Thursday, May 30, 2013


Inferno – Dan Brown

Robert Langdon is back to save the world again, although he doesn’t quite know what the problem is, where he is, or how to figure out. Suffering from amnesia that has taken away the past few days of his life, Langdon must make hasty decisions about where to go and who to trust. Dr. Sienna Brooks helps Langdon out of the hospital and on a dizzying race through Florence, but for how smart she is, she does not offer many answers about their situation. Who are the soldiers in black chasing them around the city? Is Langdon’s own government trying to kill him? What does this mysterious plague do and how can it be stopped? As Langdon and Brooks follow a trail through Florence that seems to parallel Dante’s Divine Comedy, they begin to wonder if the mad genius who laid down the path was really trying to create hell on Earth.

As always, Dan Brown writes a fast-paced novel that raises questions until the very last page. With short chapters that never break into double-digit page lengths, the book moves as fast as the narration, jumping between scenes, revelations, and high-speed chases at every turn of the page. And as always, Brown finds a way to take a deeply divided issue and make it gray. Brown creates an indisputable villain, but the only reason he is the villain is because of the methods he chooses, not necessarily his end goal. In “Inferno,” Brown changes position so many times that it is hard to get clarity on who can be trusted, what is happening, and how to proceed, which is not exactly a bad thing. Sometimes, to face unthinkable moral questions, everything has to be made unfamiliar so that the usual black and white cannot define the issue.

I am a huge fan of Dan Brown because his books provide edutainment. Every time you read a Brown book, you learn something about some piece of art, some obscure symbol, or some language puzzle, and it is always combined with a crisis. However, I felt like “Inferno” was more of an art history lecture than a novel. It was hard for me to keep up with the storyline because he introduced a different piece of art or architecture every other paragraph, so when plot points finally began twisting beyond recognition, it took me a while to figure it out. In general, this is a classic Dan Brown book, and if you like Dan Brown, you need to read it. Personally, I think it would have been better to release the book as an app so I could see everything he was telling me about. That way, I wouldn’t have gotten so caught up in the details of angles and colors and instead focused more on which team I am rooting for and why.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin

Winter is certainly coming, but nothing else is as certain as it seems. The Seven Kingdoms, which have been united under one ruler for centuries, are in upheaval after the sudden death of the Hand of the King. Ned Stark, lifelong friend of the King, is appointed the new Hand and must leave his land and part of his family behind to live at King’s Landing and be the voice of the King. Up North, rangers at the Wall are disappearing at an alarming rate, raising concern about what the coming Winter might be bringing with it. And Dany, last of the line of the Dragon, the king killed by the Usurper, has found her own strength to stake a claim for the throne stolen from her family when she was a baby. Everywhere in between, tenuous alliances are held together by half-truths, oaths are sworn and broken, and individual mettle tested in every way imaginable. But this is only the beginning, because Winter is still coming.

In the first book of the Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin, the structure of the Seven Kingdoms is laid out just in time for any semblance of reason, justice, or loyalty to be shattered. As the first book of a (yet to be finished) seven book series, Martin has a lot of information to introduce. The narration jumps between characters in the story, revealing some information while simultaneously raising questions about what is actually happening. This makes for fast reading, which works well considering the amount of foundation he has to set up before he can start breaking it down. Martin writes with ruthless and merciless accuracy, getting across exactly what he means to say and cutting down anyone or anything that prevents him from making a point. Don’t get attached to characters because they won’t hang around forever. He develops his novel with complex and interwoven storylines, adding intrigue with every passing page, which bodes well for the rest of the series. Though he may be blunt, he knows how to keep the pages turning.

“A Game of Thrones” is a mammoth book, and only the first of a series adding up to thousands and thousands of pages. I am generally not a fan of this type of fantasy, and a preface that left me more confused than intrigued didn’t help. Stick with it, though because the book gets really interesting. After spending at least half the book laying the groundwork for his storylines, Martin lets the first piece fall, throwing the whole story into a whirlwind of betrayal, misunderstanding, and illogical action. It may also be helpful to use the map and appendix (which lists all the family lines along with their councils and courts) more often than I did. I read through the first couple hundred pages by sheer brute force, mixing up knights and squires and councilors. It would also help to refer to the appendix because not all the characters have clear loyalties. I love this book because it of its complexity, and it promises to be an interesting series.