The Last Door Stands Always Open

Standard

Nothing compared. Not the wait for Breaking Bad’s final season. Nor the twenty miserable years before becoming a “man”. Hell, not even the two hours stuck in traffic while having to take a massive…you know. There has been nothing more excruciating in my life than the two year wait for Joe Abercrombie’s new novel, Half a King.

Abercrombie last published a book back in 2012, the fantastic fantasy/western Red Country. Financially it’s the best work he’s done so far (although I’ll always be partial to The Heroes. That book is a masterpiece as far as I’m concerned). After topping the New York Times bestseller list, Abercrombie seemed to be on top of the world. Fans were clamoring for the next installment in the world of The First Law. It was then that his collective fan base went into the spiraling depression that I have succumbed to these past two years. First he informed us he would be taking a well deserved breakRed Country had burned him out and he needed time to think, read, relax, etc. And then came the bombshell. Joe Abercrombie went soft. No more grit. Good riddance grim-dark, good afternoon….Young Adult? Joe freaking Abercrombie is writing a novel in the same category as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games? Say one thing for Mr. Abercrombie, say he’s full of surprises.

To be honest, I wasn’t as skeptical as many of his devoted fans. I think it’s incredibly exciting when an author takes a leap of faith, attempting something out of their comfort zone. After reading those blog posts he absolutely has a point. Six (pretty massive) books in seven years. Red Country lived up to every expectation, but I admit it felt a bit overdone. Now, is that because I read every single one of his books back to back? Perhaps. But I’m not going to deny I needed a break from Abercrombie after his western tale. This coming from someone who considers himself an Abercrombie super-fan, a borderline stalker really.

I was more depressed that I had to wait two years for his new project. Now I see how selfish this was. Especially considering what all my brethren over at the ASOIAF Fan Club have been going through all these years. Book depression was heavy, but after a few months I started to feel something. Excitement. Yeah it was two years away. But it was something new from Abercrombie, and I mean new. It’s like wondering how Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant would mesh. Or any weird combination in the sports world. Joe Abercrombie and Young Adult? Never in a million years would I expect to see those two in the same sentence. Well let me tell you folks. Bryant and Paul probably would have led to disastrous results, but the Abercrombie Young Adult child Half a King is championship caliber.

The book centers around Prince Yarvi, the crippled second son of King Uthrik. His left hand is mangled, useless, forcing him into a life with the monastery. Luckily this suits Yarvi just fine. He may not have the skills to be a great warrior, but his mind allows him to excel at this field of work. In Abercrombie’s world, and ours equally, life never sticks to your plan. King Uthrik and his first born are both tragically murdered leaving Yarvi as the King of Gettland. My day is ruined when my parents inform me we are going to my cousin’s birthday party at the last second. One can only imagine how hard Yarvi’s head was spinning after such news.

Not everyone is happy with Yarvi’s ascension to the Black Chair (eerily simliar to a certain popular fantasy seat…). The twists start sprouting right from the start, forcing Yarvi to grow up faster than he ever imagined possible. If you enjoyed Best Served Cold  you will take to his new book well. The revenge factor is heavy throughout, but it is able to separate itself from his previous revenge story as the book goes on. While I won’t add spoilers to this review, I will say, as in every Abercrombie book, the ending gives you a slap in the face. I even tried to see it coming but Joe was too good.

Is this book Young Adult? It is with reluctance that I say it is. Although I think there are deeper themes in this than you would see in most Young Adult literature. I can assure you there is no love triangle. Yet when you write in this genre the main focus will always be a coming of age story. I mean, that’s what we do at Yarvi’s age. We grow, we mature, we experience. None of us are the same as our teenage selves. As played out as that trend may be, it’s just a natural progression for young adult characters. We face hardships, big and small, and learn from them.

The biggest reason for holding Joe Abercrombie in such high regard is the way he paints his characters. He doesn’t always have the most captivating story ( the trilogy dragged at times), but it’s his characters that always suck me in. Now we don’t meet him until almost a hundred pages in, but Nothing is one of my new personal favorites. He’s no Whirrun of Bligh, or Glokta, but he’s like a Logen Ninefingers LIght. A Diet Bloody NIne if you will. And I’m fine with that. Characters like The Bloody Nine aren’t meant for young adult readers. Let’s have them work their way up to that monster.

