Red Seas under Red Skies

Author : Scott Lynch

Disclaimer 1SPOILER ALERT
Disclaimer 2 – I had no frame of reference for comparison in the previous book. This time I do. And I intend to make full use of the privilege. There will be multiple references to “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, hereby abbreviated TLoLL.


I started this as soon as I was done with book #1 in the Gentleman Bastard series and that’s saying something about how captivated the first book’s world building left me that I didn’t want to get out of it. This, the 2nd book in the series was very good as well. Did I like it as Much as I did Book 1? No. But it still stood well on its own. Feels familiar to how Well of Ascension was in comparison to The Final Empire (Mistborn #2 and #1 respectively.)
If TLoLL had us following Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen solely on land, this time their time was distributed between both land and sea. The book opens to a present-scene of confrontation and double-crossing (Scott Lynch wastes no time) and then we’re taken to a time when their previous story ended and this one began – aboard a ship sailing for Tal Verrar from Camorr. As in TLoLL, here as well, we have multiple timelines being narrated – a timeline of preparation for their activities and setting the stage for the “play” they mean to enact around unsuspecting characters and another timeline 2 years hence where the trickery is afoot. The main antagonists, so to speak, are Requin & Selendri and Maxilan Stragos and Merrain.
Initially all Locke and Jean wanted to do was hoodwink Requin at the Sinspire and escape, but they find themselves unwillingly at the mercy of Stragos after the latter poisons them and enlists them as his contractors, giving them the task of stirring up trouble from the seas and bringing back piracy to Tal Verrar, so that he, Stragos could defeat them using his navy and seem victorious in the eyes of the city, so as to seem in control as opposed to his current shunted standing. This puts quite the dent in Locke and Jean’s plans, so they have to improvise their plans to factor this new development and Locke decides to do what he does best – pretend to be a double agent, trying to gain the favors of Requin to beat Stragos, who the Master of the Sinspire does not like either. 
Following this brief bit of initial setup on land, the duo are sent to sea to pretend Captain and First Mate of a ship called The Red Messenger, assisted and directed behind the scenes by an actual seamaster, Caldris. Unfortunately Caldris dies while they are at sea and they are found out by the crew and mutinied. 
This is the first of admittedly very few hints of convenience I felt Scott Lynch exploited as he introduced Captain Drakasha and her ship, the very people who the Archon needed as pawns for his plan, into the mix, with no real struggle on Locke and Jean’s part except a few hours of sailing on a boat.
Aside from that and a couple other mild issues, I felt the overall plot was well done and tied together. The finesse of TLoLL was missing as was a lot of the banter and Father Chains, Calo, Galdo and Bug were missed. There was also a gaping hole in the non-usage of an “ally” they picked up as they were training for their tower-jumping escapade at The Sinspire. But I’m sure that was a calculated move.

Locke had set himself up to be the primary antihero in TLoLL. Here we see Locke a lot in the background as compared to Jean. Then again, this can be argued to be a plot feature illustrating Locke’s mood and possible post-trauma effects inflicted upon him because of his losses and his wounds. To that end, the romance between Jean and Ezri Delmastro and the focus on their relationship was a pleasant introduction and read; not at all overly mushy as these scenes tend to be. What I also liked was how Scott gave the series a strong female character in Drakasha. I loved the chapters where was in focus and her way of balancing a ship as well as her role as a mother. The touch of insistence that a cat and a woman were necessary for a smooth sailing and several minute details were also very welcome.


One thing I noticed particularly was how we see Stragos’ mind at work in one of the chapters – his perspective was given importance. We’ve been used to seeing only the protagonists’ perspectives thus far. This also set the tone for Merrain as a far more important player than she portrayed herself to be, which was evident when she escaped despite Jean and Locke’s efforts and plans. 
Another thing that I loved was the consistency in the relationship between Jean and Locke; they remained thick as …well..thieves throughout, even with that one minor argument they had that they bounced back from relatively quickly, ego suppressed and all that. Well done. And Locke’s act in the final scene was lovely. Sealed the deal and all that.

I won’t tell you how the book ends for two reasons – If you’ve read it, you already know. And if you haven’t, I’d rather you discover this bit for yourself. I can’t rob you of that pleasure even if you did sign up for the spoilers.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading The Republic of Thieves for 3 reasons – The Bondsmagi of Karthain, Sabetha’s arc and to see if Locke escapes the clutches of death again.

PS – Learnt a lot about ships and nautical terms in this book. Good, that.

Subjective Rating: 4.0/5.0.

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

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

Mistborn — The Final Empire — Thoughts (1/n)

This post was originally published on Medium on Sep 13, 2018 and has now been migrated here because Medium sucks.

