Posts Tagged With: action

Chaos Walking: Monsters of Men

by Patrick Ness

In the final book of the Chaos Walking trilogy, a third narrator adds to the story. 1017 has compelled a Spackle army to attack New Prentisstown, and we get to see some of the events unfold from his perspective. Todd has released the Mayor in the hope that he will save humanity from the Spackle attack. He believes he can keep the Mayor in line with his newfound Noise talents. In return, the Mayor helps him make a few improvements on himself. Viola and Mistress Coyle both set up camp with the newly landed scout ship, but the people from the ship are unsure whether or not they should become involved in either of the wars they’ve stepped into. 1017 waits impatiently for the Spackle (or, the Land, as they call themselves) to help him enact vengeance on the Clearing (humans). He himself wants to kill the Knife (Todd), whom he despises not for his evil acts but for his wishy-washy attitude about committing atrocities he knows are wrong. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as Viola’s home ship prepares to land on New World in a matter of months. Every faction on New World has their own hopes about what kind of situation will greet the new settlers upon their arrival.

Again, a great depiction of egomaniacal politicians, this time with the complicated process of war and peace with an external enemy thrown in the mix. It was very frustrating to see Todd and the rest of New Prentisstown start to buy into the Mayor’s rhetoric yet again, but it wasn’t unrealistic. It felt like watching a politician known for his horrible past still win over the popular vote. I loved this series for capturing the short term memory of the general public. I was disappointed with some of the reveals at the end, which made the Mayor out to be more of a lone crazy evil guy, absolving everyone who was complicit with his crimes. It diminished what I thought was the whole meaning of the series, so it’s a pretty sizeable disappointment. Still, not everything was over-explained at the end, leaving readers to make their own conclusions about some of the events in New World’s history.

I think this book gives readers a lot to talk about in terms of politics, morality, etc. Questions about freedom fighting vs terrorism are still huge in this volume, although I felt like the main characters respond unfairly to Mistress Coyle throughout. I’m not sure if it was Ness’s intention to discredit her with some of her actions, but I still think she is the most reasonable character and I wish she had been given more attention or a better storyline. I would definitely read a prequel starring her. Overall, it was not everything I wanted it to be on the morals front–for a series that deals so much with people trying to do what’s right and feeling regret over their mistakes, the main character never takes any steps to make reparations for his actions.

On the action front, however, it was rockin’. So much happens! Characters are killed off or maimed, and not for meaningful literary or emotional purposes. The stupid love triangle set up in the second book comes to what I can only hope is a temporary conclusion. Not overly romantic for us romance-averse readers, and in my mind a ship full of new settlers will increase everyone’s options because nobody ends up with the person they liked when they were 14.

Despite the shortcomings of this volume, I would still recommend the whole series to teens and adults who are interested in dystopian settings, planetary colonization, gender wars, and books with complex conflicts. Must read the first and second books before this one.

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Blood Red Road

by Moira Young

Saba is devoted to nothing more than her twin brother, Lugh. They live with their little sister Emmi and their pa out in the middle of nowhere with only one distant neighbour. Living conditions are getting worse and worse, and Pa can’t seem to read the stars right anymore so he doesn’t know when the next rain will come. Lugh says Pa could never read the stars, that there’s nothing to read, they’re just stars. But it seems the stars have told their pa something, because he knows before it happens that Lugh is going to being carried off by Tonton soldiers, that Saba will search for Lugh, and that he himself is going to die trying to stop the Tonton from leaving. After she sees the Tonton kill her father and ride off with her brother, Saba fuels her quest for Lugh with red hot hatred, letting her anger take control and guide her through each trial she encounters. Her singleminded pursuit of her brother becomes complicated when others want to get involved, and Saba must learn to feel more than anger and hatred in order to achieve her true heart’s desire.

This book is nearly 500 pages, but I blew through it in four days because I just couldn’t put it down. Saba is a very strong, stubborn character with a loud personality. She reminded me of Katsa from Graceling, because she was physically strong but had problems allowing herself to feel positive emotions. I love strong female characters, and any character that has a crow as a free pet gets bonus points for awesomeness. I wasn’t sure if I would like the writing style, since many words are written in a phonetic way, but it was consistent and definitely more intelligible than Trainspotting. First person narration can get awkward with action sequences, but Saba is a gripping narrator and the action reads like you’re watching it yourself. As always, I was frustrated when the focus shifted from action to romance, and I found it hard to believe that Saba’s real heart’s desire was not saving the life of her twin brother, but starting a romance with some annoyingly cocky dude she just met. I guess either way she lives entirely to be with one man or another, which is less feminist than I thought this book would be (not to mention less entertaining). Still, I really enjoyed the adventure in the story–if not the characters and their relationships–and I would read the next one to see how it goes and how Saba’s character continues to develop. I sincerely hope the Amazon-like Free Hawks get more page time in the next one–especially Maev–and I pray to Moira Young that it won’t involve anyone getting together with Lugh.

Of course a good read for anyone who loved The Hunger Games or other dystopian books with romance thrown in. The romance part is a bit of a dealbreaker for readers who just want a straight-up action adventure, though.

Question for other dystopia-loving readers: can you think of any physically strong female protagonists who do not get romantic with another character? I’d love to find something like that.

