Friday, 25 August 2017

REVIEW: "The Fold: A Novel" by Peter Clines

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Fold: A Novel
by Peter Clines
Broadway Books
Copyright March 2016
Paperback, 384 Pages

An exceptionally satisfying read that reminded me of the remarkable joys of reading. Ingeniously weaved into the narrative were themes of the subversion of time and space, instability of reality and identity, and the confusion of consciousness and awareness; these themes necessitated by the grave scientific crisis that defined the apex of the plot. Fiercely fascinating and at times fear-inducing, this plot was driven by equal parts intellectual action and physical action. An astounding work of science fiction and scientific mystery that brings the reader upon a worthwhile adventure.

The very mysterious Albuquerque Door project formed the crux of the plot. The reader might suspect the implication of an unforgivably complex and scientific subject matter, the narrative however was very thoughtfully straightforward and very easy and quick to read. The sense of mystery in the plot was not deafening, but measured, and evoked a healthy share of anticipation and excitement in the reader. Most of all, prior knowledge in the technicalities of, or even passion in the complexities of, science is not necessary to enjoy this book.

I relished that this was a satiating read, both intellectually and adrenaline-wise. The novel’s heart-thumping and fast-paced climactic action along the lines of saving humanity and heeding survival instincts was beautifully balanced out with intellectual speculation, scientific brainstorm, theoretical hypothesis, and logical reasoning, as faithfully exemplified by the male protagonist, Mike Erikson. 

Though certainly meant as a peripheral interpolation in the narrative, I appreciated the commentary—not exactly impeccably balanced, but also not one-sided—made in the book pertaining to the identity of being a genius. The protagonist Erikson was introduced early on in the novel as one with a superhuman eidetic memory. The portrayal of one so gifted was made complete with the reader’s attention also drawn to the potential downsides and burden that come with such impossible talent. This minor bit of reality check however certainly didn’t stop me from personally desiring at least 1% of this man’s brain power, if only it were possible to be attained through sheer hard work and dedication. 

An intermediate resolution in the novel around the end of the first half of the book was however less than gratifying, that which resolved the novel’s secondary mystery and which pertained to the scientific function of the Albuquerque Door. The almost convenient and simplistic resolution weaved into the narrative regarding this preliminary mystery surrounding the actual workings of the Door gave the impression that it was hastily settled in order to expedite the novel’s transition to the next segment of the plot, that which dealt with the development of events which would lead to the climactic action of the novel.

The almost sudden leap to a wild hypothesis regarding the scientific nature of the operation of the Door might even be considered tenable when contrasted alongside the virtually immediate and acquiescent acceptance of such a hypothesis by the Albuquerque Door’s resident scientific team, in a way that was curiously inconsistent against manifested characteristics of these professionals. 

Some might consider the sudden transpiration of this wild hypothesis, though unexpected, to be congruent with the narrative since it was conceived by the novel’s resident genius, the protagonist Erikson, whose brain powers seemed comfortably beyond the reach of readers and the author alike. From the perspective of a reader however, it felt like the plot skimped on narrative discoveries and circumstances that could at least more systematically pave the way for the plausible deduction of the hypothesis thus raised by Erikson. I personally would have appreciated a more solid narrative foundation that could better logically guide me to the hypothesis in question, over that which would require a leap of faith on my part.

Moreover, considering the immense intellectual rigor, and well-honed deductive and reasoning skills, of the Door’s resident science team since displayed in the narrative, it was thus more than suspect that Erikson’s wild hypothesis was met with virtually nonexistent skepticism. The near lack of analytical resistance and any notable manifestation of doubt, the unquestioning trust and almost immediate engagement in conversation in absolute acceptance of the wild theory as truth indeed required the suspension of belief on my part as a reader. At worst, the uncharacteristic surrender of these professionals in the field of logic to an untested and uncontested hypothesis could only be construed as a mere narrative vessel to allow the plot to advance.  

