Amazingly, both of my sons, aged 8 and 15, and I all enjoyed listening to this story in the car. It's easy to relate to smart-alec Percy, a teenage son of the Greek god Poseidon and a lovely mortal woman from modern-day Manhattan. It's also fun to see such Greek myth characters as a young cyclops, a satyr, the hilarious Gray Sisters, and Hermes still kicking in the modern world.
Over the span of 10,000 years, the author tells the story of the development of civilization in what is now Salisbury, Engand from the time of the British Isle's continental drift from mainland Europe until 1985. Each time period focusses on the day to day life of a few main characters and their descendents as they appear in the centuries that follow. We see first through the eyes of hunters and gatherers, primitive farmers, ancient Celtic chiefs, craftsmen and druids. Then come occupying Roman soldiers, Saxons, Normans, Medieval stone masons, knights and priests. Next we get to know some Elizabethan lords and ladies, Redcoats for the British Empire, and Gentlefolk and farmers during the Industrial Revolution. Finally, the story leads us to military men and women serving during World Wars I and II, and at last to modern day descendents is 1985. All along the way, different characters, hunt, explore, farm, build better homes and devices to make their lives easier, seek meaning from gods and goddesses, express themselves through small works and giant monuments, fall in love, have sex, fight, kill, and make peace. I care more about the historical events as they unfold because I care about the people I have come to know who are a part of them. That is what makes historical fiction so enjoyable. Besides getting to know these characters, it is very intriguing to follow the author's imaginative accounts of the building of the two most enduring structures of the region, Stonehenge and the Salisbury Cathedral. Getting to know the people who built them, and seeing these structures used, abused, modified and revered over the centuries makes them seem like so much more than just a strange group of scattered giant stones or another old English church.
About two thirds into this story I was starting to get very annoyed with the author for portraying most of the women in the book as minor, oppressed characters. The women did start to become stronger as time went on, but I still grew inpatient. One of my favorite women characters was Margaret Shockley, an English lady who lived during the English Civil War of the 1640's. She was left in charge of the family farm estate after the death of her father, as well as in charge of her youngest brother. She also mediated between two of her other brothers who held positions on opposite sides of the war and another brother who was a Puritan. The two brothers who fought in the war die, and the Puritan brother wants to take over guardianship of the youngest brother from Margaret, but Margaret outsmarts him and finds a way to prevent this. The Puritan brother seeks revenge by framing Margaret as a witch, and almost succeeds in having her sent to trial. If she had burned, I would have quit reading the book. Fortunately, she doesn't, thanks to the wits and strength of character of her youngest brother, and the women characters even get stronger from this time period on. It's worth finishing the book.
I enjoyed the narrator's proper British accent, matter-of-fact tone, and mild characterizations. Nothing was too over the top, which could have gotten really annoying, considering the length of this story.
Quite a trip
I frequently enjoy first-person narrative quest stories like this one. The first-person narrative makes it so much easier to connect with and care about the character. This story takes place not too far in the future (2045), and the setting is fairly plausible, given the track our society is on now with regards to energy consumption, waning resources, and increased reliance on internet technology and on-line social interactions. Wade is a sympathetic character who is poor, orphaned and ill-used, but smart and resourceful. It's fun to watch him progress on his quest for the prize, and inspiring to see how the relationships he develops along the way help move him towards success.
Since I was a teenager in the 80's, I watched the movies, played some of the games and listened to a lot of the music that were the obsession of Halliday, the billionare who left his riches and on-line empire to whomever won the complicated quest game that Wade plays in this story. I never thought I would hear of Zork again, but here it is, in a starring role, almost 30 years later! The 80's stuff starts to get a little over-the-top, but if Halliday had Asperger's, I guess it could happen. At anyrate, it was fun to wallow in the nostalgia of it all.
I was relieved to see Wade start to finally find someone/something worthwhile in his real time at the end. It gave me hope that he would find some real happiness of his own, after his disadvantaged begining in life.
My favorite scene is when Wade and Artemis meet face to face. The restrained emotions and realistic approach to budding romance were lovely to behold.
Playing for Real
As the mother of a teenage son who spends hours playing video games and accomplishing little else, the Ready Player One story allowed me to succumb to the fantasy that his time may be well spent, and is helping to prepare him for greatness.
I was expecting a hip new take on Abraham Lincoln with this story, since it divulges how his passion for destroying vampires shaped his career. However, I found the biography parts dull and dark, and the vampire parts to be simply jarring moments of goriness. It didn't work for me, and I'm disappointed to say I stopped listening to it after a couple of hours.
Yes, I said romance, in a Cherie Priest steampunk novel! I haven't really missed it in the other three books since I've been so enthralled with the resourceful, dogged, don't-mess-with-me main characters in the other books in the series. In fact, I've found it refreshing to see strong women and men going after their objects of desire--a son, a father, a war object that could doom a country, a stolen treasure--with such focussed passion, resourcefulness, and intolerance for anyone that got in their way. I've been relieved that they didn't get side-tracked by any silly romance. There were a few hints of interest, particularly in Clementine, but in Ganymede romance smolders for both familiar characters and new ones. It's great to see Briar apparently feeling fulfilled in her roles as sherriff, mother, friend, and...lover. After all she's lost in cursed Seattle, I'm glad it's working out for her. It's poignant to see the exchanges between her love interest, the pirate Andan Cly, and his old lover from ten years ago, a prostitute named Josephine. Although they know each other so well, and are both a bit wistful for what might of been, they know it's over and there is a job to be done, so they do it and move on, going their separate ways to people who suit them better now.
The Zombie scourge still plays a part in this story, and there are still a couple of murder scenes involving zombies eating people and being shot to pieces, but the gore has been scaled back quite a bit from what it has been like in some of the other Clockwork Century books, particularly in Boneshaker and Dreadnaught. It's becoming a more of a widespread public health issue now, so it will be interesting to see how that is managed in future books in this series. Will it become more of an issue than the Civil War? Will other people, like Andon Cly, realize the part they have played in this scourge and be compelled to rectify their actions?
I look forward to catching up with the characters in future books and finding out.
Murder on the Orient Express is a masterful murder mystery that has all the elements of a satisfying read: an elegant 1930's setting on a legendary train; a variety of characters with entertaining quirks; a horrifying murder; and an impeccably mannered genius to sort everything out. The narrator is a very gifted, good-humored actor, who so masterfully performs each character's voice and accent throughout the book that I wonder if he didn't develop some sort of personality disorder in the process. The story itself is quite preposterous, but the characters are so entertaining that I really don't care. Agatha Christie would have been honored to hear such a magnificent performance of her work.
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