The Lies of Locke Lamora

Author : Scott Lynch

I find myself shaking my head in amazement, shuddering as I write this. This was one hell of a journey. I started this having finished a few Sanderson books and my head was full of magic systems and I somehow led myself to believe that this book was along those same lines. But as I started reading and finding no hints of any visible sorcery (atleast in the first half), I thought I would be disappointed, but the disappointment never came. I just felt more and more sucked in with each passing page.
Right from the get-go in fact, when “Father” Chains is introduced to the would-be Thorn of Camorr, the grasp of a promised-roller coaster held on tight and never let go. Locke’s weaving in and out of disguises as Lucas Fehrwright, a Midnighter and everything in between, and his camaraderie with the Gentleman Bastards – Calo, Galdo, Bug and Jean was everything I could have wanted in a book if not more. All the minor and “boss” antagonists (Conte, the Capas )are given a believable amount of power and matched well against the protagonists which is more than I can say for many other books which leave you feeling a sense of disbelief at the protagonist’s sudden victory or his/her unfair ease.
Scott Lynch’s writing style of alternating between the present-day-plot and the trainings-in-the-past make for an interesting experience as well. Over the chapters you come to recognise that what he talks about as an episode or a learning in the past will be relevant almost immediately in the chapters to come as an instrument in the present. The language is very rich as well. At many times I found myself marvelling over the exquisite (yet not overly grandiose) construction of sentences.
The story is compelling on its own merit as well, even without the rich characters and detailed world building (Shades Hill, Perelando etc) . We start off with the fleshing of characters, followed by a well crafted masterplan of theft, all of which pale smoothly when you realise what the story is really about – Revenge

I loved it.

Favorite quotes –

(Reveal)
Such was the custom with every note that was sealed in blue with nothing but the stylized sigin of a spider for its credentials. : Chapter 9

(Revenge)
“When you see the Crooked Warden,” said Locke, twisting something in his hands, “tell him that Locke Lamora learns slowly, but he learns well. And when you see my friends, you tell them that there are more of you on the way.” : Chapter 10

(Healing)
“You are learning that what you require and what your frame may endure can be two very different things.” : Chapter 12

Subjective rating: 5.0/5.0

Warbreaker

Author : Brandon Sanderson

“My life to yours, my Breath become yours.”
Breath and colors. That’s what this book uses as tools in an articulate game of War. The central characters are Siri, Vivenna, Susebron, Vasher, Nightblood, LightSong and Denth. None of these names mean anything to you if you haven’t read the book yet. Anyway, the book starts off with the attempt of a treaty fulfilment between Idris and Hallandren, the two cities at the center of this story, the former a minor kingdom desiring to appease the latter. To this end, a princess is to be sent from Idris to Hallandren so a royal heir can be obtained to take over and continue the current God King’s rule. But the king of Idris sends the youngest of his daughters Siri as opposed to the eldest, Vivenna who should have rightfully been sent. This in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but the political unrest that is already present in Hallandren as a result of resident Idrian rebels is what kickstarts the rest of the drama that unfolds. 
And that’s what this really is at the end of the day – a political drama with a magic system that has two feet to stand on its own but when I compare it to Mistborn, the system that revolves around Breath and “Awakening” really didn’t appeal to me all that much. It was a good story, with its highs and lows and suspense-points, but I didn’t have the same kind of high at the end as I did when I finished The Hero of Ages.
What I did enjoy however was the plentiful banter between sets of characters – Lightsong and Blushweaver, Denth and Tonk Fah, Nightsong and Vasher (such as it was). I loved the way he grew the relationship between Siri and Susebron from one of one-sided fear to the stable relationship it culminated in (not a spoiler). And I will say this for Sanderson – he does not leave many loose ends. I’d have liked to know if Fafen ever did anything of consequence , for example. But that is still an itch that is solely in my mind and has no bearing as far as the story is concerned which tied together well enough. 
All in all, a good read. 

Subjective Rating : 4.0 / 5.0

A Man Called Ove

Author : Fredrik Backman

Yes, there are spoilers.