I’ve been putting off starting a fantasy fiction saga like this for a long time now; the only ones I remember reading prior to starting this have been Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings; and that was a decade ago. Since then I’ve read a few hundred books but they’ve all been standalone novels. The only thing that comes close to a series since then was the Millenium Trilogy by Steig Larsson but that doesn’t fall in this category. My reasons for not having ventured into these waters again are frankly, juvenile — chief among them and the only one worth mention being the fear that nothing will come close to the aforementioned works, which is, if the rest of the reading populace is to be believed, a blatant fallacy.

But earlier today, after finishing yet another standalone work — “Bad Blood” about the infamous scandal that was Theranos, I decided to start with one among the many options in fantasy fiction series available. My shortlist consisted of Malazan, The Kingkiller Chronicles, Mistborn and The Dark Tower series. When I posed this “dilemma” to my book club, two of my trusted friends independently and almost simultaneously suggested I start with Mistborn and the decision was made.

I started reading it with some residual apprehensions and was pleased to see them gradually fading away with every passing page. So far I’ve finished 15% of the book and these are my thoughts along with a summary of what has happened so far —

The prologue starts off with a nobleman, Lord Tresting in the presence of an “obligator”, an inspector of sorts overlooking a land where the “skaa” he owns (his slaves) are toiling away. Tresting comes off an obsequious worm, who wants to please the obligator and make sure everything is as desired by the latter. While scanning the land, he notices that one of the usually subservient skaa is looking back at him with defiance ..or so he thinks because at second glance, the offending party seems to have vanished. Tresting doesn’t pay it much thought….He probably should have because it turns out that this figment of Tresting’s imagination was actually a rogue flitter skaa named Kelsier, who’s been roaming from camp to camp inciting rebellion wherever he goes (and he has a hidden agenda). While in conversation with the rest of the skaa his speech is interrupted with loud screams from outside the camp. This is the first time that we get a glimpse of Kelsier’s “powers”. He “burns tin internally” and is able to enhance his hearing. He understands that a young girl skaa is being taken advantage of by Tresting and is determined to do something about it despite the pleas of the rest of the skaa as it would only, they said, lead to more trouble for them. I won’t divulge what happens in the remainder of the prologue to avoid spoiling any of it. Suffice to say, the chapter ends with Kelsier leaving the skaa and heading to the city of Luthadel.

Chapter 1 introduces us to a girl, Vin in Luthadel, who’s recently lost her only trusted companion — her brother Reen — and works for a thug named Camon and they plan to pull off a job against an obligator and his higher-ups with the help of another local thug — Theron. Vin, has a power called “Luck” that she can use to soothe people when they get angry and Camon, while oblivious of her power, still keeps her around because somehow his plans seem to work out in Vin’s presence. The first meeting with an obligator seems to work out in Camon’s favor but Camon ends up doublecrossing Theron and going over his head to the obligator with Vin himself for a second meeting; only, this time they cause a suspicious obligator to set a tail on them. Kelsier, meanwhile meets up with a friend of his named Dockson and tells him of his plan to assemble a crew because he wants to pull off a big job. This involves him having to rescue Vin from the clutches of her overbearing master -Camon. In hindsight, this was a trivial task for Kelsier. Where I am in the story so far is that Kelsier’s rescued Vin and told her something important about her. Intrigued and wanting to learn more, Vin, apprenhensively agrees to join his team that also consists of a Smoker, a thug who can round up other thugs and a few Mistings. Their plan is to….well, I’m going to retain a bunch of spoilers for the next article, including some part of the story so far that I’ve deliberately left out.

What interested me most was the amount of pop-culture relationships I felt myself drawing as I read through the book. Kelsier’s lost his wife Mare and he broods her absence as he stands on a rooftop before a job, looking at the city absently. This felt akin to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Inception who loses his wife and is left in a similar setting. Also, when Kelsier approaches Dockson and tells him he’s assembling a team, it felt like a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean : The Black Pearl when Captain Jack Sparrow approaches his friend and co-pirate Joshamee Gibbs for the same reason. Also, Jack, like Kelsier, is always of a cheerful disposition, is very respected by his crew (to an extent) and always has a plan up his sleeve. Thirdly, the mention of a 11th element that can be used to destroy the Lord Ruler felt like the mention of The One Ring and the destruction of Lord Sauron in LOTR. Anyway, I’m sure that’s where the similarities between Mistborn and pop-culture end, because the whole concept of Allomancy feels novel and extremely fascinating.

This article was never finished, but the book and its sequels were completed in their reading before 2019 began, and I absolutely loved them.

Armada

Author : Ernest Cline

This book, the second work that Ernest Cline produced in 2015, “Armada” is at best an average read, if read with regular remembrance that “Ready Player One” was a good book. The story traces the life, well, a few days in the life, of teenager Zack “ZackAttack” Lightman, who likes to play video games and beat up bullies. His father died shortly after he was born, but he left behind his legacy of video games and the same passion for games and everything “pop culture”, in Zack. Everything changes for Zack when one day, he’s picked up by a giant military flight manned by his third best friend on Earth and owner of local videogame store, Ray and tells him that he’s been recruited by an international agency called the “EDA” to save the world from war aliens from the moon Europa. I would go on, but at this point, I feel like spending more time describing the “plot” of the book would be just as much time wasted as it was reading it. But here are a few things wrong with this book and they are primarily and probably due to the expectations stemming from Cline’s first work – “Ready Player One” –
a) Too much name dropping. The number of pop-culture references are sickening and probably sufficient to cover three chapters worth of content on their own.
b) Unnecessarily detailed and drawn-out explanations of certain events
c) “Plots” drawn here and there from the likes of Deception Point and Ender’s Game.
d) Even things that seem like they’ve been written to evoke surprise fail to impress.

