Oppel, who I knew previously from his delightful Matt Cruse adventure series, takes a decided turn into true darkness with this imaginative and appropriately frightening prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Do you have to have read the original to appreciate this book? Not really. Although I think some things may hit a reader a bit more if they know exactly what is to come later in the lives of the characters.
In Oppel's vision of young Viktor Frankenstein, he is a complex boy who feels both great love and great jealousy for his twin brother Konrad. This conflict is a driving force in much of what he does, wanting to be better and better loved. His brother's mysterious illness spurs him to pursue the study of alchemy, in spite of their father's warnings that it will all come to no good.
Of course, the greatest conflict between brothers is their beautiful cousin Elizabeth. As in the Matt Cruse books, the female lead is much more than an object of desire; she joins Viktor in his dangerous quest to gather the ingredients for an elixir that will supposedly save his brother's life.
The last third of the book is particularly frightening, mostly because of how it shows how obsession can drive someone to do the most extreme things in the name of love.
If you like a dark adventure story with memorable characters, then this is just the book for you.
Most sequels pick up where the last book left off, but that doesn’t quite happen with The Twelve. Cronin finds a clever way to bring readers back up to speed in the beginning (I won’t say how) and briefly lands five years after the events of the previous book.
Then he goes back to Year Zero, when the plague of “virals”–vampire/zombie-ish creatures created in the lab–was unleashed on the North American continent.
The characters he follows are some we’ve met before, including some whose fates seemed a foregone conclusion. Turns out, we were wrong. The new characters in this part of the book seem disconnected from the story so far, but keep reading, because everything turns out to be connected.
That’s not to say this part of the book is boring or a trial to read, far from it. As in the first book, the collapse of this world is incredibly gripping and his characters are fascinating. The reader’s patience–because we waited SO patiently for two years to find out what happens next–is richly rewarded, both by finding out what happens to the characters in Year Zero and by how the story continues 97 years later.
Mr. Cronin certainly knows how to keep things from proceeding in a predictable manner. He also has a remarkable talent for creating characters people genuinely care about. When he “killed off” a major character in the first book (yes, the quotes are there for a reason) it was hugely controversial, mainly because he was such a beautifully conceived character. While the book has some truly evil characters, almost all are given moments of complexity.
I felt a major theme of the first book was how goodness is not always sufficient in battling evil, as good people helped create the crisis by the sin of omission, or by waiting too long to act. In The Twelve, the theme of redemption runs through the story, as several characters try to right many wrongs, including some they helped to create. Another running theme is the relationship between parent and child, as several characters lose or are separated from their children.
Consequently, this is a book populated by many sad and lonely characters, including some of the monsters, who aren’t quite as monstrous as one would assume. Some are going to break your heart. They sure broke mine.
Scott Brick, as always, gives a stellar performance.
I'm a little puzzled by people who think this book is a "difficult" read. The only section that I found somewhat challenging was the post-apocalyptic era story, where the narrator uses a pigdin dialect of English. I soon got used to it, though.
Literary fiction is not my usual cup of tea because I find that rather than tell an engrossing story, the writers spend too much time on elegant prose. But this is a marvelous example of gorgeous prose married with superb storytelling. There's drama, adventure, romance, tragedy--even moments when it's laugh-out-loud funny.
I loved the characters, I loved the subtle and overt ways that the six sections connected to each other. I loved how the power storytelling itself is a recurring theme, as each subsequent character experiences the story of the previous one in some form--a journal, letters, musical composition, a novel, a movie, etc,
The performances are top-rate. It just doesn't get better than this when it comes to audiobooks.
As a huge fan of The Mars Trilogy, I was very excited to find out this book takes place in the same universe, so to speak. The sample first chapter really caught my interest, as it takes place on Terminator, Mercury--the city where one of the most memorable scenes in Blue Mars takes place. But in the end, the book did not captivate me even remotely as much as those previous books.
Partly it may be because of erroneous expectation on my part--I expected another epic story with complex multiple characters. 2312, instead of being a multiple protagonist story, is focused mainly on one character, Swan Er Hong. And therein lies the first problem: she's just not very interesting. In the Mars Trilogy, Robinson created some smashing female characters, very complex, very flawed. Swan is no comparison to Nadia, Maya, Hiroko, Anne, Jackie and Zo. Instead of being complex and flawed, she comes off as a bit of a pill.
The other characters are also not very interesting. Supposedly, there's a love story here, but it didn't resonate with me.
The tone of 2312 is far more pessimistic than the Mars Trilogy, perhaps because we're living in a more pessimistic time than when the Mars Trilogy was written. The story is not entirely hopeless, but it's still kind of a drag to think that even 300 years into the future, Terrans will be just as short-sighted as many are now. Especially since Blue Mars left us with a more hopeful vision of the future.
