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Aug 2nd, 2010
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I was on vacation a few weeks ago. Aside from mucking about with the kids on a beach gorged with washed up sea-weed and eating inordinate amounts of food, I also had the opportunity to read a handful of books. Some of these I picked up because I wanted to read them for my own enjoyment, and some were “research”. Here’s a quick run-down:

1. Heroes of the Valley, by Jonathan Stroud

Interestingly, I found this as an ARC (advanced reading copy) in Half-Price Books, so I snapped it up. Unlike a glossy-covered and arted-up officially published book, this one has a drab sand-colored cover. The back lists all kinds of marketing campaign info, and in the front is a warning from the publisher. Apparently, they aren’t fans of people selling ARC’s, and I’m not even sure the bookstores are allowed to do it, but there it was, sitting on the shelf like some weird orphan.

In any case, I liked the story, but I have to say it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as Stroud’s Bartimaeus series. There was something electric about those books, and this was just … solid. On the downside, the story starts off a little bumpy and the setting reads a little generic, in my view. However, once you get to know the protagonist, he’s fun and an unlikely hero type (he’s ugly and squat and nobody likes him … usually), and that’s really the best part of the book–Stroud does a great re/deconstruction on “heroic” figures.

2. Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer

I’ve always seen this book (or a member of the series) staring back at me when perusing the young reader section of book stores. The name is catchy, so I finally picked up the first book to see what it was about. The protagonist is a mastermind twelve year old, sort of an evil (but not really) Richie Rich who tries to blackmail the secret but modernized Faerie nation out of their wealth. In the end I didn’t really like it. There’s nothing wrong with it, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. The humor  and tone skews a little too young for my taste, as does the content. However, the best thing about the book is that the author does a great job with pacing and action. Worth the quick read for that alone.

3. Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling, by D.M Cornish

This rocked. My favorite kinds of books are those that transport the reader to a fascinating new world. Foundling delivers here: a strange flint-lock era world with ships driven by organic engines, monster hunters who drink dangerous chemicals or replace their organs in exchange for powers, and exciting characters (Europe, a monster hunter lady, is excellent).

The main character, Rossamund, is less interesting to me than some of his companions, but he’s still quite likable. Occasionally the writing swells with an encyclopedic explanation for a unique element of the world–but these little bumps only happen once in a while in what is mostly a great adventure. Can’t wait to read the next one.

4. The Heart of the Matter, by Graham Greene.

I saved the best for last. When people talk about “great Catholic writers” (or just great writers) Greene is often mentioned in the same breath as Flannery O’Connor, and since I’m a fan of hers, I’ve always wanted to read one of his novels.

The setting is interesting–a sodden West African colony around the time of world war two. The humid, sickly-hot weather is an apt mirror of what’s going on inside the novel’s main characters. On the surface everyone has that restrained British polite-society mannerism, but underneath they’re all miserable.

The book is a slow starter, sort of like pushing a boulder up a low-grade hill, but once I got over the hump, I couldn’t put it down. It’s the kind of book that has you dog-earing favorite passages. Later you go back and read all those passages, feeling their weight again (Everyone else does that, right?). The main character is a police officer named Scobie whose life slowly cracks to pieces. At one point the colony receives survivors from a derelict boat (can’t remember why the boat is messed up), but as the survivors come into to the colony for aid, the main character notices a little girl on a stretcher:

Scobie watched the bearers go slowly up the hill, their bare feet very gently flapping the ground. He thought: It would need all Father Brule’s ingenuity to explain that. Not that the child would die — that needed no explanation. Even the pagans realized that the love of God might mean an early death, though the reason they ascribed was different; but that the child should have been allowed to survive for forty days and nights in the open boat — that was the mystery, to reconcile that with the love of God.

Greene is making a biblical parallel here, not by talking about God, but by referencing forty days and nights. Noah endures 40 days and nights of rain, Israel wandered in the desert for forty years before entering the promised land and Jesus was tested in the desert for forty days and nights. Green makes us (or me anyway) think about those forty day episodes juxtaposed against this newcomer’s, and what her fate might be compared to theirs. Subsequent scenes between Scobie and the child are heart-wrenching.

Here’s another gem:

Men can become twins with age. The past was their common womb; the six months of rain and the six months of sun was the period of their common gestation. They needed only a few words and a few gestures to convey their meaning. They had graduated through the same fevers, they were moved by the same love and contempt.

About Me

Ricardo Bare
Austin, Tx

Ricardo Bare is a writer and game designer living near Austin, Texas. Currently he works as a game designer for Arkane Studios, which in 2012 released Dishonored. Ricardo started his career in the games industry working on the Deus Ex series, winner of the BAFTA and numerous other Game of the Year awards.

Ricardo is the author of Jack of Hearts and Fool of Fate, the first two books in a young adult fantasy series.


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