And really, this book was just a light version of Joe Abercrombie. It had less pages. Less sex. Gore. Cursing. But it doesn’t make it worse. It’s also a leaner, faster read. Never once did I slog. We are always in Yarvi’s point of view, which I found refreshing after reading so many books, like A Song of Ice and Fire for example, that throw a million POV at you. Half a King is the perfect fantasy summer read. It’s light and fun, but with darkness etched in the corners. You won’t feel self conscious for reading a Young Adult novel because it won’t feel like one, even though it would fit the bill compared to The Heroes. In Yarvi’s world, Nothing boasts that steel is always the answer, and it seems that way. But I can tell you that in this world, for Joe Abercrombie, the decision to write this book was not only the right answer, but the only one.

Half a King (Amazon)

Advertisements

The Fault in Our Stars

Standard

Today was supposed to be my day with Tom. I was going to eat popcorn. He was going to die. I planned on getting blasted by 3-D. He was going to die. I was, finally, going to appear in public wearing my Cocktail shirt. And he. Was going. To die. Alas, it was not meant to be. The movie theater didn’t have a 3-D Edge of Tomorrow (crazy, I know). And I only see movies before noon. That left only two options. See DOFP for the fourth time — worth it just for the feels when Jean and Scott pop in — or watch The Fault in Our Stars with an estimated sixty female high school students. One thing’s for sure, tears were going to be shed.

Based on John Green’s best selling novel, The Fault in Our Stars centers around two teenagers who have the all too common misfortune of living with cancer. It’s a story we’ve all heard before, but one no less potent. I was intent on not crying during any point of the film. It was a bold task, this I know, but one I deemed possible. Let’s be honest here. If I can sit through A Walk to Remember without sobbing, this should be amateur hour. Oh yeah, that’s right. I cried uncontrollably at the end of the Mandy Moore classic.

There’s no excuse for letting my guard down back in 2002. I will, however, defend my emotions getting the best of me earlier today. You get the feeling right from the start that there won’t be a happy ending. Terminal cancer is terminal. The film’s acting could have been shoddy, the dialogue stiff, music grating. As it happened none of this was the case. But it wouldn’t have mattered. When you’re dealing with cancer, something every one is or will be affected by, you are going to strike a chord.

At the head of that chord is Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort). I usually cringe when people use the term “chemistry” between two actors. But in this case, there was something there. It piques my curiosity. Why were these two so good together? Did they hang out on the set all day? Before shooting even began? Are they dating in real life like Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone? Or maybe they’re just really good at what they do. I’ll be the first to admit how tacky the relationship between Jamie and Landon is in A Walk to Remember. Don’t get me wrong. I watch it every time it’s on TBS. Yet I won’t deny rolling my eyes at more than a few scenes. And honestly, not once during the two hours did I guffaw during this. Believe me, there were opportunities. But Woodley and Elgort were fantastic. I’ve yet to read the book, so I’m unaware of the accuracy of the casting, but man did I buy every second of what those two were selling.

Willem Dafoe pops up for a bit as Hazel’s favorite author. The character happens to be a huge asshole and Dafoe plays it well. Nat Wolff appears as Isaac, a friend of Gus’s who’s losing his sight to cancer. Much of the comedy comes from Isaac, despite all the laughs Gus received from the teenagers in my audience.

Some of the hardest scenes to watch included Laura Dern and Sam Trammell. They were Hazel’s parents in the film. As good as I believe Woodley and Elgort’s acting was, they weren’t the reason for my watery eyes. They just legitimized it when all the girls in my theater went “awwwwww” every fifteen minutes. No, it wasn’t them or their characters. The parents were what killed me.

The only thing worse than dying of cancer at 16 is being the parent of a kid who dies of cancer.

Hazel says this, or something of the sort, in the film. Maybe my feelings about the quote will change if, I should say when , I get cancer, but until then I’m in full support. Credit to Dern and Trammell. If it weren’t for them I’d be saying how I didn’t hate Hazel and Gus all that much and Willem Dafoe is awesome. With them I’m saying it’s a film worth watching.

