Ancient Promises

Ancient Promises by Jaishree Misra

@Amazon

Jaishree “Janu” Misra writes a simple, spellbinding tale of love and loss, of pain and deserved happiness which simply rings aloud through and through with bitter experience. Once in a while, I read a book that stays with me for a long, long time. Something inside me takes notice, and I think on the sentences, the words and the characters in the book when I’m doing very different things. Usually, it’s because I identify with some of the characters in the book, and usually, if the protagonist is male, I tend to step into their shoes. But Janu at a lively, imaginative and wonderful 18 years of age, and Arjun a boyish teenager (who loves cricket) that she falls in love with – both of em, can’t be more unlike me. I regret to inform you that it’s her Malayalee husband Suresh I found a kindred spirit in, the Suresh that Janu is forced to marry after abandoning her first love. And Suresh is what I fear I will become 😀

The story, for an Indian author, is refreshingly simple. By that I mean, there aren’t any connivings with the language that both Roy and Rushdie seem to tinker with. Nor is there (despite the name) any deep-rooted mysticism; Janu is human and approachable and her problems are real and vivid and so hard to solve. I can’t draw any parallels with more complicated tales that other Indian authors tend to write nowadays either, but neither is it a return to the ‘before Rushdie’ age with it’s desi tinge; it’s what I feel Indian writing should be – true to the heart, direct, and definitely Indian. Rushdie has said something though that I remember: you have to be an insider and an outsider to see the whole picture. Janu definitely fits the bill, and it’s her unique blend of Delhi-traits and upbringing and her decidedly Malayalee roots that give this story life. I won’t paraphrase the story here because I’m cheating you of a good read, and neither will I give out the many gems of observations that Janu makes about life in Kerala. But if you do get the time, pick up this book; if you’re a Malayalee, don’t miss this.

The Death of Chaos

The Death of Chaos by L.E. Modesitt

@ Amazon | @ YetAnotherBookReview

I’m sure someone must have mentioned this before, but there is a giant power-sucking-vortex when you are dealing with sequels to an excellent story. The nicer the orginal story, the more your readers want a sequel, and the nicer the sequel, the more your readers want another one. Since there is something called the Law of Diminishing Returns, you can only write so many sequels before it starts to taste like dried orange. The rule therefore, if you are an author, is to plan your sequels and to write them well.

The Recluse series doesn’t have many true sequels. It is a large series, but they are more books set in the same universe than continuations of the same plot line. While it helps to read all interconnected books in a series to know everything about everybody, every book stands alone, and that’s pretty wonderful for new readers.

Well, what can I say about this book which is actually the 5th book in the Recluse series and the sequel to The Magic of Recluse? The Law of Diminishing Returns do apply ;-). Lerris returns, but this time as a mage with growing powers. He truly doesn’t understand his powers yet, but as it grows, it changes him in ways that he doesn’t expect. The Recluse series shows why it’s one of the better fantasy sagas out there in this book because it doesn’t repeat or rehash the material of the earlier book. Lerris is much different than what we found in the first book and though his modesty is grating after a while, he does have a few endearing qualities too. Krystal – his consort – is likable, so is Tamra, and so is Justen and Gunnar, and when you’ve read the earlier four books, all these make the story a cohesive unit that’s pretty impressive.

What’s not that impressive is the plot. While it’s fittingly gargantuan and epic, it also has so many ups and downs and twists and turns and confusing details everywhere that it becomes a tough read. The ending is worth it, and is not a let down, however the book is much more long winded than the first one, which is saying something. Recluse is not an easy series to read, and this book proves that too.

For people who like sequels however, this is a good story and one that should not be missed. I for one, liked it more than the first book.

The Magic of Recluse

The Magic of Recluse by L.E. Modesitt

@Amazon | @ SFFWorld

The Recluse fantasy series is another epic saga of 12 books (and counting?) that along with the much longer and more popular Sword of Truth series and the Wheel of Time compendium make me think that fantasy sagas have to be long to be read :-). While there are a few exceptions to the rule, most notably The RiddleMaster books, even that is a trilogy (or is it four books?) and length seems to be the measuring rod of popularity for this genre. The Recluse books however do not continue the same story unlike the two sagas mentioned above, they are but books set in the same universe.

