Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Finally we’re starting to see some plot appearing in the Dresden Files series!
Though I preferred the previous book as the story was more interesting and coherent (more on that later!), the characters in Grave Peril help keep the plot interesting and build it up nicely to make the foundations of a more intriguing series.
For me, the best bit of the entire book was the first encounter we have with a ghost in the beginning chapters. After that (which is to say most of the book), the story is really let down because it just doesn’t make an awful lot of sense. It feels like the series has skipped a few books and has just landed us with this to compensate, so much so that I checked several times to make sure I hadn’t picked up the 4th/5th instalment of the series instead. I’m assuming this is done to make the plot a little meatier and add more weight to the characters we encounter but it just doesn’t work well. It feels far too ambitious and it casts a shadow on the best bits of this book: the characters and the development of a much larger, more interesting plot.
A definite boost for the outlook of the series is that Dresden is almost a likeable character now! Yes, he still spends too much page-time brooding in self-pity and moral dilemmas, but now he has back-up from the comedy relief that is Bob and the loyalty of our newly-introduced character Michael, we can see him in a much more forgiving light.
Unfortunately, this is still let down somewhat by the female characters – why do they all suck so much? It’s like the author has decided he doesn’t understand women therefore he’ll write them as one dimensional as possible and hope that everyone nods along in agreement. The only female characters that are vaguely interesting barely get any attention in this book and it’s a noticeable gap that frankly, tired me out. It’s a letdown, especially after the male characters were such a huge positive in this book and female characters were finally starting to gain some substance in Fool Moon.
Give this a read if you plan on continuing with the Dresden Files – I get the impression that it’d be hard to make sense of the series if you didn’t have this book as a stepping stone but that’s all it is, a stepping stone and an intriguing, albeit slow and irritating, one at that.
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Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I picked up this book after being semi-intrigued by the Da Vinci Code hype a few years ago (another meh) and then deciding to tackle Dan Brown again after I read Inferno and absolutely loved the book. So you could say I knew what I was letting myself in for – similar plot, exactly the same structure, cheesy lines, awkward academic in tweed, Langdon wears tweed, there’s Harris Tweed in this book, did you know the art history guy wears tweed? Thank goodness, I would never have finished this book if I wasn’t reminded that he was wearing tweed every ten pages. Tweed, Tweed, Tweed.
You get my point? The repetition in this book is mind-numbing to the point where its almost insulting. It’s as though Dan Brown thinks his readers need to be guided very delicately along the mystery otherwise it’ll confuse their tiny brains. This repetition is the case with almost everything in the book, you have the premise nailed into you from the get-go and the great bulk of the 600 or so pages is just made up from repetition.
So now that’s out of the way, we have to talk about the entire point of the book. Religion vs Science – or is it? Yes, that’s basically what’s going on here and while it is an interesting concept, it’s not executed very well and it pretty much eats its own tail in that respect. It could have been so much better.
The characters do very little to help the book – we have the know-it-all Robert Langdon who stars as the supposed expert who figures most of the good stuff out after it’s already happened and is just painfully awkward.
There is the cliché hot smart girl, did you know she’s Italian? You will do, we hear about it at least 200 times whether it’s her ‘exotic accent’, ‘olive skin’ or her ‘Mediterranean body’. It’s just plain cheesy and at times borderline uncomfortable.
These two are the strongest characters, seriously. Don’t get too excited about the rest.
A positive in the book’s favour is that it’s fast-paced but that is helped a lot by the whole thing taking place over one day so how much of that we can really credit to Dan Brown’s writing is hard to judge. It’s exciting, it’s trashy and it’s entirely brainless but it gets the job done and if that’s what you want from a lazy summer read then this will be a good match.
Of course, you could do yourself a huge favour by leaving this book dusty on the charity shop shelf and pick up the far better option that is Inferno.
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Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Brilliantly witty and entertaining, Fool Moon was an excellent step-up in the Dresden Files series from its anti-climactic first book, Storm Front.
The Dresden Files series was recommended to me by a history lecturer I have the utmost respect and admiration for so when I ploughed through the first book in the series, Storm Front, I was incredibly confused and disappointed. However, Fool Moon has managed to completely turn that around as the initially misogynistic, highly unlikeable, arrogant character that is the wizard Harry Dresden, has turned into quite a well-developed and sound guy. I’m not sure at what point this transformation happened but it made this book so much more enjoyable than its predecessor!
Another giant improvement in this book is its plot – it was sufficiently intriguing, action packed and mysterious for a detective novel and though it could be worked out quite quickly, the action alone was enough to keep the reader hanging on to see what would be around the corner. However, this was a double-edged sword as the intensely packed action scenes began to grow tiresome towards the end and it felt like the author was being stretched to fill a word count by adding more and more instead of leaving it well alone while the going was good.
As a standalone book, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the plot very much given how action-saturation it was but again, in view of the progress of the series, it was a refreshing break away from the lengthy description and background information doled out in Storm Front.
The characters in this are all much more developed (and realistic!) than they were in Storm Front, Butcher was careful this time around to add quirky little details which livened up the plot and gave the action scenes a nice emotional boost.
The world-building was also much better, in part because it actually told us information as and when Harry learned it himself rather than him dropping in the piece that solves the puzzle as a conveniently forgotten magical-world afterthought.
Something I enjoyed in Storm Front cropped up again in Fool Moon but this time, instead of turning the book around, it was incredibly frustrating. The action scenes already stretch the imagination to its limit by involving an array of creatures from the Nevernever (that’s the magical world) described with Harry Dresden’s colourful imagery but they begin to happen so often in this book that it’s difficult to pay attention to them or to keep up with Harry’s latest injuries. This gets to the point where the action scenes begin to lose all of their momentum because the amount of suspense building them up just can’t compensate for them getting devalued by sheer quantity. It was a real shame to see my favourite aspect from the last book being overused and ruining its impact in the follow on, I hope the balanced gets worked out as I read the third book in the series, Grave Peril.
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