Despite potential flaws, this novel remains a commendably composed work of science fiction that provided much entertainment. I certainly would be looking forward to immersing myself in more delightfully creative works, even if it might yet again involve a doomsday scenario of a science experiment gone wrong. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

REVIEW: "Assassin’s Creed: Forsaken" (Book 5) by Oliver Bowden

Book Review by Sapphire Ng 

Assassin’s Creed: Forsaken (Book 5)
by Oliver Bowden
Copyright December 2012
Paperback, 464 Pages

An extraordinarily meaningful narrative rounded off with an exquisite touch of irony, and executed with an excellence that appeared to transcend that of its predecessors in the Assassin’s Creed book series. The ending to this novel, perfectly engineered and complete with an element of delightful surprise, was profoundly emotionally effecting; it was a bittersweet and poignant culmination to a tale that I felt commendably explored an astounding theme, one that drastically expands the reader’s notion of the supposedly already known universe of Assassin’s Creed

Adroitly weaved into the narrative was this theme—a literary investigation of fluidity in identity between that of Templar versus Assassin, and an inquiry into the rigidity of the Templar-Assassin demarcation as perpetuated by previous books in this series. Alongside the protagonist, readers were invited to question the designations and labels attached to Templars and Assassins that seemed to be so definitively attributed since book one. Astounding thus was the subversive, and somewhat unexpected, statement made by action within the epilogue of the book, an almost painful mockery of the general tenor of this thematic exploration throughout the novel. 

As the fifth installment in this book series, it seemed apt that the narrative included treatment of certain issues. Including that of a more philosophical and existential outlook regarding the identities of Templar and Assassin, and their inter-factional conflict. Appropriate as well was the furnishing of an alternate point of view, from that of a Templar, a perspective that haven’t yet been offered in this book series, and with which readers could view the expanded franchise. A perspective that appeared to serve as a significant and timely counterforce against stubborn stereotypes, both of Templars and Assassins, that might have been established through prior books of the series.

I appreciated that the narrative took stances on various issues, even stances that seemed unsavory and poignant. Plot implications on the relative predominance and potency between that of familial ties and disparate factional loyalties were breathtaking, not to mention narrative insinuations that indicate the prevailing of unyielding beliefs and allegiance over truth and reality.

This book exceptionally explored the notion of the plasticity of factional identity through a very apt vessel, the main protagonist Haytham Kenway. Haytham’s familial background, intriguing and some might say convoluted, was very well told, and skillfully related to the influence thus on his professional vocation, decisions, visions, and even perception of the self. On the radar as well was the idea of childhood indoctrination.

With this being the fifth installment in the Assassin’s Creed book series, the reader can expect similar themes and even the occasional similar narrative circumstance that defined the franchise. Betrayal and deception of the highest order remained a primary plot driver, that which set in motion further themes of vengeance, retribution, and of meting out justice. The element of mystery also defined the plot, befittingly compelling one to dutifully continue to leaf through the pages. 

Excellent writing remained a staple. The following as penned by the author speaks for itself, “I tethered my horse at the back of the church then stepped inside, where it was just as bone-freezing, numbing cold as it was outside. Along the aisle were the remains of more fires and by the door was a pile of wood, which, on closer inspection, I realized was church pews that had been chopped up. Reverence is the first victim of the cold.”

The novel at times seemed flawed however. It was ironic and galling that the narrator and main protagonist of this novel, Haytham, at one point in the narrative perfectly embodied the expression of pot calling the kettle black. Haytham thankfully preserved a certain sense of self-awareness to realize that some of his actions “effectively sabotaged the work of [his] own Order,” thus making him a “traitor” to his own people. It was ironic that he could follow this personal realization with self-important accusations of another’s betrayal of his Order, passing the judgement that the one he accused have “forsaken the goals of the Order” and was “a disgrace to the Order, to put it mildly.”

This unfortunately undermined Haytham’s credibility in relating the story considering that his journal entries were the primary sources to which this narrative was chronicled. Thankfully this moment of hypocrisy occurred near the end of the novel, and thus only minimally diminished my enjoyment of the book. It was clear however one of the author’s strategies in attempting to convey Haytham’s objectivity and suitability as a narrator, by emphasizing his moderate tendencies and beliefs for the most part of the book.

