Off the Shelf – Vampires, Demons, Aliens, and Gods

As usual, I am constantly reading something and I haven’t had a chance in a while to talk about what I’ve been reading, so here are a couple of quick reviews on the last few books I’ve read.

First up, is Children of the Mind, the fourth book in the Ender Saga by Orson Scott Card.  I reviewed the first three of these a few weeks ago.  Originally intended to be part of the same novel, Children of the Mind is a direct sequel to the previous book Xenocide, following directly where the last one left off.

It is a nice conclusion to the problems introduced not only in Xenocide but also those in Speaker for the Dead and it even connects back to the first story, Ender’s Game.  Although stylistically it felt a lot like Xenocide, it was a much quicker read.  In my last review, I described how each book had a unique theme; politics/war, archaelogy/anthropology/ecology, religion.  This time around, the theme seems to be philosophy, which ties nicely with the theme of religion in the previous book.  More specifically, the book deals with the idea of the individual and society, and examines both what makes an individual and how the individual influences the decisions of society.  While this is definitely the dominant theme, because this book sort of ties up the story, it also touches on the themes from the previous books.

Overall, very happy with these books and I look forward to reading the Shadow saga next.  I’ll be back with a review of those after I’ve finished all four.

Next up is Promenade of the Gods by Koji Suzuki, author of the books that spawned the amazing Japanese horror movies Ring and Dark Water.  While still very much a thriller, this time around Suzuki leaves behind the horror genre for a mystery novel.

The story starts off when, after suddenly walking out on her several weeks before, a woman’s husband calls to tell her he can’t live with her anymore.  Left alone with a child she decides to contact a childhood friend of her husband’s for help.  Together they slowly discover that there may be more to his disappearance then just a loss of love.

Although set in modern times and written in modern language, this book really reads like an old noir detective novel, with all of the twists and turns that go along with it.  In addition to the mystery story, the story also draws from the numerous “new religions” or cults in Japan.  It’s a very fun book and a very quick read that I can definitely recommend for fans of mystery novels, especially old Raymond Chandler books, and even more so if you are familiar with life in Japan and the strange “new religions” in Japan.

The last two books are from Darren Shan, author of the popular Cirque du Freak books; one ending and one beginning.  Let’s start with the ending…

Hell’s Heroes, the last book in the Demonata series by Darren Shan.  Rather than talk about the last book in a series I never wrote about before, I’ll just vaguely discuss the series in general.  These books are about demons (known as Demonata in this series) breaching into our world and causing chaos while a group of magicians (and werewolves) fight back.  There are lots of interesting people in his world and the narrator of the books jumps between the three main characters which keeps it interesting over the 10 book series.

That being said, I wasn’t hugely thrilled with these.  Let me begin by saying that these book are definitely written for a teenage audience, and it shows.  Now, I knew that going in, but I had really enjoyed his Cirque du Freak books and regularly enjoy children’s literature (the Harry Potter books, Rick Riordan’s Olympian books, etc…)  This series just seemed a bit empty in comparison, lacking quite a bit in plot.

It started out well, and the first few books were really good, but then it sort of devolved into books that were basically written to describe big battles between magicians and demons (with werewolves thrown in later).  Granted each book is only about 200 pages long, but I felt like it should have been 3-4 slightly longer books with a bit of the battle stuff cut and the main plot focused on a bit more.  Though I can see a teenage kid really getting into the gruesome battle stuff.

The ending was pretty interesting though, more than just the usual good triumphs over evil that you’d expect in a series like this.  So in the end, while I would rave about these and convince people to read them, they read REALLY quickly and make for a nice mindless, fun read when you’ve got nothing better to read.  Now, of course, if you’re a teenage guy, pick these up, you’ll definitely enjoy!

This next book by Darren Shan, Birth of a Killer, is not only the beginning of a series, it’s the beginning of the beginning; the first book of the new Cirque du Freak prequel series.

Let me begin by saying how much I enjoyed the Cirque du Freak series.  For the longest time, while living in Japan, I noticed so many of my students (particularly the guys) reading these books, and I had never heard of them, so I decided to check them out.  They offer  a great new take on the vampire mythology that is so much more fun than the goofy and girly Twilight series (though to be fair, I’ve never read the Twilight books).  Not only do they offer an interesting take on vampires, they also delve into the world of the traveling freak show and are generally really well written.  Can’t recommend them enough if you like vampires and children’s literature (well, more young adult, these are a bit violent for children).

Anyway, this book, Birth of a Killer is the first book in the new Saga of Larten Crepsley series.  Flashing back hundreds of years prior, this follows the childhood of Larten Crepsley, Darren Shan’s (the character, not the author.  Yes, he named him after himself…) vampire master in the original series.  Long story short, same great universe, same easy to read writing style, but this time rather than being set in the modern world is set before the days of the industrial revolution.  Definitely worth a read, though I recommend reading the Cirque du Freak books first, and I would imagine if you like them, you’d read this even without my suggestion.

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