character.

The other Mary's personality trait that I found atypical was her inability to be satisfied with anything that doesn't go according to her various daydreams. She is unhappy with a boy who fell in love with her because he is not 'the one', and never gives him a chance to prove himself; when she finally gets to be with the boy she supposedly loves, she quickly gets bored and starts longing to fulfill her long-time wish to see the ocean. Where a more typical YA character would realise (probably with a little help from a good friend) that they've been too selfish ans try to make amends, Mary chooses her wish over everyone she knows and leaves them to their own devices and unknown fate.

That's actually what made the book for me and what I liked most about it. Mary is stubborn, unreasonable and selfish, but not annoying; the reader may not agree with her decisions, but has to go along with them. True, the setting (and the zombies) is there only to provide a background and other characters are not nearly as lifelike as Mary - mostly, they're only archetypes (the best friend who grows distant, the older brother who loves her sister despite a grudge, the two love interests who (of course) both fall in love with her, the strict teacher …) for Mary to interact with, but Mary herself is a very nicely written, realistic character; the journey to her realisation of what she really wants is what makes this book well worth reading. I can't wait to see what the sequel (The Dead-Tossed Waves) will bring.



Yet another skipped week. Study time = crazy time.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blogroll Update!

Hey guys, I've been meaning to update the blogroll on Realms for quite some time and now I finally got around to it. I've sifted out the blogs that haven't been updated in more than 6 months (R.I.P) and now have some empty spots to fill. If you think I'm missing an essential or up-and-coming blog that needs to be read, please drop me a line in the comments.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Stephen King - Under the Dome


On a usual October morning, the residents of Chester's Mill find themselves abruptly cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible dome. While most people are concerning themselves with confusion and casualties, some of them have other things on their mind: Dale Barbara is now trapped under the dome with the very people he was trying to escape; 'Big Jim' Rennie plans to extend his already significant influence to hold the town under his control, while his son, Junior, discovers that most problems can be solved with murder ...

Under the Dome starts in King's classic style. The narrative is interesting enough to capture the reader from first moment onward; King perfectly depicts the feeling of a small town where most everybody knows most everybody else down to the mistakes of their grand-grand-fathers. There are plenty of characters, which adds to the small town feeling but can sometimes be a bit annoying since it is fairly easy to confuse people with similar names, especially because not all of them play a significant enough role in Under the Dome for the reader to know exactly who they are.

Along with his usual qualities, King seems to have kept all of his weaknesses as well. He still has a bit of a problem with 'show, not tell' principle – he makes almost no distinction between the behavior of adult people in different age groups. Dale 'Barbie' Barbara, the 30 years old protagonist, could easily be aged anywhere from 40 to 80 – he is described as 'Iraq war veteran' and at first, I was sure he took part in the Gulf War. He doesn't act like a young man who grew up during the 80's and 90's – he doesn't care about technology, his way of thinking and acting is universally mature and apparently, he is into apocalyptic fiction:

“[...] It was built in the fifties, when smart money was on us blowing ourselves to hell.”
“On the Beach,” Barbie said.
“Yep, see you that and raise you Alas, Babylon.”

Not that there's anything wrong with apocalyptic fiction (I'm a fan of it myself), but this little piece of conversation just didn't work for me. It's as if Barbie's different characteristics just didn't add up - he did not strike me as a real person, more like a rough character sketch. Kid characters are a bit more plausible, but there is otherwise no difference in maturity, responsibility and general behavior between the characters aged 20, 30, 40 or more. Aside from that, the characters are wonderfully written, with various life stories, personal traumas and moral dilemmas.

Under the Dome is set in the not-too-distant future; this, from what I gathered, means somewhere between 2012 and 2016. It, however, doesn't seem like the people of Chester's Mill keep up with the times: an iPod is referred to as 'one of those computer-music doohickies', kids born in the 00's wish to be characters from Star Wars for Halloween (again, nothing wrong with that, but it strikes me as a bit odd – why not Pokemon, Hello Kitty, Dora the Explorer, anything that is a bit more recent?). And of course, the gift of blank CD's at the end of the book. Even now, this one must top the chart of lamest gifts for your SO (or anyone, actually) ever, and I can't even imagine how lame it will be in, say, 2014. Sure, King needed these blank CD's for plot's sake, but he could've at least said that they were meant for a 'Back to 2000's' party or something.

Speaking about the ending – it's as sudden and unrelated to the rest of the story as endings in King's books often are. King makes a mess out of Chester's Mill, creates a very tense situation which makes the reader eager to see how it will all resolve. The book, however, ends after a sudden turn of events that erases all the previous problems and leaves a lot of little details unexplained.

Despite everything I've just said, Under the Dome is a very good read. Mistakes and inconsistencies are mostly lost during the fast-paced turn of events – Chester's Mill sees more action in just a few days than other towns see in years, so it is easily to get confused and get the feeling that it's all been going on for ages. Some of the characters also seem to have gotten confused – they act excessively or overconfidently, regarding that they have been trapped under the dome for only a few days. Other than that, characters are (mostly) plausible and full of life, with their own stories and reactions to the sudden isolation. These reactions are what King builds most of his story on, and I must say that it's a pretty good story, worthy of a re-read.



Sorry for not updating in two weeks. I was elsewhere, having fun :P


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