This is a solid movie and a sad tale, but not as sad as it’ll be made out to be in the coming weeks. There’s hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands who die of cancer without meeting the love of their life. Most will die alone. There won’t be trips of a lifetime to Sweden. No losing virginities. Just the constant reminder of death slowly upon them. That, to me, is the ultimate sadness. That’s the story I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Because that’s sorrow and despair. And life. The Fault in Our Stars is a fine movie and I’ll be the first to admit I shed tears. But I’ve also cried during Sarah McLachlan’s SPCA commercial. They resonate with me no longer than someone saying “okay”. Okay.

I Am Not A Young Adult Killer…Hater

Standard

The Hunger Games. Enders Game. Harry Potter. What do all of these books have in common you ask? At various points of my life, I’ve mocked others for reading them because they were YA. Up on Shadowfax, my high horse, I looked down at every one who read them. Or similar books in the genre. But I can happily say I am not one of those snobs anymore. And the enjoyment I got from reading “I Am Not A Serial Killer” and “Mr. Monster” is confirmation on the matter.

I still haven’t read the final book in Dan Wells trilogy, ” I Don’t Want to Kill You”, but I’m pretty close to spending full price at the local Barnes and Noble. Ridiculous, I know. But books will do that sometimes. Just like women. Lead you to make rash decisions. And it’s not just any book that’s doing this to me, it’s a Young Adult book. I’m 25 YEARS OLD. I lose my parents health insurance in under a year, that’s some Regular Adult shit right there. I feel like a pervert reading this stuff, right? Wrong. No need to lend me that copy of “Crime and Punishment”. I don’t want it.

Looking back on it, I was a huge hypocrite for teasing my friends. Secretly, I wanted to read The Hunger Games. For nothing else but to see what all the fuss was about. I’m like a conservative christian. All you hear me do is preach family values and how marriage is between a man and woman. A few months pass and you find me with a guy. Or a prostitute. Sometimes it’s a guy prostitute! In my mind, I was no better than any of them (the politicians. Not the prostitutes.).

All I ever hear is how we don’t read anymore. Specifically when it comes to literature (you know, not counting websites, wikipedia, tweets, etc). I don’t think that’s true. I’d argue that more people are reading now more than ever. And I think Young Adult books have everything to do with that. Just look at “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games”. What books in the 60s, 70s, 80s, had a following like they do? Maybe Stephen King? Maybe. But highly unlikely. Millions of people read these books. The summer blockbusters they make certainly don’t hurt their causes. I’m not going to argue about their content. Some will say it’s garbage, and maybe so. But I don’t care. I’m more interested in how many readers they are breeding. You ever realize how hard it is to make friends in a new area? Well, it’s twice as hard to find someone who reads. Oh, and to find someone who reads fiction? A billion times as hard.

Dan Wells books aren’t much different from any other Young Adult novels. The protagonist is a 16 year old boy who is fascinated with serial killers. Deep inside him he has the urge to become what he loves. And he knows it. Luckily for every one else, he has a strict set of rules he follows to prevent himself from succumbing to these urges. Until one day a dead body shows up in his small town. Then another one. And another. Apparently there’s a real serial killer in his small town. What if the only way to stop him is to let out the hidden serial killer out? Sure, they have some of the same tropes as other YA books. No cursing, no sex, poorly written females (not a case for all of them, but many that I’ve read), not much gore (and this is a book about serial killing). But it’s addicting. And it makes me want to read more. More of this series. More from this author. More reading in general.

The Young Adult genre is like a gateway drug. “Harry Potter” was the marijuana that lead me to Tolkiens cocaine. They help lead you, not to better, but more reading.

It wasn’t this series that made me a changed man. But it compelled me to write about my past as a “Young Adult Snob”. There will be book snobs no matter what. “Ugh, you read Stephen King? He’s a hack”. “I only read non-fiction. Sorry I like to learn something when I’m reading”. “The Hunger Games?! Dude my 6th grade sister reads that. Doosh alert!”. They’ll always be there. I’m just happy to officially call myself “snob free”. Well, unless you don’t read books at all that is….