Friday, 10 May 2013

Book Review : On a Pale Horse By Piers Anthony

I cannot believe I haven't read this book before. Or heard of it earlier. The other portrayal of death that I have read is from Sandman by Gaiman. The following is a blurb about the book-

"When Zane shot Death, he learned, too late, that he would have to assume his place, speeding over the world riding his pale horse, and ending the lives of others. Sooner than he would have thought possible, Zane found himself being drawn to Satan's plot. Already the Prince of Evil was forging a trap in which Zane must act to destroy Luna, the woman he loved...unless he could discover the only way out...."

It doesn't sound that exciting, but do not be deceived. This was a great read. It was unexpected. I loved the concept of death being an office that is held. Like any other job, except of course  for the impenetrable cloak, shoes that help you float on water, a gem that is a universal translator, and last but not the least, Mortis. The Death steed, that can turn in to a horse, car, plane, speedboat as the need arises. 

The world that Piers Anthony has built is a great blend of the world of science and magic. Of course the book focuses quite a bit on the magic part. It would have to, the book is from the fantasy genre and not Sci-fi. But in this world the laws of science and the laws of magic co-exist. There are supercomputers and also magical stones that heal and tell you when you might die. There are also cars and carpets that fly. In this world Satan advertises the "virtues" of going to hell. 

In this world there are 5 incarnation - Death, Time, Fate, Nature and War. Unlike Sandman where it is mostly the same person who does this function for eternity, here it is like a beaureaucratic office where different people hold either of these offices at any time. In Death's case the successor is the one who kills the previous person in the office of Death. And this is where our protagonist Zane comes in.

Zane kills Death while trying to commit suicide. And that is how he becomes death. Let me explain why Death came to personally take Zane (because as Zane puts it he is a nobody and did not understand at first why someone as important as death came to personally take him away). Death comes to take those people in whom Good and Evil are in balance, that is their soul is in balance. and it is one of his duties to sort these souls out to determine whether a soul goes to Heaven or to Hell. The one's that he cannot make a decision about are sent to Purgatory, where they become desk clerks and see to the running of Eternity. This means that Eternity is a beaureaucracy.

The definition of Good and Evil are so set in this world that even when someone deliberately tampers with the life support if their mum so that her suffering could finally end, it is considered a grave sin(This is what happened to Zane). The one's that are almost surely all Good are babies. But even babies sometimes are born with the blemish of sin on their souls if they were the result of rape or incest. It is this unfairness that Zane battles as Death. Why should the sins of the parents affect the children just because the rules set millennia ago says so? Zane has to face all this in a world where God is the only one who adheres to the rule of non-interference with the human world. 

Another dilemma faced by Zane is a little spin on sacrifice one/few to save the many. In this case he had to save one, sacrifice many and in the process save humankind. To me it was an example to tell us not to give up. It always gets tougher at the end before we succeed. 

My favorite part of the book was that Death once goes to collect the soul of a man who is an atheist. When he finally collects the soul the soul disintegrates into nothing. This is what the atheist wanted from the afterlife, to go into nothing. So in this world, the afterlife is what someones belief defines it to be. In the same way, Sin or Good are what we think they are. What might be considered a sin might not be so to someone else's perspective, or even to an entire culture. 

The hero and heroine in this book aren't perfect. Zane had a picture of a perfect woman who has never done wrong. But when he finds out that Luna was not perfect he was repulsed by her at first, just for a while, but later fell in love with her for what she was. 

I enjoyed reading this book a lot. Maybe I'm reading too much into the content of this book, but this was what I felt from this book and what I understood. This is my perspective. I give this book a 4.5/5.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Book Review : Flowers in the Attic

This book was a difficult read. Maybe I should have picked a bit more upbeat book. Even though the book was a little depressing I'm glad I read it. The book is about 4 children - Chris, Cathy and the twins Carrie and Cory - whose father has just passed away and they have to move back to their mothers parents house, with their mother. Their grandparents are very rich. So for the sake of the money that the mother would inherit from her parents she allows the children's grandmother (who is a religious fanatic and thinks that the children are the devil's spawn) to hide them away in the attic.

I've read a couple of reviews on the book where the mother has been criticized a lot along with the granny. I'm not saying the mother was not the worst kind of person. She willingly let her children be locked up in the attic without access to the outside world and basically ignored them. But she wasn't always like that. This is apparent in the way the children trusted her almost to the end.