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CHERUB: The Recruit

by Robert Muchamore

James Choke is an ordinary 11-year-old with a few problems. His mum is an obese swindler who sells stolen electronics to the local soccer moms, and the other kids won’t stop hassling James about how fat his mum is. When James violently snaps at one of his schoolmates, causing her to get stitches, he lands himself in court. But his court visit isn’t until after he comes home one day and finds his mum dead in her favourite chair.

James gets put into a children’s home, and his sister Lauren has to live with her no-good dad. He falls into a rough crowd, and ends up attempting a liquor store robbery hours after his court visit. Shortly thereafter, he is recruited by CHERUB, an organization of child spies that finds crafty orphans like James and offers them an alternative to a life of crime. The training is hard, but James knows that if he quits, his life will continue to spiral out of control until he lands himself in jail.

This series is so much better than Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series. James is a more realistic character than Alex, and the other characters and all the plot twists are a little more grounded in reality. I’ve read nearly all the books in the series, and it seems to be far less problematic than other spy books I’ve tried. Where Alex Rider books come across as xenophobic and at times outright racist (Horowitz uses the term “Chinaman” in Snakehead), the CHERUB series actually includes gay people, women, and people of colour who contribute to the plot and are on the good guys’ side. I like that James isn’t perfect, and he isn’t just born with secret spy skills like Alex Rider is. I think the teens in this series are more realistic, and while the series includes progressive values the teens do not necessarily reflect them like characters in an after school special would. James gets pretty sleazy with the ladies and exhibits problematic behavior, but as in real life there are consequences. The worst cliché I see in CHERUB is the “environmental terrorists” trope that crops up a lot, but at least the main characters are sympathetic to environmental concerns, with one character even making a commitment to vegetarianism after a run-in with a PETA-like terrorist group.

These books are action-packed, gritty, and easy to read. Even though the main character is 11 when it starts, it is definitely more of a teen read because of the subject matter. They are perfect for older readers who just want something fast and fun and not too challenging, but at a teen level of maturity. Girls read these too and I don’t like gender stereotyping, but this is the ideal series for teen boys who aren’t usually into reading.

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The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay

by Suzanne Collins

Yes, everyone has already reviewed this. But I wanted my say too. I watched Battle Royale long before I read this book, and even though the concept is a pretty clear rip off, I still enjoyed Collins’s take on it. The games are brutal and are described brilliantly, and I appreciate a book that doesn’t shy away from the feel-bad vibes of killing a lovable character here and there. I’m a sucker for strong female characters and emotionally complex relationships, which is why I loved the first book when I read it. Katniss is described as having olive skin, which I read as her being mixed race or at least not explicitly white. I really appreciated it, and I think it is just more realistic in a story set in the future. As a side note, I felt really betrayed when I learned that the casting call for Katniss in the movie was explicitly for whites only. Read this for more thoughts on the race issues with the movie.

Before all this movie business came out, I read Catching Fire and I continued to enjoy Katniss’s rejection of all romantic attention directed toward her. The book was a pretty big copy/paste of the first book with a few tweaks here and there, but if I could enjoy The Hunger Games after Battle Royale, what was one more variation of the same story? The book annoyingly ended on a cliff-hanger, so I toiled and toiled until the third book came out….

All for nought. While The Hunger Games was one of the best books I read the year it came out, Mockingjay was one of the worst. It’s not even that bad if you compare it to other YA novels or even other dystopian novels, but I was comparing it to the first two novels in the series. It’s like Collins got wrapped up in the surge of feedback she was getting from teen fans online, and decided to make it about romance instead of about kicking oppressive government butt. Katniss spends most of the book nearly catatonic over who she will choose to be her boyfriend. I couldn’t be more disappointed if she ended up marrying a Mormon vampire. There is a tragic twist at the end that I found to be an emotional cheap shot, and the way Katniss makes her “big decision” (no, not about taking down the government–about who she will date, sillyhead!) is too convenient and predictable to give this book any compliments other than “great action sequences.” They are pretty good action sequences, though.

I recommend dystopia-lovers to read the first book. It stands alone quite nicely, and trust me when I tell you that it’s not worth it to read on.

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Chasing the Bear

by Robert B. Parker

I read this book hoping to find a “clean” read with a boy protagonist for a work assignment. It’s a book about Parker’s character, Spenser, as a teen. The book is told by adult Spenser, in chapters that alternate between stories of his teen life and a scene where he is telling all of this to his love interest, Susan. He recalls his encounter with a bear drunk on fermented berries, as well as some of his more heroic deeds. He was brought up by his father and his mother’s brothers, who taught him all about being a man. When he was 14, he saw his friend Jeannie being abducted by her abusive father, so he set out after them, following even when the chase came to a river he had to navigate with no paddle! He’s a pretty smooth hero, and has to take on other challenges once more people come to him for help.

A pretty horrible read, but one of the only “clean” realistic fiction books I could find with a boy protagonist. He mentions that his father talked to him about sex, and lets him taste whiskey after a hunting trip, but that is it in the non-“clean” department. There is no swearing, and the only violence is for self-defense. The font size looks like it’s at least 12, if not 14, and the book is really thin.

A good one for teens who aren’t into long books or character development. Definitely a good standby for boys who don’t typically read for fun but have to choose a book to read for school.

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