World War Z

58. World War Z (Audiobook) by Max Brooks. 6 hours long. Published October 2007.

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Rumors of a plague begin to spread. Beginning in rural China and quickly swarming west, the dead have begun to rise. Soon the entire world is enveloped in panic as zombies begin to feast on the unwary.

World War Z serves to chronicle the aftermath, recording live testaments from survivors around the world. From the doctor treating the initial outbreak to refugees in India and military personnel from Israel, South Africa, and the U.S., this documentary depicts how the world failed to realize the threat until it was almost too lat and then fought to regain supremacy.

I felt that for a book this theatric, the audio performance would be far more fitting. With actors like Alan Alda reading the roles and Brooks himself acting as the interviewer, even this abridged version is a real treasure. My only qualm with the performance lies in Brook’s occasional interruption to describe the behavior or feelings of the interviewee – something that comes through in their voice.

With everyone reading this book before the movie is released, the audiobook is a worthwhile and entertaining alternative to turning the physical pages.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Seeing Redd

57. Seeing Redd (The Looking Glass Wars) by Frank Beddor. 371 p. Published August 2007.

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This second novel follows immediately after The Looking Glass Wars. Alyss has taken her place as Queen of Wonderland but still worries after her aunt Redd, whose daring dive into the Heart Crystal – the source of all imaginative power – provided a last minute escape. Doing what they can to piece the queendom back together after Redd’s disastrous rule, Alyss and her advisers often end the day in exhaustion, a fact that King Arch of the neighboring Borderlands is willing to exploit. Sending an attack of Glass Eyes, a weapon salvaged from Redd’s army, Arch inflames fears of Redd’s return and uses the Diamond family to get Molly, Alyss’ bodyguard, to unwittingly trigger a devastating explosion in Wonderland’s primary transportation system, the Looking Glass.

Meanwhile, Hatter Maddigan, who has taken a short vacation to mourn the passing of his beloved, stumbles upon proof that Molly is, in fact, his own daughter. He rushes back to Wonderland in hopes of finding her, but is too late, the young girl taken back to King Arch under the guise of a third party’s kidnapping. Hatter follows her into the Borderlands, neglecting a direct order from Alyss.

Redd, who had spent the intervening months on earth to gather an army, finally returns to Wonderland in hopes of navigating her long-neglected Maze and gain full control over her own powers of Dark Imagination. Alyss is hard pressed on all sides, knowing that her country cannot survive a fight on two fronts, and is forced to make a decision that will change the face of Wonderland forever.

From the start it was obvious that, unlike the first book, Seeing Redd couldn’t rely on the novelty of retelling Alice in Wonderland. Instead, Beddor begins to build upon the story, making it his own. On the one hand, he does a marvelous job, developing a sense of realism in the characters. At the same time, much of Seeing Redd came across as monotonous, spending too much time delving into motivations and machination and the story only begins to pick up towards the rear of the book. Ending with a cliffhanger, Seeing Redd leaves a lot for the third and final novel.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Foundation

56. Foundation (Valdemar: The Collegium Chronicles) by Mercedes Lackey. 340 p. Published October 2008.

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This is the latest book in Lackey’s Valdemar Series and starts to catalogue how the Collegium is founded (hence the title) through one of its earliest pupils, Mags. An orphan, Mags is raised to work in a mine, digging jewels out of the rock from dawn till dusk and fed the meagerest of meals. He and the other orphans do their best to keep their heads down and out of trouble, knowing that there is little hope outside of simple survival. But when a Companion appears, accompanied by a Herald, things change in ways Mags never imagined.

Taken to Haven, Valdemar’s capital, astride his very own Companion, Mags is enrolled in the newly founded Collegium to train his gift of Mindspeech. But the college is so new that all of its buildings are still in construction and the housing shortage places Mags in the stables. As he adjusts to life as a Herald-trainee, Mags makes friends among the trainees from the other colleges (Healers and Bards) and in the city. Soon enough, thanks to his particulawr gift, Mags is buried in intrigue and political subterfuge. But when a overwhelming blizzard burries the campus, one of his friends goes missing, and Mags must do all he can to save the life he’s grown to love.