In a part of the story there is a mention of how the grandmother herself was treated when she was little. She was not allowed to touch the Doll House given to her or a Persian Rug that was kept in a glass box. But when her daughter showed interest in these things the grandfather gave them to her as she was the favorite. This might be where the relationship between the granny and the mother could have deteriorated if it hadn't already. Being in that oppressive environment again she could have either stood up to them or buckled and found a way to survive at the expense of her children. I'm not justifying what she did. But it helps us understand where she was coming from. She learnt from a very young age that she could use her beauty to get her way. She had a choice to use it to help herself and the children but she chose to only help herself. In the beginning she had a lot of guilt. She tried to appease that guilt by getting the children a lot of gifts, trying to buy their love. This worked for a while, but not for long.

The book had a theme of history repeating itself. But it also showed what could have been done differently in these cases. Just like Cathy I was frustrated when Chris would always side with the mother. To him his mother could do no wrong. It made Cathy feel like she was the only one full of spite. Knowing this, the mother would always pander to Chris. I think she knew that Cathy would never completely trust her, that maybe, she was a little like her. But once the youngest children's health was endangered Chris stood up to his mother asking they be released. This loss of faith and trust in the one person who is never supposed to betray you was devastating to Cathy. Even though she wanted her older brother to stay the same. Realizing that their mother did not love them anymore but saw them as a burden, broke something in each of the kids.

But at the end the children overcame the evil that was their grandparents house. They did not break like their mother had. Even though throughout most of the book there are many depressing and sad moments, there were also moments of joy and hope. The children strove to keep their happiness. They made a garden of paper and chalk because they couldn't go outside. The older kids became the parents to the younger ones. They still tried to keep their morale high and always stuck together.

One of the things I liked about this book was that the daughter Cathy realized that she would never depend on any one man for her life. She saw that this was in a way the downfall of her mother. The same sentiment was also reinforced by Chris when he tells her that she shouldn't depend on him too much either, and tells her to be independent, her own woman.

It was difficult to read the book. But I couldn't put it down either. I won't say I enjoyed the book. I don't think that's how I should put it. But it gave me a lot to think about. It was a very well written book. It showcased despair and hope very well. I still need to decide if I will be taking up reading the rest of the series. I don't know if I'm up to it. Maybe a little later. I would rate this book a 4/5.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Book Review: Whisper of Death by Christopher Pike

I recently stumbled upon a great blog called The Book Smugglers. I haven't gone through the whole blog but the book reviews that I've read are great. It was in one of these blog entries (about dystopian novels) that lead me to "Whisper of Death" by Christopher Pike.

I didn't know what I was going into when I started the book. But I'm glad I did. Most dystopian or end of the world novels nowadays are mostly to do with the zombie apocalypse. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy a good Zombie book but it makes one yearn for a different kind of scenario. And boy did Pike deliver.


This book is about Roxeanne, an 18 year old girl who gets pregnant. She and her boyfriend decide to abort the pregnancy and on the way back they realize that they are now all alone in the world except for 3 more people in their town. They find all of them have one thing in common - a girl, Betty Sue who had committed suicide a month ago- and start to die one by one. And they die horrible deaths.

The story reminded a little of Carrie by Stephen King. Not in the way that it was a copy but that a few elements were a bit similar. The supernatural phenomenon and the revenge theme was there in both the books but were handled differently. Betty Sue could affect people's lives and thoughts by writing stories about them. Carrie was telekinetic. They both wanted to take revenge on the people who they thought had wronged them. But that is where the similarity ends.

In the case of Carrie at least there was an end to the story. But in the case of WoD the story is more cyclical. As Betty Sue says, she has a million stories to tell. So she can go on torturing those that betrayed her, in innumerable ways. This book will linger with me for quite a while. And to me that is the sign of a great story. It is making me think. To us something that we do might be of the smallest of significance. But the same thing might the greatest affront to someone else. In this case Roxeanne had not really done anything to Betty Sue personally, but she was still used as a pawn in her revenge and had to go through a lot of pain. I know its weird saying this but this is how real life is. A lot of books depict a rosy picture. that no matter what a person does(especially the main protagonist) he/she is usually forgiven or at least moves on and lives a relatively happy life. But that is not the case.    And you don't have to be the bad guy to get the short end of the stick either, like Roxeanne did in WoD.

All in all I really really liked this book. I would rate this a 4 out of 5.