Jun 25, 2010

Eragon, by Christopher Paolini (Inheritance, Book 1)

Eragon, by Christopher Paolini, is the first book in one of few successful dragon series. The main character--Eragon--is a poor orphaned teenager who lives with his uncle and cousin in the land of Alagaesia (pronunciations provided in the back of the book. I consulted them many times.) While hunting for food in the forest, he discovers a rare and mysterious dragon egg which hatches only a few days after bringing it home. Bound together through thoughts, touch, and magic, Eragon and his dragon--Saphira--are thrust into a dangerous, but instantly famous life of dragon and rider, Eragon being the first Dragon Rider to reappear since the evil king slaughtered the others almost 100 years previously.
Brom--the old town storyteller--mentors Eragon as Eragon and Saphira set out on a quest of revenge and adventure. Through these travels, Eragon learns about magic, meets elves and witches, fights the Empire's army and discovers the wonders of flying.
There is no doubt that the author, Paolini, has a detailed and in depth imagination. The history of Alagaesia and mystical cultures of elves and dwarves carries the story through three books. However, the writing style was not my cup of tea. Often times, it feels like I was reading classic literature. You know the type--a lot of description and mixed view points. I can be a picky reader so, while I enjoyed the plot of book one, for pure preference sake I couldn't finish or complete the series. Still, I enjoyed many things about Eragon--cities, characters, plot twists
Eragon does have some swearing in it, and a few battle descriptions reach a grotesque level unsuitable for children. I would recommend this book only be read by the intended age group (12+). Though I may never read it again, solely because of my reading preference (not moral obligations), it's always worth a try. Give this book a chance and let me know what you think. If you have already read Eragon or the entire Inheritance Trilogy, I would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to e-mail or comment.

My Ratings:
Violence Level: *** 
Romance Level: * (none in Eragon, but it sets the stage for romance in the next books)
Christian Focus: * (none)
Readability Level: *** (too sporadic for me)
Story Depth Level: ***
Recommendation: *** ( [shrug] meh, why not?)
For a more detailed explanation of the above ratings, go here!

Jun 5, 2010

To Darkness Fled, by Jill Williamson

Jill Williamson is making a name for herself. To Darkness Fled is a brilliant sequel continuing the stories of Achan Cham and Vrell Sparrow. This continuation picks up moments after the first book ends with Achan and Vrell fleeing the rogue king with Old Kingsguard knights. The majority of the book covers their travels which, to be honest, I thought would be repetitive and monotonous (what’s more boring than traveling for weeks on end? Reading about traveling for weeks on end.) Instead, Williamsons’ writing is anything but dull. She throws twists from every corner and keeps every chapter exciting, unpredictable, and harder to put down.

Both Achan and Vrell learn more about bloodvoicing as they travel to Ice Island to free long-imprisoned soldiers for Achan’s army. Achan comes to a new understanding of what kingship entails and grows a deeper relationship with Arman—the One who called him to be king. Meanwhile, Vrell struggles to keep her gender and identity a secret, but cannot subdue her growing love for Achan.

I enjoyed the story almost as much as the first novel. It kept me flipping pages, anxious for answers, and surprised by plot turns. Only after reading these first two Blood of Kings novels did I notice what a difference having a fantasy based on Christ makes. Both during and after the read, I felt uplifted and even able to focus on God more.

All the characters in these first two books are convincing, in-depth, and believable. No human reaction, battle scene, escape attempt, or romantic encounter comes off as sugar coated or unrealistic. Every character, bad and good, has lifelike motives and desires. Williamson skillfully emphasizes morals, beliefs, and life priorities through her characters’ eyes. I am also impressed with her ability to create and describe a new world without bogging down the reader with explanations, descriptions, or over-the-top details.

To Darkness Fled deals with more on the romantic side than book one and, though it remains clean and decent, my opinion remains the same from my review of book one—that these novels are appropriate for mid-teens, young adults, and older. Not for children or “tweens”. See my rating at the end of this post.

I highly recommend buying/reading To Darkness Fled (after the 1st one, of course!). Ask your local library to carry it if you can’t find it in a nearby bookstore. It is a wonderful read and I pray Jill Williamson continues to write, even after finishing the series. You know the story is good when, afterward, you don’t want to read anything else but the same novel over again. The Blood of Kings series is like a second home in book form. I can’t wait to walk over the threshold into book 3 and live through the conclusion.

Violence Level: **** (violence is high, but clean and not gruesome)
Romance Level: **
Christian Focus: **** (so refreshing!)
Readability Level: ***(easy-medium to read)
Story Depth Level: *****(makes you think. In-depth, but not confusing)
Recommendation: ***** (absolutely!)

For a more detailed explanation of the above ratings, visit the 6-Point Nutshell post.

6-Point Nutshell

I have decided a rating form is needed—-basically a few bullets to summarize my opinions and ratings of a book in a 6-point nutshell. Here’s how it works:

I will rate:

1. Violence level
*. . .* *.no violence 
**. .*a little, but still light and appropriate 
*****consistent violence through the entire novel 
*****violence is high and very noticeable. (may still be clean, however) 
***** excessive and inappropriate descriptions and amount of violence

2. Romance level
*. . .* *.not an ounce of romance
**. .*mildly touched upon; innocent
*****plays a main part in the story. There may be physical interaction
*****major theme in the novel--may reach inappropriate or serious
. . . . . . levels.
***** excessive. Inappropriate focus or interaction.

3. Christian theme/focus level
*. . .* *.no Christian focus in any way
**. .*a little, but hard to notice. Underlying themes that are difficult to
. . . . . . catch.
*****consistent Christian focus, but not over-the-top. Slightly hidden in
. . . . . . the writing.
*****obvious Christian themes throughout the story.
***** every aspect of the story revolves around God/Christian-themes.
. . . . . . Obvious messages.

4. Readability level
*. . .* *.very easy to read. Almost too easy, doesn't really push the reader.
**. .*easy to read, simple (but not bland) writing.
*****easy to medium read. Makes the reader focus, but is not confusing.
*****a little difficult to read--either due to writing style or confusing
. . . . . . descriptions/story
***** very confusing. Difficult to understand much of the story due to
. . . . . . poor/unclear/over-the-top writing.

5. Story-depth level
*. . .* *.not much depth. Cliche, simple writing. Unoriginal.
**. .*a little depth and creativity, but below reading level of target age.
*****plenty of thought and effort put into the story. Interesting, but only
. . . . . . a little thought-provoking with limited plot layers.
*****thought-provoking with several layers of plot that are still fairly
. . . . . . easy to follow.
***** Story is well-planned and insightful, makes the reader think and
. . . . . . ask questions. Several important underlying themes and messages
. . . . . . with a page-turning plot line.

6. Personal recommendation level at the end of each post.
*. . .* *.not recommended; does more damage than good to the reader. (I'll
. . . . . . probably sell/toss it).
**. .*not recommended; not edifying to the reader, but not seriously damaging.
. . . . . . (Won't ever re-read it)
*****neutral recommendation. It is doubtful the book will damage or
. . . . . . edify the reader one way or the other. (Probably won't re-read it).
*****recommended; above-average read with interesting themes. (I
. . . . . . may re-read it)
***** highly recommended. Edifies the reader and leaves him or her at a
. . . . . . more positive level. Fully exceeds my expectations. (I'll definitely re-read it)

For an example of a five-star novel, see the new post on Jill Williamson's 2nd novel, To Darkness Fled!

For future readers’ sake, I am going to add these ratings in to the former posts. If you want clarification on any ratings, please feel free to ask!

God bless.