Lackey is an amazing wordsmith, her descriptions of the world as vivid as the characters she populates it with. But Foundation, while starting a new chapter in the Valdemar universe, fails to provide anything of real substance. This growing-up-with-magic tale, while engrossing, just doesn’t compare to the vivid and inspiring books that compose the rest of the world. Frankly, it comes off as an attempt at hooking some of the growing young adult audience.

The books of Valdemar are some of my favorite from High School, and while Foundation doesn’t do them justice, hopefully the following novels in the Collegium Chronicles will rise to the challenge.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Ordermaster

55. Ordermaster (Saga of Recluse) by L.E. Modesitt. 494 p. Published January 2005.

In the direct sequel to Wellspring of Chaos, we find Kharl functioning as the wizard of Austra. Hardly settled into his newly granted lands, Kharl sparks a civil war after executing a traitor in the presence of the court. The resulting war, with the rebels funded and armed by Hamor, spreads quickly. Kharl, with what minimal training he can muster, must set out to defeat the Hamorian chaos wizards before they destroy the countryside. The resulting battle changes Kharl and marks him as one of the strongest Order users in generations.

Yet Austra’s new peace bodes ill for Kharl’s home of Brysta, to which Hamor has already shifted its gaze. And so Kharl, newly trained in law and etiquette, is sent as Austra’s envoy. What he finds is not the city of his birth, but one of a subdued people, penned into their homes by fear. The youngest son of Lord West, the same which forced Kharl’s exile, has begun to amass a secret army. As Hamorian troops in the guise of Brystan guard roam the streets, Kharl sets to finding the loved ones he was forced to leave behind and finds only tragedy. When the rebellion finally makes its move, Kharl is forced into combat, and this time he faces a far more resourceful foe.

While I enjoyed Ordermaster, I honestly felt that it was a little dry. The wit and ingenuity of Modessitt’s previous novels is overtaken by pages of battles and strategy, losing much of the character that imbues this world. I will not go so far as to express disappointment, but I can’t help but feel that this read was not as enjoyable as its predecessors.

Rating: 2 out of 5

The Looking Glass Wars

54. The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor. 358 p. Published September 2006.

I first heard about The Looking Glass Wars when I stumbled across a spin-off comic book series, Hatter M.

This is the true tale of Alice in Wonderland. Alice is, in fact, Alyss Heart, princess of Wonderland. Able to twist reality through the use of Imagination, the royalty of Wonderland serve to permeate ingenuity and inventiveness throughout the galaxy. On Alyss’s birthday, while all the people are celebrating and Alyss is with her dearest friend Dodge, her aunt Redd stages a surprise attack on the palace. With both her parents murdered, Alyss is swept up by her mother’s top-hatted bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, and taken through the Pool of Tears to Earth.

Presuming that Alyss is dead, Redd Heart sets to rule Wonderland with wicked abandon, her twisted decrees torturing the citizens and darkening the land’s splendor. A small force of freedom fighters work against Redd, but their hopes dwindle with each passing year.

Meanwhile, Alyss, seperated from Hatter Madigan, is left alone in London, stripped of her powers of imagination, and adopted by a loving family. The only problem is that Alyss refuses to release her memories of Wonderland and confides in Dodgson, a family friend. However, when he twists her stories and publishes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alyss’s sense of betrayal is overwhelming. Resigned to her fate, Alyss becomes Alice Lidell, and soon comes to disbelieve her own past. Alice grows to become a stunning beauty and soon is engaged to wed Prince Leopold, youngest son of Queen Victoria.

Hatter Madigan, having landed in Paris without Alyss, searches the world over for her. After 13 years, he finally finds a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandand storms Buckingham Palace in an attempt to reach Alyss. He is wounded by the palace guard and flees back to Wonderland, where he is discovered by a now-grown Dodge. Dodge delivers Madigan to the resistance and goes to Earth himself to retrieve Alyss. However he is followed by Redd’s agents, who have come to learn that Alyss yet lives. As the agents crash Alice’s wedding, Dodge rescues her and the two return to Wonderland. Yet now, with years of disbelieving her own past and lacking her control of Imagination, Alyss must confront a primed Redd and win back her queendom.