On a side note, I couldn’t help but wonder what nature of justice it was that Haytham could evade the punishment of death when such a similar nature of treachery committed by others within his Order would have immediately painted them as targets for assassination, deeds to be completed by fellow members of the Order. Being the protagonist certainly has its benefits. 

A certain bloodlust personified by Haytham was also rather unsavory. Despite verbal indications to the contrary, Haytham’s concrete actions and behavioral quirks at certain junctures in the book, as further assisted by the author’s style of writing and choice of words, hinted at a certain eagerness and even sadistic pleasure in killing. 

This book is nevertheless an undeniably worthy sequel to the Assassin’s Creed book series. The narrative shines in its own way, with its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. What I would give however for the beloved Assassin Ezio Auditore to make reappearances in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, as the protagonist once more or otherwise, even if it had to be in a non-human form.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Friday, 11 August 2017

REVIEW: "Assassin’s Creed: Revelations" (Book 4) by Oliver Bowden

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (Book 4)
by Oliver Bowden
Copyright November 2011
Paperback, 512 Pages

Another installment of the interminable Assassin-Templar conflict, and a remarkably fun narrative of purposeful voyages, intriguing puzzles, engrossing political sequences, and a curiously satisfying trace of the philosophical. This narrative featured a moderately thrilling climactic action, and a rather emotive and depressing ending, and is a reasonably adequate sequel to the Assassin’s Creed book series.

Central elements of this plot are intimately entwined with that of book three of this series, with countless references thus to scenes, events and items of its immediate prequel. I especially enjoyed this book’s narrative elaboration to specific exploits of book three, where interesting annexations in details and dialogues to past happenings distinctly increased my enjoyment of the franchise. 

Noting as well this narrative’s not infrequent allusions to characters and beings spanning books one to three of this series and even an ancient tradition of the Assassins, in ways that assume prior knowledge, potential readers would do well to first peruse at the minimum two prequels to, but of course optimally the three prequels to, this book. Those intending to read this book independent of its prequels should be mentally ready to reconcile with questions unanswerable by this very narrative that could very well affect one’s reading experience. 

I especially enjoyed learning alongside Ezio the unfamiliar Assassin combat techniques, weapons and knowledge specific to that of the Istanbul Assassins, as yet again Ezio’s adventures brought him to another foreign land, this time Constantinople. I certainly couldn’t explain my bedazzlement at the marvels of bombs as I, as a reader, joined Ezio in his crash course in bomb-making. I only wished that the action within this narrative actually further contextualized and demonstrated the use of these bombs of such a great intriguing variety.

As with prior books in this series, the exotic environments to which actions took place rendered the plot that much more enchanting. I absolutely savored the visuals conjured in my mind as one of Ezio’s mission in this book brought him into an underground city. I also couldn’t help but got the impression that the author, for this fourth book of the Assassin’s Creed book series, wrote with an increased exquisiteness and refinement, though subtle, particularly when it came to composing narrative dialogues. It certainly astounded me that even somber soldiers could speak as lyrically and expressively as such, “Do not bend the truth to match the contours of your passion.”

In a clear departure from that of prior books in this series, humor assumed a considerably greater presence in this narrative. I really appreciated and treasured the instances where multiple occasions in this book had me genuinely chuckling or laughing aloud, particularly so when Ezio the Master Assassin attempted to pass clumsily as a working musician. It was also refreshing as this narrative lightly remarked upon notions of erroneous killings, and even that of erudition and wisdom being virtues not lost to professional administrators of death. 

Not to my liking however was the still mystifying conclusion to the principal source of mystery and tension throughout the book—the contents of Altair’s library, more specifically, the true significance and implications of the nature of contents found within the library to the world of Assassin’s Creed. It seemed necessary as well to point out that this book’s climactic sequences appeared to fall short of its predecessors—they were tension-filled, fast-paced and exciting, but rather short-lived and filled with less twists and turns, and less setbacks to the protagonist. 

In another peculiar instance, a recounting in a specific juncture within this narrative of a past event—of the death of one dear to Altair—in book three held a point of clear contradiction to supposedly established facts, with regard to the locality of the wound that inflicted death. This nevertheless remains a very solidly written narrative with merits clearly overshadowing its imperfections. 