A Man called Ove wouldn’t cry. 
Or atleast he wouldn’t cry as much as I did in more than a few parts in the book.
I thought a Man called Ove didn’t deserve the hype it got, till I finally was handed a copy of the book myself and I gave in. And now it deserves all the accolades it’s received and more. And when you’re done with the book as well, you will remember Ove for all the times he was more human as a fictitious character than the humans we are in today’s world –
When he places his hand on the tombstone…and talks longingly to a wife who was only a memory and a stone now.
When he shows his dad what stuff he’s made of when he decides to turn in the wallet at the station.
When he’s had enough gives Tom what he’s been asking for for a long time.
When he stands up the “Suits” and builds his house all by himself.
When he runs into a burning house opposite his and makes that choice over saving his own skin.
When he loves a girl who can take care of him and loves her more when she can’t.
When he takes a neighbor and her children to the hospital when her husband falls off a ladder, albeit begrudgingly and punches a clown at the place. 
When he teaches her driving.
When he helps a boy fix his bicycle for a girl who might one day become his girlfriend.
When he helps a woman retain the care of a husband (who’s also the closest thing he had to a best friend) whose health is deteriorating and fights off more “Suits” in the process.
When he earns the love of a 3 year old and a 7 year old.
When he takes in a son who’s kicked out of his house by his father for being a “bender” and later helps them reconcile.
When he takes care of an entire locality and sticks to his guns every time…because principles.

I know I’ve omitted a lot of little things that tugged at me. I loved this book a lot and I have no doubt that I’ll read it again. And again. Maybe I’ll read it in a tiny cafe. Maybe on a bus in Spain. Or by a window in my house. But I won’t read it while driving. And definitely not while driving down my road.

Because vehicular traffic is prohibited in the residential area.

And to the friend who slipped me this book and urged me to read it. Thank you.

Subjective Rating : 5.0/5.0

Writing Prompt #1

[WP] You live in a martial art anime universe where the characters announce their moves before executing them. As a deaf character, you announce with sign language, which leads to resentment among your defeated opponents of your “underhanded sneak attacks”.

I’m no stranger to the scowls…to the angry eyes, to the visible yells..But it doesn’t make it any easier. Is this what success is supposed to feel like? I thought winning was a feeling your body celebrated, but this doesn’t feel like celebration. It feels like everytime I win, I sink a little lower into a hole labelled with my initials, a hole I realised I was born in when I figured out that the silence I experienced perpetually was exclusive to me in my family of 10.

My mother, for her part, never made me feel any different. She’d started training me as soon as I was old enough to crawl (she said). Our system of education was unique. We were educated not in Maths or Science as the rest of the World was, but in the form of Kudo. Kudo was the martial arts technique handed down to us by generations of Japanese warriors before us. Our ancestors prided themselves on the art of “lightness”. The best Kudo practitioners were those who knocked down their opponents with the simplest of moves and with seemingly, no contact at all – for example, an expert Kudo move would be a light, but rapid sweep of the foot an inch away from the opponent and the net effect on an amateur opponent would be the equivalent of a blast of wind to the torso blowing him away. Such masters of the technique were awarded the Jupiter belt. But my world of silence helped me concentrate and when I was practicing Kudo, I was in a zone of complete focus. Consequently, at age 7, I was the youngest recipient of the Jupiter Belt.

I shook out of my reverie and looked around at the near-empty, dilapidated dojo. It had been 3 years since the award ceremony to today – the day of the tournament. A giant board hung limply at a corner, but the LED lights declared the next and final round in a bright and bold fashion – “Sushima vs Tenma”.

The road so far had not been easy. Not from a fighting perspective of course; I was better than most of the fighters here, but it always seemed like I was skirting a line – a line that all that stood between “Winner” and “Disqualified”. It didn’t help that my opponents in most of the prior matches kept declaring that they couldn’t understand the moves I was signalling to them – and what else could I do? I could try speaking it out and they Still wouldn’t understand it any better because of my ineptitude in the vocal department! And it wasn’t as if they were being fair to me! I was interpreting their voiced pre-actions via lip movements! That put me at a disadvantage as well! Didn’t they ever consider that? Of course not. “The hubris of the defeated”. They couldn’t come to terms that a 10 year old was beating them and by a margin. Of course they would blame my way of signalling.

[To be continued…]

The Emperor’s Soul

Author : Brandon Sanderson

After finishing the Mistborn trilogy, I was hungry for more of Sanderson’s work, but didn’t want to dive into another series right off the bat and a friend suggested I read this – The Emperor’s Soul and it did not disappoint.
The story is about a young “forger” named Shai, who starts off being captured by the royal faction of a kingdom in the land of Sel whose ruler, Emperor Ashravan, has recently been the subject of a near-assassination. In a bid to restore the king’s faculties, a deal is struck with Shai – she must forge the Emperor’s soul in exchange for her freedom and her personal “soulstamps”. The story is about the hundred days that Shai is offered to go about her task, trapped within a sealed room under the watchful eyes of Strikers and one man, Gaotona, who might be the only redeeming factor in an otherwise politically-motivated, power-hungry retinue.
Will Shai succeed? Well, what really is success to her? This is best left as a journey for a reader to embark upon himself/herself. Brandon Sanderson’s in-depth understanding of humans, emotions and motivations mixed with yet another new system of magic continues to leave me with a sense of wonder and I can’t wait to pick up another work of his.

