Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Book of Blood: The Beginning of Clive Barker’s Horror Dynasty

A Review By: Amelia

It’s always gratifying to read an author’s first works and discover that they were as good back then as they are now. One such author is Clive Barker and his superb breakthrough piece Books of Blood.

Books of Blood were Clive Barker’s breakout in the horror world. They’re his manifesto. They’re what established him as one of the goriest, creepiest, sickest horror writers to ever but pen to paper.  The Book of Blood is the first story and, what might be considered a prelude or prologue, to the overall series Books of Blood. It’s a short story to explain, in a way, how the other stories came to be told and written down.

There are two characters in this short story, an academic woman who is in a supposedly haunted house to study it, and a man who is masquerading as a medium for an easy pay cheque. The woman is convinced the house is haunted because the fake medium is putting on a very convincing show. Of course, when the house actually turns out to be haunted, the medium becomes the book of blood upon which all the gory stories of the restless dead are written.

As far as horror stories go, Barker is the master. He loves his gore, he loves his violence and he loves his weird and creepy sexual situations. Although you won’t get all these in The Book of Blood short story, you’ll get it all within Books of Blood series, and with the prologue story being so good, there’s no way you can resist reading everything else this series of short stories has to offer.

My final thoughts on The Book of Blood are that it’s an awesome story. On its own, sure, it’s not all that much, but as the prelude to all the stories that are encapsulated among Books of Blood series, it’s brilliant. Barker found an ingenious way to connect all his stories even though the only thing they have in common is horror, blood, and death. He created his horror manifesto and the beginning of his horrifying career within The Book of Blood and all fans of Barker, of horror, of good fiction in general, should check it out.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

xxxHolic: The Title Is Confusing, But Bear With It For A Great Manga!

A Review By: Amelia
I’ve always been unhealthy obsessed with the supernatural. Ghosts have always fascinated me. Of course, with ghosts and spirits the subject matter is usually pretty heavy where I prefer light-heartedness and humour. With xxxHolic, they strike a good balance of horror, drama, and humour.

xxxHolic is a nineteen volume manga that follows a group of rag-tag, strange, social outcast, supernaturally-gifted people as they solve bizarre situations with more bizarre solutions. The creators of xxxHolic are a group of female Japanese manga artists that named themselves CLAMP. They formed in the 1980s and had upwards of 11 members at any given time. Nowadays, they’ve thinned out to four members: Nanase Ohkawa provides much of the storyline for the works and Mokona, Tsubaki Nekoi, and Satsuki Igarashi are the three artists whose roles shift for each series. CLAMP has written many notable manga series including the very popular Cardcaptors series.

Yuuko on the left, Watanuki on the right
The main characters of this manga are Watanuki, a teenage boy who has the ability to see and communicate with spirits and Yuuko who is a physic/mystic who owns a gift-granting shop. There’s also a few secondary characters: Himawari, who is Watanuki’s love interest, Doumeki, who Watanuki dislikes strongly because he thinks he’s trying to steal Himawari, Mokona, who is a small cat/rabbit-like creature who’s a smart-ass and always hungry, and Maru & Moro, who are twin spirits who live at Yuuko’s shop.

An example of the art
The art style of xxxHolic is some of the best I’ve seen. It’s very, very stylized with the human characters having unnaturally long and thin limbs and wild expressions, and that might put some readers off, but that highly specialized style looks amazing on the supernatural characters. All the characters are cute and good-looking but all the attractiveness does get a little boring as background characters just become cookie-cutter replicas of good-looking nobodies.

All in all, xxxHolic is something really special. It’s a supernatural drama piece that doesn’t disappoint in its horror or its humour. The characters are likable and funny, the artwork is unique, and with nineteen volumes in the first series, you’ve got more than enough for hours of manga enjoyment.

My final thoughts on Clamp’s xxxHolic are that it’s wonderful. It’s my favourite manga. It’s hilarious: Watanki’s reactions are enough to leave you giggling for hours all on their own. It’s a chilling and creepy with some of the supernatural terrors they introduce being truly scary. It’s touching and sweet, as this strange collection of characters do care for each other and have very sweet and tender moments. This is just an all-round great manga and if you haven’t read it or aren’t even considering reading it, you’re doing yourself a great injustice!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Fall of Giants: The Possible Fall of Ken Follett?

A Review By: Amelia

Historical fiction is probably my favourite genre of fiction. Taking something that’s actually happened and putting new people in it just appeals to a history nerd like myself, and, honestly, there’s no better historical fiction writer than the fabulous Ken Follett.

Follett, for the uninitiated, made a name for himself pretty earlier on in his career with his knack for World War II thrillers but has, on occasion, written books outside of those perimeters. Fall of Giants is one of those books. Unfortunately, Follett may have gotten in over his head with Falls of Giants, and, in this review, you’ll learn why.

Fall of Giants is a massive, epic of a novel that covers the first thirty years of the 20th century through the eyes of five families from different social backgrounds and different countries. We, as the readers, watch the families deal with important issues like worker’s unions, women’s rights, the First World War, and the beginning of the depression.

The Century TrilogyFall of Giants being book one of three–follows five families and this is where Follett really let me down. He usually has such strong, well-rounded characters, but in Fall of Giants he’s so concerned with what’s happening in the countries around the characters and not the characters themselves. As an example, the Russian family (two brothers named Lev and Gregori) deal with things like a corrupted royal family and poverty because they’re Russian. Sure one of the brothers is selfless and believes in Russia and one of them is selfish and cares only of money and sex and that’s about it. Follett does nothing to expand on them to make them likable. It’s the same deal with the other four families: an American family from old money, a British family from old money, a Welsh coal mining family, and a German family from–you guessed it–old money. It’s like Follett is trying to create some kind of allegory with his characters instead of just writing characters! 

The locations in this novel are just as flat and lifeless as the characters. What happens within the countries are things that actually happened in history and Follett is usually a great writer with history but that’s when he’s focusing on one main character. All the history in all the countries with all the characters is overwhelming and often just plain boring. Take for example the years of World War I. Some of the characters fight in it and it’s interesting–Follett writing about war always is–but when it switches over to a character who is not fighting in the war but instead campaigning for unions or running a night club, who cares? It takes away from the action and romance and the sex–which means it takes away everything Follett is renowned for!

Follett could have done something really awesome with Fall of Giants, but I think he got a little over eager. He dove head first into a story that’s too much–too much for him or for any other author for that matter. There’s too much history happening all at once and too little character development too support it all.

My final thoughts on Fall of Giants are that it’s a jumbled mess of information and characters only partially developed. It really frightens me that Ken Follett–one of my all-time favourite authors–might be losing his touch! Don’t get me wrong, the book is still well written compared to some other authors out there, but by Follett’s usually high standards, it falls way short.