Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Published: October 1st 1998 (print) / 1 May 2017 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Perennial / Bolinda / BBC audio
Pages: 248 / 2 hours 32 minutes
Narrator: Eleanor Bron
Format:
 Audio
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall—named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…

I had watched the movie years before I even knew it was a book, and was glad enough time had passed that I didn’t remember it so I couldn’t compare the two. I listened to this as an audiobook too which was actually a full-cast dramatization from the BBC. That made it a really great experience, aside from the fact they get a bit too detailed and you have to listen to people talk while they’re eating and drinking which for me was super uncomfortable to listen to. The cast did a great job telling the story. It had great voice casting as well as accompanying soundtrack and sound effects. It was a little something extra than a normal audiobook experience.

One thing I found really interesting about this is that it felt like a short story, even though it was a full novel. The whole book had this duel sense to it, it had a simple premise but it felt full whilst reading it, and it felt substantial even when it wasn’t an overly busy plot.

Tristran is naïve in a way, he is in love which makes him idealistic. He doesn’t pick up on cues from Victoria about her lesser interest in him and he is determined to win her heart. On his quest to find the fallen star we see his good nature shine, and we become involved with his story and worry for his safety because there is no telling where this story might go. The unexpected and the cruel happen much like any fairytale story, but there is still a sense of good shining through.

The thing I love about magic is how the rules can be interpreted and how the regular rules of the universe don’t work. I loved the way Gaiman told this story, I loved how magic is used and how the rules of the magical world play out in the human one in different ways. There are twists and turns and for a simple find and recover story, there are intricate subplots happening that intertwine and connect, even when you don’t realise it. This is where Gaiman is good at his storytelling, creating a story that captivates you and pulls you in, without making it needlessly complicated or grand, yet still providing substance and beauty.

One thing which I both enjoyed and was a bit struck by, was the ending. It is great certainly, but it does end rather abruptly. You get a satisfactory ending for the story that’s told, but I feel like more could have been said just to round off the edges better instead of cutting it so sharply. But that may be the way of the fairy tale Gaiman was trying to tell.

When I finished I did sit down with the intention to rewatch the movie, but from the first instance I saw the differences I turned it off. Even if it was a decent adaptation, one of the things I loved most about the book was changed in the movie and I chose to preserve that memory instead. The way Gaiman uses magic was some of the best parts and when that didn’t translate I chose to not continue, though I’m sure it was a decent movie, it was more a personal choice than that it was a poor adaptation.

You can purchase Stardust via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Book Depository | QBD

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Fishpond | Wordery | Angus & Robertson

Chasing Odysseus (#1) by S. D. Gentill

Published: 1st March 2011 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pantera Press
Pages: 353
Format: ebook
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Weak-eyed Hero is the beloved daughter of Agelaus, a Herdsman of Mount Ida, which looms over the fortified citadel of Troy. Hero, raised under the gentle hand of her father, in the protective company of her three wild, but noble, brothers, is ruled by a fierce piety, and tormented by her Amazon heritage. 

The Herdsmen of Ida hold a sacred trust. Throughout a 10-year Greek siege, they have been feeding the citizens of Troy using the secret tunnels that run beneath the fortress walls. Faithful and fearless, they traverse the ancient passages that only they know. Now Troy has fallen, and despite having led the survivors out of the carnage, the Herdsmen are falsely accused of betrayal. 

Agelaus is murdered by the anguished Trojans. The Herdsmen find themselves hated and hunted by both the Greeks and their friends, the people of Troy. They are forced into hiding, labelled cowards and traitors. Desperate to free their people from the stigma of treachery, young Hero and her brothers accept a magical ship from Pan, their beloved woodland god. They chase after Odysseus, the strategist of those who laid siege to Troy. Only he can explain how the Greeks entered the city, and in doing so cleanse the Herdsmen of the stain of treachery. 

I have wanted to read this book for ages and totally forgot I’d gotten a copy from NetGalley (bad reviewer!). What I found though when I did start reading it, was that it was quite underwhelming. I had been so intrigued by this book for ages and heard good things that I genuinely thought I would enjoy this more than I actually did. I like Greek mythology and I like The Odyssey but while this had familiar characters and references, it did not hold my interest. I found myself skimming just to get through faster.