As for readers ready to be charmed yet again by Ezio the Master Assassin, a man filling the shoes of the primary hero for the very third time in the Assassin’s Creed book series, he or she might need to contend with another side of Ezio, a frailer side, as despite Ezio’s seeming nonhuman invulnerability, and my desire to retain an idealized image of him, he was but just human as you and I.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Monday, 7 August 2017

REVIEW: "Assassin’s Creed: the Secret Crusade" (Book 3) by Oliver Bowden

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Assassin’s Creed: the Secret Crusade (Book 3)
by Oliver Bowden
Copyright June 2011
Paperback, 464 Pages

A marvelous work of fiction, an excellent extension to the Assassin’s Creed book series, and a faithful rendition of the Assassin’s Creed videogame. This narrative is exquisitely rife with betrayal, the theme richly fleshed out in the plot. Climactic sequences nearing the end of the book is exceptional, engagingly melodramatic and even emotionally affecting. Most of all, this narrative explores the very roots of the Order of the Assassins, equipping the reader with a greater foundational understanding of the workings of the Order and of the Assassin’s Creed world, and perfectly supplementary to books one and two of the book series.

This narrative delightfully unveiled novel and refreshing dimensions to a very coveted artifact, the Apple, in the Assassin’s Creed universe. It was also astounding as I discovered through this book the relationship between the Apple and the enigmatic codex that made its appearances in the prequels to this book, including as well details of the origination of the codex and even a clue as to what brought about the fate of the codex as indicated at the beginning of book one of the series. 

Readers with a taste for vicarious adventure and with the predilection for indulging in tales of the assassin lifestyle will enjoy this book. This narrative is however more than merely action, it is also a meaningful tale about principles and integrity, honor and brotherhood, of leadership and making the right decisions, sacrifice and inevitably, heartbreak. This plot also harmoniously incorporates elements of faith, notions of allegiance, lessons of arrogance, and elaborate schemes of deception and subversion. 

The plot twists in the narrative are gold, the mystery tantalizing. I relished the presentation of an alternate side to the Order of the Assassins, one not dealt with in previous books of the series, one that noted the possibility of civic transgression by the Assassins, of the potential fragmentation of the identity of the Assassins as a force for good and with compassion. 

This book however might not be entirely unblemished. The mesmerizing action in the second half of the book, complete with heightened emotions, tension and high stakes plot complications, is reminiscent of the outstanding fictional work of previous books in this series. A segment within the first quarter of this book however paled by comparison and might even appear lackluster to more demanding readers, and dedicated fans of the Assassin’s Creed book series. 

Of Altair’s assassination assignments against nine Templar targets as indicated in the blurb of the book and which formed the preliminary subplot in the novel, the predictable structuring and recounting of each kill, particularly for the first and consecutive four to five kills, in the first quarter of the book came to be rather mundane. The repetitiveness brought to mind the familiar and ubiquitous expression “work, eat, sleep, and repeat,” which in this case translates into “report, reconnoiter, kill, and repeat” or more accurately “report, reconnoiter, report, kill, report, and repeat.” 

Such treatment gave the impression that this part of the narrative constituted a necessary evil that the author might have wished to briefly get over and done with in order to set up for and proceed to subsequent parts of the narrative presumably more personally intriguing to the author. This straightforwardness in narrative planning wasn’t particularly to my liking, but yet again, it seemed that the author cannot be faulted for austerely basing this work on the Assassin’s Creed videogame. Still, having been utterly convinced of the author’s finesse of the written narrative as evident in books one and two of this series, I can’t help but expect more out of the author with regard to this segment of the subplot. Minor editing errors were also scattered through the novel, the nature of which thankfully did not detract from the readability and flow of the narrative. 

Despite a few of my curiosities being left unaddressed by the end of this narrative, that which pertain to the Oracle and the archive as alluded to by the Templars, the exceptional overall enjoyment I’ve experienced from perusing this book and the previous two books of this series might have just made me an Assassin’s Creed convert for life. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.