Book Review - Burial Rites

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a very well written book read by an extremely good narrator. The dialect and accent on the spoken passages in Icelandic seemed spot on in the audio-book and really brought the reader into this world.

This book is heavy and dark. The premise is depressing at best, and the entire mood is heightened by place, in the grey, cold reaches of Iceland. As a reader, you have an idea of where this book is going to end right when you come into it, but it is the journey through the final months of the main character's life that really drive this book home.

The characters were very well written, with the young priest being the exception. His place in the book was largely not necessary and I never felt he was critical to the story or the development of Agnes through her final days.

I would not consider this to be a light read, and in fact, was a difficult one to get through when the weather was so pleasant out in the spring and early summer. This is the type of book you read on a rainy October Sunday in front of a fire with hot tea and some cookies. You are going to need those tea and cookies because they are the only thing that are going to make you feel good while you read this. Agnes is almost the stereotype of a tragic character. Almost everything that could have possibly gone wrong in her life has, and there is a deep sense of depression painted around her. The reader receives only the briefest moment of melancholy relief when her story finally ends.

In some ways I am at a loss for how to wrap up this review. This book is written beautifully. The writing is almost poetic at times and the attention to detail with the use of the Icelandic language was masterfully done. That detailed use of language though is also what makes the book as deep and as heavy as it is. This isn't the type of book for everyone, but it has all the markings to become a "classic" that is still recognized decades from now.

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Book Review - The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a "heavy" book. The subject matter, the style of writing. All of it carried a tremendous amount weight to it and you felt as if you were carrying that weight with you all the way through the book. Every plodding step that our characters took was just as painfully dragged along with you as the reader.

The writing style of this book was the most profound thing that I noticed. The structure was very "pointed" and succinct. Sentences were punctual with very little punctuation.

The story overall was very well written and I can see why this has won so many awards. The subject matter and style of the writing sets this apart as a "work of art" in terms of literary writing. While I did enjoy this book, I somehow did not find myself emotionally attached to it. Perhaps it was because of the impending doom that we all knew coming at the end, but the conclusion of the story here left me neither emotionally engaged, nor hopeful. Perhaps that was exactly what McCarthy was going for, a story that reflected the insignificance of its importance in the world that it was written in.

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Book Review - The City of Brass

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For a first novel by S.A. Chakraborty, this is a fantastic first entry to a trilogy. City of Brass has a wonderful world set around it. The middle eastern and Islamic setting is wonderfully done. It was exotic and new for a fantasy setting, but grounded in our own world, all while not making me feel like it was too alien to me.

I was enthralled by the context of the deserts, the flying carpets, the Ifrit and more. I was perplexed though with the Djinn culture. At times it seemed wonderfully magical and exotic, at other times a bit too human. The call outs early on in the book to the morning prayers specially stuck out to me, mainly because we never did get a better understanding of what the Djinn religion was, why it mattered, or why Ali was considered devout. These things were all mentioned several times, but never explored, so they felt like they didn't really need to be there. Ali just as easily could have been chaste (which is alluded to) because he was the second born (again alluded to) as it had to due with his religious devotion. I felt Chakraborty, danced around the edges of all of these topics as justifications, but didn't explore any of them deep enough to have them mean anything.

Chakraborty's characters overall I felt were pretty compelling, especially the king and the rest of the actors in the political court. The writing there to show how adept the king was at managing the political balance and teetering civil war was well done. Overall the supporting cast was fantastic.

I had issues with the main three characters though. Nahri, Ali and Dara all frustrated me on how one dimensional their characters seemed to be, especially in light of more dynamic supporting characters around them who seemed to have more depth in their motivations and political acuity. All three main characters were "extremes", so harsh in their views and convictions that I felt them to be unbelievable. Nahri especially had several passages where her self-doubt and self-depreciation came to the point where I said "enough already, I get it". I understand the character has an internal struggle that she is dealing with, but Chakraborty kept driving the point home again and again that it began to detract from the overall story.

The middle section was slow, mostly because of the aforementioned main characters issues I mentioned above. It felt even slower because none of them seemed to really grow or move at all. Nahri still doubted everything she was doing, Ali was still stubborn with his convictions, despite evidence against them and Dara was still an egotistical, angry, zealot, despite several attempts by the story to show interjections of them all breaking those molds. All three inevitably fell back, with almost no change or growth.

The last arc of the book was nicely written. Pieces were set in motion for the upcoming sequel and there were several instances of surprise that genuinely put a smile on my face. Chakraborty did a delightful job in writing suspenseful action sequences and I am genuinely looking forward to the next book. I just hope I can read less of Nahri asking "What? I don't understand." about the events in the world happening around her. A bit less denial and more self-determination would be nice.

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