The story begins up in the mountains that overlook Troy with the herdsman Agelaus and his four children; Hero and her three brothers, Machaon, Cadmus and Lychon. We are introduced to their lives as the Trojan War enters its tenth year and we’re shown what life has been like for those outside the city. We learn early on of Hero’s heritage as an Amazon and how she was rejected by them and left with Agelaus because of her poor eyesight and she is adopted into his family.

The main story kicks off with the fall of Troy and Agelaus is accused of being a traitor who helped the Greeks raiders get into the city. This of course sparks outrage and backlash and it falls on Hero and her brothers to clear the name of her father and discover how the Greeks breached the walls of Troy. This of course means chasing after Odysseus in an effort for him to reveal how he got into the city.

The premise of the story seems intriguing enough, but it is the characters that I feel let it down. I didn’t like Hero as a character. I kept waiting for her Amazonian heritage to come into play and have her be some mighty force, even with her poor eyesight. Instead she is subdued and focuses more on praying to the gods than doing much in terms of helping. Her brothers constantly mock her for her devotion to the gods, and I will say I did like the reminder that just like the present day, not everyone believed in the gods. Her brothers aren’t that interesting either. They all kind of mixed into one another and I didn’t feel connected to them at all.

As for the story, I was intrigued by the premise but it just seemed so strange and mediocre. Gentill does well to reference the original story of The Odyssey, following Odysseus after he ransacks Troy and all the places he visits, but aside from that familiarity I wasn’t that interested. Nothing seems to happen, following after Odysseus isn’t very captivating and even though Gentill tries to add danger and suspense, my lack of interest in the characters didn’t make me concerned for their safety or success and following an already established story didn’t add any real mystery as to what might happen next, probably not in the way Gentill expected it to.

There are heartfelt moments and sad moments which tries to give depth to the narrative, but not executed well enough to feel substantial in my opinion. This is only the first book in a trilogy so it is highly possible all the characters will get some kind of development and growth as the story progresses. The only problem with that though is my interest hasn’t been piqued enough in this book to want to keep going with the series.

You can purchase Chasing Odysseus via the following

Booktopia | Dymocks | Fishpond

QBD | Angus & Robinson

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Published: 6th March 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 W. W. Norton & Company
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Neil Gaiman, long inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction, presents a bravura rendition of the Norse gods and their world from their origin through their upheaval in Ragnarok. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki son of a giant blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose, these gods emerge with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

I know that this is a Neil Gaiman book, and Neil Gaiman is a great storyteller, this time, however, I can’t say that is the case. I loved his work for younger kids, Coraline and The Graveyard Book are amazing. But this…it was boring. It was dull and read like an information dump and I couldn’t get into the “story”. I’d read Gaiman’s introduction and heard all the praise from reviews and readers and I was ready to be taken into this world of mythology alongside Loki and Thor and all their misadventures.  I wanted to be thrown into this world and be captured by their charm and cheek and might. But there was none of that. It was dry and needed a bit more substance to make it less like a textbook of names and facts.

I’m sure this was not Gaiman’s intention, mythology doesn’t need to just be “this god did this and then that happened and then this other god did this” which is how this felt for me reading it. A bit of interesting and creative storytelling could have been included to make it read more like a story without losing the well known mythology. I wasn’t expecting it to read like The Odyssey or anything like that, I didn’t need poetic verse, but I thought Gaiman could have made it more seamless and natural, more of a novelisation of these myths. This was not a story, nor was it even a bunch of short stories. It was a weird experience and one that I grew to dislike very early one.

Now, I will admit some parts were funny. I did laugh at a few scenes and lines, and in the end I had learnt things I hadn’t known about Norse mythology. The problem was that by the midway point I was losing interest and resorted to skimming a few stories and going back in for the final few chapters. The disappointing thing was that nothing much of the stories was lost on me since the book just had key points listed one after another I could get the gist of what I needed to learn and the story that was trying to be told.

The final chapters were interesting, Ragnarok being a hard thing to really ruin, but it was the same style of writing that failed to grab me. I chose to focus instead on looking at the bigger picture and thinking back to the entire story as a whole and making my own story and connections to bring the entire mythology to an end. Something maybe Gaiman could have done a bit better himself.