Subjective Rating : 4.5/5.0

I is for Ignored [#AtoZChallenge]

“Whoaaaaaaa”, he yelled, a sound only he could hear. One second he saw the clear blue skies and in the very next, an expansive patch of brown mud and this pattern repeated as he rose into an arc and his ascent slowed to a halt and then he descended in the same topsy-turvy fashion with increasing velocity before crashing onto a rough surface that was immediately engulfed in darkness. He blinked. He could see nothing for what seemed like ages, but heard muffled voices in a tongue he’d come to understand in bits and pieces – some words more familiar than others. He’d learnt a lot of things over the years. He knew his name was what his handlers called “fifty paisa” , but he was always spoken about carelessly, it seemed, with lesser reverence than others of his kind.

“Heads”, he heard someone call out. And he knew his outing for the day was almost done. A brief glimmer of sunlight when one of the voices would whoop and the other would groan (he’d come to distinguish these sounds over time as well). And back into the recesses of a velcro covered, stifling enclosure he’d go with the rest of his species for company – who didn’t say much but sometimes brushed against him involuntarily. 

He closed his eyes and waited for the familiar scrape of velcros indicating his nap-time. But it never came. Instead, today, he found himself being slipped in a crevice of sorts lined with material he was unfamiliar with. He fell and waited for a landing but he kept slipping further down, grazing a surface, rolling slightly and falling through another hole of sorts for a duration only slightly lesser than the time it had taken him to down the arc moments earlier. “Thump”, he fell face down on something hard and dusty. He whimpered. Again, no one heard him. He waited for some agent to retrieve and return him to his familiar surroundings. No one came. He kept waiting even as dust settled on his side that faced the skies. Once in a while he felt enormous pressure on his backside, but it was always a hurried application that was immediately lifted. Initially he mistook those events to be rescue missions. But they weren’t and he stayed where he was.

After a while, he felt something he hadn’t felt in a long time. He felt akin to what we would describle as …moist. “Patter”. “Patter”. “Patter”. The sound accompanying the object that caused the wetness kept hitting him and eventually he felt himself rising slowly. From his vantage point, all he could see was the surface he had been lying on but from a slight height through a medium he could not explain, but it wasn’t clear. Now this surface seemed to be moving and him along with itself. He felt himself being rocked gently initially – back and forth – and then the surface began pushing him. He kept moving for a while and then fell sharply. Another thump. This time he’d fallen face-up so he could see the new gap he’d fallen from – one among a series of adjacent gaps. By now, the skies had cleared up so he could see the skies but the view was punctuated uniformly by the surface above.

He sighed in resignation. As he felt the moisture slowly abandoning him, so did hopes of his being rescued this time.

Not that it mattered to anyone.

Unbreakable

I don’t watch many movies at home because I lack the patience and 20 minute “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” episodes are so much more fun. But I had some extra time on my hands today and a little more resilience, so I watched –

Unbreakable” – by M Night Shyamalan – I watched this for the first time today, almost 18 years after it was released on 12 Jan 2001. And what a movie it was :O The pace was very slow without seeming like a drag, pausing carefully at every point where pause seemed necessary. It’s the first time I’ve seen Bruce Willis in a non-John McClane role and I am impressed. He’s his characteristic tough-guy self with very few emotions on his face, maybe a hint of a smile once in a while, but it worked. Samuel L Jackson – This guy played the “obsessed comic book nerd wishing for superheroes to be real” to perfection; I even got tired of him at some point, which is more to his credit than anything for playing the unnecessary Messiah brilliantly.

I’ve come to expect very little from M Night Shyamalan and the only reason I even watched this movie is because I found out that it was a precursor to Split after I watched it (I know). But it’s somewhat redeeming(?) in a sense to know that he has made some good movies in the past, Unbreakable being one of them. Right from the first train scene to tying in the stories of Elijah and David (Jewish lore connection?) and a stunning revelation at the end that takes it to that next level.

I loved this movie and I can’t wait for Glass (2019). Coz almost scene in this movie made me feel like there was a borderline horror movie – like there was something unexpected that would happen at …any…second – like someone was standing behind me with a hand on my shoulder, creeping up my neck and low-key choking me, but from inside.

Or maybe that’s the cough and cold I’m currently suffering.Oh well.