As usual, Robinson includes a ton of science that is very interesting, but without amazing characters and story, it comes off as very dry. There are some amazing moments, such as the description of Manhattan post-flood, and the reintroduction on Earth of extinct animals that have been bred in space. However, for the most part, it is a bit of a slog.
The performance is adequate (she's at least a better reader than the fellow who narrates the Mars Trilogy) but nothing special.
Well, I guess this just wasn't my cup of tea. One of my gripes with some fantasy books is that they are TOO fantastical. As far as I'm concerned, The Scorpio Races has the opposite problem--not fantastical enough. It was grounded too much in the mundane. I had a hard time accepting people racing killer horses that come from the sea, while living in a world that seems to come right out of a 1950s movie set in rural Great Britain.
Another problem was character and motivation. Most of the characters were quite dull, IMO, including the two main characters. I had a huge problem with Puck's motivation for entering the race. Her older brother announces to his orphaned sister and brother that he's abandoning them and she automatically decides to enter a race with man-killing horses. No arguments made with her brother, no other options considered, just--BOOM! She's going to enter the race. I could only believe such a thing if other avenues were cut off from her for some reason.
Stiefvater has a real talent for evocative prose, which is nice, but not the main reason I read a story. About a quarter of the way through the book, I gave up.
I also was not that impressed by the performances, especially the male reader. He's an excellent reader, but sounded far too old for the role of an 18 year old.
I adored Bazell's debut novel, Beat The Reaper. The fresh, distinctive voice of the main character, an ex-hitman in the witness protection program studying to be a doctor, was a flat-out revelation. Like Carl Hiaasen and the Coen Bros., Bazell has a talent for taking wacky situations and bizarre characters and weaving them into a truly unique story. Practically the minute this book was available on Audible, I downloaded it. I could not wait to re-enter Bazell's world.
Pietro Brnwa, aka Peter Brown, aka Lionel Azimuth, is still on the run from mobsters who want to kill him. He is plucked from a rotten job as a cruise ship doctor by a "reclusive billionaire" who wants him to join an expedition to a remote lake in Minnesota to investigate the possible existence of a serpent-like monster. Yes, you read that right--a "lake monster" in the vein of the Loch Ness monster, that may be a leftover from the dinosaur age. He is accompanied by a possibly alcoholic (and, of course, attractive) paleontologist named Violet Hurst.
I'm going to stop right there as far as outlining the plot, because to reveal too much would spoil it. While in some ways it's a more conventional mystery plot than the first book, don't worry--there's still plenty of great banter, hilarious observations by Pietro/Peter/Lionel, wild plot twists and out-there characters.
Bazell does present some very strong political views, very pro-science, which will no doubt turn off some readers. This includes a mind-bending cameo by a real-life political figure that is still making me laugh (though I'm pretty sure some will not see the humor in it).
Robert Petkoff does a stellar job with the narration--he gets the snarky tone of the character just right.
I just hope Bazell doesn't make us wait another three years for the next book!
It's been a long time since I've been this excited by a Stephen King book. 11/22/63 is a beautiful example of how genre fiction can tackle the big ideas and small personal stories we usually associate with literary fiction while weaving these elements into an epic and thrilling adventure.
Alternate history, what-if, time travel--call it what you will, this is a story about those things but also about much more. The fantastical element here is not horror for a change, though one can argue that the monster in this story is time itself. The water-shed event bearing down on our hero as he inevitably becomes more and more emotionally involved in his new life gives the story an aching poignancy.
Craig Wasson's narration is superb--weary emotion, like that of a man who has traveled a long, hard road, punctuates nearly every line.
This is my favorite King book since The Stand, and it's a serious contender for knocking that fine book from the number 1 spot on my list.
Bravo, Mr. King, bravo.
Everfound is the final book in Neal Shusterman's fantastic Skinjacker series. The setting, as in the previous books, is Everlost, where the souls of children who didn't make it into the light after death abide until they're ready to move on, Once the leader of many of the children, Mary Hightower believes she is "saving" the children by preventing them from moving on. As the story opens, she hibernates after her second death in the living world.
Her diabolical plans, not only for living children, but the entire living world, are ready to be executed by her enthralled minions. Her enemy Allie is in their clutches. Mary's brother Mikey and her erstwhile love Nick are on a mission to rescue Allie, but are captured by a "scar wraith" who can extinguish their existence with a single touch. Jix, a "furjacker" who can inhabit the bodies of animals, adds his own agenda to the mix.
And that's just the beginning of this remarkably inventive and thrilling adventure. It simply took my breath away. The ending is bittersweet but highly satisfying. Nick Podehl does an outstanding job with the voice characterizations. Don't pass this series over if you're not a kid--these books are great for everyone from pre-teen and up!
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