If there’s one thing that can be said for the book, it’s that it does not glorify the protagonist. No one can claim that Zack is portrayed as a winner through and through. He wins, (this is not a spoiler), but only eventually, after he’s had his share of falls.
Oh and the way I read this book was by listening to the audio book read by Wil Wheaton And by reading it on the Kindle when I could. So, if nothing else, Wil Wheaton is amazing as a narrator.
Those are the only two reasons to want to pick up this book.

Otherwise, you should just pick RPO again coz that would frankly be time better spent.

Subjective Rating: 2.9/5

The Devotion of Suspect X

Author : Keigo Higashino

The first time I heard about the existence of this title was on a train ride on the way home from work. I saw someone reading a book and brushing courtesy aside, poked this person and asked him what he was reading. He showed me the cover and I went “Aaah”, not knowing what to make of it. His brief displeasure at being disturbed seemed to have vanished, because he went on to tell me that a then-popular Malayalam movie “Dhrishyam” had been inspired by that book. I had watched the movie and its translations in other movies, so I was intrigued. But the train journey ended and so did my thoughts about the book. Then, recently there was an offer on Flipkart on a bunch of books of which this was one too. So I bought it and I’m glad I did. I started reading it the very day I received it.

The story begins with a divorced woman, Yasuko Hanaoka and her daughter, Misato just leading a normal life with an unremarkable mathematician, Tetsuya Ishigami for a neighbor. But life cannot be allowed to be led normally, as these things go and the ex-husband, Togashi starts poking around in Yasuko’s life. One day he goes to her place of work to try and extort money out of her and is told to come to her house in the evening. But things get out of hand and a threatened Misato and Yasuko end up killing Togashi. Even as they’re trying to figure out what to do next, Ishigami (who secretly harbors love for Yasuko) arrives at their doorstep and subtly offers to help them take care of the situation, by disposing the body and advising them on a bunch of other things that need to be done.

Togashi’s body is eventually found and a full on investigation starts with Detective Kusanagi at the helm. He is aided by a Physics professor, Dr. Manabu Yukawa. It turns out that Yukawa and Ishigami had studied at the same university and were in fact friends back in the day. What follows is a lot of probing of alibis of those involved, all of which seems iron-clad thanks to Ishigami’s thorough planning. Yukawa meanwhile has his own line of investigation and collaborates a lot with his old friend, Ishigami, all the while suspecting him but also wishing that his fears go unfounded.

The title refers to Ishigami as the Suspect X, his devotion to Yasuko, unwavering even at the last minute when he’s forced to do something no one would ever do for another human being. The book, despite following a simple plot never trips at any juncture and the reader is left wanting more.

Till the end, I felt that Ishigami, for all his brains had let his heart overpower him in his decisions but Keigo turned it around beautifully by explaining his reasoning for doing so in just a few lines. And I understood why. Till the end, I felt Yasuko was being selfish by not turning herself in and towards the end, she did. And I loved that too. It was really painful to see the brilliance of it all not working out, the calm, rational methodology not triumphant. But I guess that’s how justice should work. It Should be infallible 😦

Subjective Rating : 4.5/5.0

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Author : George Orwell

This book was a roller coaster of emotions, culminating in the equivalent of a huge tidal wave crashing against a boulder, scattering into indiscernible droplets of water. The story describes a dystopian world (or is it?) where every action of every individual in the land of Oceania is monitored by an all-seeing, all-knowing body called “Big Brother”. The system is one devoid of free thought and speech, the very first scene opening with scenes of hatred towards the only attempt at a revolting entity (Goldstein). Amid all this, there are still those who understand that this is not how the natural order of things should be, that they should not be rewriting history to match the present or the past predictions of Big Brother, that people should not be “vaporised” for committing thought crimes and the story follows one such individual — Winston. His journey from cautious citizen to a reckless revolutionary is a breath of fresh air in the suffocating environment of Oceania, as he finds a cohort in the plucky, young Julia. Together they dream and scheme and believe they aren’t alone, and find this to be true when they meet O’Brien. 


And just when you think the uprising just might be successful, that there just might be a chance that the underdogs shall prevail….. George Orwell picks up your heart, puts it in a box, drives a nail through it and smashes the box with a hammer, burns what’s left of it and scatters the ashes in a meadow where a cool breeze blows them away…

Subjective Rating: 5.0/5.0.