Sunday, August 5, 2012

Books of the Week: 8/5/12

Well, it's that time again. Time for a book review blog! ...why don't you look more excited? It'll be fun, I promise. Not at all like reading bad fanfic. (Not that I would know what that's like...) This week, my selection of books was marginally better than the last batch (And Splinter of the Mind's Eye still haunts me.). As usual, there's the ubiquitous Warhammer 40K Battles novel, as well as a Halo novel, a Tolkein novella, and a darkly funny fantasy novel.

Chris Wraight

I have to say, Kraken is one of the best Battles novels I've read so far. A lone Space Marine takes on a horde of tyranids and battles a gargantuan sea beast (wasn't the Kraken in the title hint enough?). 

Kraken is action-packed and well-written, with a theme of redemption of guilt. It's great if you want a fun little bloodbath, but don't expect Tolkien. However, Kraken is short. Very short. It took me less than two hours to read. If you have a lot of money to burn, go ahead and buy, but otherwise I'd suggest getting this from the library or a friend.

Short, action-packed, well-written, and fun.

Halo: Contact Harvest
Joseph Statim

You guessed it, this is a Halo novel. Contact Harvest details the first human contact with the Covenant, and gives backstory for many of the major characters in Halo: The Prophets, the brutes' leader, and Sgt. Avery Johnson. 

Johnson is the first character you meet, and I was not impressed. Granted, I've never particularly cared for Johnson, but I expected...more. Johnson is just...I don't know. I've seen "soldier with guilty past" done much better. Additionally, Johnson's segments seemed boring and of an inferior quality to the rest of the book. 

I found the most interesting segments to be those that featured either Covenant grunts, or the two Harvest A.I.s. Getting a closer look at these characters, whose mindset you never get to experience in the games, was probably my favorite part of Contact Harvest. (Yes, I know Cortana is a major character in Halo, but you never really learn what she's THINKING.) However, the "romance" between the two A.I.s was...weird. Not Splinter of the Mind's Eye weird, but weird. 

The writing in Contact Harvest was ok, but nothing special. Statim has a tendency to use too much military jargon, which got a bit confusing at times.  I also found Statim's descriptions of military training lackluster. Books like Old Man's War (which I'll review sometime in the future) have done boot camp much better.

Overall, too much jargon, lackluster Johnson sections, ok writing, interesting glimpse into Halo's backstory. The Covenant sections were the main redeeming factor for me. Contact Harvest was alright, but not something I'd reread.

Farmer Giles of Ham
J.R.R. Tolkien

The story of an unlikely hero who battles a giant and a dragon and finds great riches (wait, this sounds like The Hobbit...), Farmer Giles of Ham (FGH, because I'm lazy) is one of Tolkien's lesser-known fantasy works. 

FGH is funny. From Farmer Giles' ridiculously long real name to the improbability of it all, I was grinning the whole time. Tolkien is always a good writer, and he's in form with FGH. FGH is written more like The Hobbit than Lord of the Rings, which I was perfectly happy with. 

Look. It's by Tolkien, it's funny, it's a short, easy read, it's well-written, and it's as good as The Hobbit. Did I mention it's by TOLKIEN? Just read it already.

The Goblin Corps
Ari Marmell

This is the second book I've read by Marmell (I'll review the first some other time), and I think he's becoming one of my favorite authors. Marmell seems to specialize in a peculiar combination of Discworld and The Chronicles of the Black Company, and he's dang good at it, too.

Goblin Corps is the tale of an "elite" group of various goblin races ordered by their master, a corpse-magician, to carry out various missions against the more traditional "protagonist" races such as humans, elves, and dwarves. Along the way, the Corps stumbles into politics far above their pay grade.

Hilarious and dark, Goblin Corps is sometimes crude, but always--ALWAYS--funny. I actually curled up with laughter on a couple occasions. While some of the humor derived from the stock "clueless idiot" character, more of it was from Marmell's shrewd observations, as well as the interactions between the various races, interactions that were both realistic and oh so funny.

Don't dismiss Goblin Corps as just a comic fantasy novel, though. There's plenty of violence to keep you action-junkies on your feet, as well as politics (not on the level of Daniel Abraham's work, but just enough to keep things interesting), and an epic world that's the equal of Lord of the Rings

In fact, that's what you could think of Goblin Corps as: Lord of the Rings, as told from the orcs' perspective. Marmell seems to specialize in writing villains or antiheroes into believeable, even loveable, protagionists. 

All in all, Goblin Corps was perhaps my favorite novel this week. A twisted combination of Discworld, Chronicles of the Black Company, and Lord of the Rings, Goblin Corps has just enough politics, and more than enough action and humor. If you buy one book from this review, make it Goblin Corps (and pick up Farmer Giles of Ham while you're at it.)