With The Looking Glass Wars, Beddor modernizes Carroll’s classic tale without losing any of it’s dark majesty. Integrating the tale behind the book (Carroll is a pen-name for Dodgson, who based the character on a real live Alice Lidell), Beddor creates an ingenious realm of fanciful imagination and populates it with an array of rememberable characters, each a not-so-subtle allusion to Carroll’s.

Despite being geared to a younger audience, The Looking Glass Wars possesses enough pace and plot to satisfy an adult. Frankly, I found many of the scenes required added effort on behalf of my imagination simply because I’ve matured – never an excersize I regret. I will admit, some of Beddor’s characters are a bit shallow, but adequate for the intended readership.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Other Reviews of The Looking Glass Wars: Fyrefly

Wellspring of Chaos

53. Wellspring of Chaos (Saga of Recluse) by L.E. Modesitt. 464 p. Published April 2005.

While the 12th book in Modesitt’s Recluse Saga, Wellspring of Chaos begins a new stand-alone chapter in it’s history. Only the magic system (use of Order and Chaos as the elements composing physics and reality) and a sense of events as history carry over.

Kharl is the best cooper in Brysta, and is happy with his life. However, Kharl has a tendency to help those in need, and it proves to be his undoing. Preventing the rape of a neighbor’s daughter pits Kharl against the lord’s son and when a blackstaffer from Recluse (kind of like a traveling magician’s apprentice) is killed in his shop, it’s obvious that he’s being persecuted.

Soon enough, Kharl’s wife is hanged for the blackstaffer’s murder, his taxes are quadrupled, and his neighbor and best friend is murdered. Kharl flees his shop, spending a year hiding among the homeless. With only the blackstaffer’s book on Order control to study, Kharl begins to get in touch with his deeper strengths. Soon enough he is pitted against a chaos mage who has been preying on the homeless.

After killing the mage, Kharl flees out to sea, where he travels the world and develops an attunement towards Order. But when civil war breaks out in another country, Kharl feels that he must step in, even if he doesn’t believe he’s ready.

Wellspring of Chaos provides a refreshing return to Recluse and the battle between Chaos and Order. Where the previous books culminated in Modesitt developing his magic system to it’s ultimate form, here we return to the basics. By using a protagonist well into his adult years, with a mind unclutered with the foolishness of youth and tempered by the wisdom of experience, Modesitt brings a sense of reality to the study of power and magic.

Having read book 11 almost 7 years ago, I really appreciated this return to one of my favorite epic fantasies. That said, Wellspring of Chaos connects just enough to provide that sense of nostalgia without going through the trouble of having to reread so many books.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Viewpoints Critical

51. Viewpoints Critical by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. 350 p. Published  March 2008.

Viewpoints Critical is the first collection of short stories by L.E. Modesitt. Modesitt, who is known for his work in both fantasy and science fiction,  penned one of my favorite series, The Saga of Recluse.

This collection begins with five stories from Modesitt’s early career as a writer. Covering topics like  global warming, justice, the economy, and religious belief, each story illustrates Modesitt’s ability to grasp issues critical to the future. These are followed by more short stories, many of which feed from Modesitt’s experiences in Vietnam. “The Swan Pilot,” for example, attempts to combine Modesitt’s fighter-pilot experience with futuristic mythology.

Standing distinct among the other stories are three which connect to Modesitt’s novels. Both “Black Ordermage” and “Sisters of Sarronnyn, Sisters of Westwind” tie into The Saga of Recluse while “Beyond the Obvious Wind” was the original story to inspire the Corean Chronicles.

Spanning over almost 40 years of Modesitt’s career, Viewpoints Critical provides a glimpse of this author’s gift. However, as Modesitt himself admits in the foreword, his true talents lie in novels. While many of these stories proved interesting, I found all but a few lacking that inefible depth that comes from an author’s devotion to the story and the world being created. Now, I’m not saying the Modesitt put out inferior work. Rather, the work I usually associate with Modesitt – namely Recluse and the Spellsong Cycle – is so rich in detail and character that these stories pale in comparrison. Still, Viewpoints Critical is a decent compilation and worthwhile reading for any Modesitt fan.

Rating: 2 out of 5