You can purchase Norse Mythology via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks | Booktopia

Amazon | Amazon Aust 

World of Books | Fishpond | Angus & Robertson

QBD | The Nile

 

The Fellowship of the Ring (#1) by J. R. R. Tolkien

Published: 29th  July 1954 (print)/11th October 2005 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt /HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 398/18 discs
Narrator: Rob Inglis
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★  – 2 Stars

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, The Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose. 

First of all, no one in all my years of hearing about Lord of the Rings ever mentioned just how much singing I would have to sit through in this book. The only time I wish I was reading it instead of listening to it was putting up with so many songs. There were five-minute songs in there that were hard to skip on audio, not to mention all the random ones we needed in there about having baths, walking, general merriment, and who knows what else.

Tom Bombadil was also a nightmare to put up with, I was so relieved when his part ended I actually cried out in frustration when he came back. That is not to say the rest of the story was horrible. I actually enjoyed some parts, some parts were genuinely interesting and had that adventure tone to them, and then other times it was just boring.

I wanted to like this story, it started off so interesting and each time I found myself becoming uninterested I felt I was doing this story a disservice. I know people talk about Tolkien being big into description and long-winded things but that wasn’t a real problem, I didn’t mind the walking and the travelling for most of the book, but for some reason the walking towards the end was incredibly dull and hard to listen to and there are some scenes that I think were entirely unnecessary.

I did like the characters though, I liked Frodo and I liked Sam’s loyalty. Merry and Pippin weren’t as silly as I recall them being in the movie and I especially liked the complexity of Aragorn. There is a good story here woven between the oversharing and focusing on that instead is a great way to get through the boring bits. Tolkien came through though with a good and interesting ending, after a dull stretch it suddenly takes off and you are whisked into a great conclusion that makes you want to head straight into the next story.

I am not a huge fantasy reader but I don’t hate the genre, and this is after all THE fantasy novel, the beloved classic, and I am a little surprised, I thought I would like it more than I did. You can certainly see the Tolkien genius, but my goodness you have to put up with a lot of nonsense to get there.

I also realised too late that I should have started with The Hobbit, but there was a prologue recap before the story and there are enough references within the text itself that it is not really needed, but I did feel like I was missing out on something.

You can purchase The Fellowship of the Ring via the following

QBD | Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Bookworld | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Wordery

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Published: 5th May 2011Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Walker Books
Pages: 216
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Connor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Connor.
It wants the truth. 

I had an interesting experience reading this, I was told there’d be a dog in it, and aside from thinking about when this non-existent dog was going to show up, it was a sad and beautiful story. This is not a full Ness original, it was written based on ideas conceptualised by Siobhan Dowd. Having read nothing else by either author I had no idea what to expect but I was not disappointed.

There is so much to love about this book; I love Connor’s fierce bravery and protectiveness of his mum, I love the mystery and the suspense of waiting for the monster and the uncertainty about what it means. I even loved Connor’s frustration. Ness depicts perfectly Connor’s conscious and unconscious desire to be seen, to be punished, to be treated normally. You can sense it bubbling under the surface and Ness builds up suspense slowly with excellent pacing that makes you eagerly turn the page. Ness doesn’t state outright what is wrong with her but there are enough clues to figure it out. The bond between them is evident and Connor’s determination to keep things as they were is heartbreaking but admirable.

The edition I read was filled with wonderfully dark black and white sketches by Jim Kay (the same man who is currently illustrating Harry Potter). These illustrations reinforced the eerie, mysterious nature of the book and Connor’s interactions with the monster. They captured the nightmare feel and the mystical and Kay manages to keep it very simple but still show so much.

As a character, the monster is an intriguing one. He doesn’t seem evil, but he does seem formidable and unforgiving. I really enjoyed his interactions with Connor, and Kay brings him to life on the page wonderfully as well.

This may be a tough book for some people due to the depiction and description of experiencing cancer and the impact it has on the family, but it is also a very important story about it as well. I fully recommend this book to people, it’s a very strong story told very simply and very imaginatively.

You can purchase A Monster Calls via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Book Depository | BookWorld

Amazon | Amazon Aust

QBD | Fishpond

 

Previous Older Entries