However, length is not a measure for quality. The SoT and WoT series of books are apt examples on what not to do with a fantasy series. While the Wheel of Time dragged on and on and on until lovely characters became caricatures of themselves, the Sword of Truth series became so idealistic and objectivistic so as to make me puke. There were a few excellent books in both the series, but every time the authors came up with additions to an already long story, rehashes of the same theme became more commonplace, and the story seemed to be going nowhere. There is nothing that can disillusion fantasy fans more than a still story, and both these very promising universes seemed to have stood stock-still for some time now. The Recluse series, as I mentioned above, does not fall into this trap, and since it does not have the same characters for every book, there is an element of fresh air that makes some quirks palatable. There are still rehashes of the same plot, but it is much more bearable.

Enough of the introduction ;-). Recluse is a world based on Chaos and Order. Chaos is white – since it’s a chaotic mixture of all colours, and Order is black – since it doesn’t have any impurity at all. There are wizards – Chaos masters and Order masters who wield these opposites and fight each other until someone comes on top. At least, that’s the basic premise. One of the interesting things about this series is the “science” in it. Chaos and Order are very strongly explained in the context of the series, so much so that the rules in this universe become believable. While it is slow going, particularly at first, slowly as Recluse becomes clearer, we can understand the workings of order and chaos much more clearly as well. This much of a strong explanation for magic is one of the best things about Recluse. If you can get through the first few hundred pages of the book, you’ll soon find the characters very interesting.

Our hero is Lerris, a boy from the island of Recluse in this world who has been rejected by the people on the island because he thinks Order is too “boring”. Recluse is built on Order, and since it does not allow a foothold to chaos, Lerris has to undergo a dangergeld – a sort of trial – so that he can prove himself and come back to the island. It seems a straight-forward story when I tell it like that, but the plot thickens from the very beginning, and it is a confusing read if you’re a speed-reader and looking just to finish this book. This is a book that must be taken slow and slowly dissected. Lerris has many adventures, and the book has a satisfying ending, but even the first few pages would tell us that the world of Recluse has enough material in it for a hundred books or more, and a few sequels bunched in :-). I liked this book.

A Little Princess

It’s not often that I can exactly say how I stumbled across a particular site or a webpage that interests me. Most of the kewl links that you see here are like that, their history forgotten the instant I found them interesting. But it’s often very interesting in itself to know how I stumbled on some of them, for a geneology of interesting things will lead me to a place which points me to interesting things often – and that is a very good thing to know.

Off-topic: The XML specification by the W3C aims to make what I described above easier. Although it has not been implemented yet, the Xlink specification contains a feature known as back-links or bi-directional links – every hyperlink is “aware” about its referers, so when you ask a page to translate how exactly you came to be there, it’ll tell you that. It’s much more complicated than a back-button because information can be passed both ways through such a hyperlink whereas now it just moves forward. It’s one of the things in the spec that might change “browsing” the net forever.

Well, all that was because I stumbled on a most interesting story today in a very roundabout manner. You would have to be dead to not know that the Alfonso Cuarón directed Potter movie – The Prisoner of Azkaban is to very shortly hit the big screen. Cuarón also directed another movie called the Little Princess, and it was largely because of it that he was chosen for this one. And that is how I stumbled upon A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

If you like Anne of the Green Gables by L.M Montgomery, you’ll like this book. It’s an adorable fairy tale that is written so wonderfully that you’ll empathize with Sara – a little princess who goes from riches to rags and back – so much that the book will keep you mesmerized. I loved this.

You can read A Little Princess online thanks to the Electronic Text Center of the Univeristy of Virginia Library.

Drunkard's Walk

Drunkard's Walk by Robert M. Schroeck

As a rule, I don’t like fanfic. If the fanfic happens to be anime derived (as most fanfics on the net are) I avoid it. Drunkard’s Walk is an exception to that rule. It has excellently crafted characters, a wry sense of humor, cute tall Japansese girls (who for once appear to be real people rather than manga material) and good quotes at the beginning of every chapter. I liked Douglas Sangnoir. In fact, I’ll recommend this series to anybody who asks. Sadly, only Part II is available on the net right now 🙁