It's always amazing what kind of books you can pick up for cheap at fundraiser stalls. Recently I've read 2 books that have drawn out such opposite reactions in me, so here are some short reviews:
'Dragonhaven' by Robin McKinley. A must read. Imagine if mythical creatures really existed in our world: now imagine how humans would most likely treat them. In the case of dragons, with fear and suspicion (typical). So in this world, dragons have been hunted to the brink of extinction and all the dragons left are only living in closed-off nature reserves. The story is told from the point of view (1st person) of a young man-called Jake-who grew up in one such reserve. Now this guy, he rambles...a lot. There are times when the story feels like it isn't going anywhere for the simple reason that Jake feels the need to fill in on context and background. The story doesn't even begin properly until after the first chapter. But once it gets going, it's really absorbing. They say every great plot needs a conflict, well this novel's full of them: it explores enmity between yourself and your bad-tempered superiors, your gut instinct against the rules and regulations that govern you, freedom of choice against the expected/imposed norm, curiosity against fear, the importance of wealth and connections against community spirit and mass protest, patience against misunderstanding...have I missed a conflict? While this book's biggest weakness might be how much Jake rambles (as well as the tell-tale signs that it's a British author writing the thoughts of an American), its biggest strength is the impression of just how strange and foreign the dragons are, as well as how frightening they can be.
On the other end of the quality spectrum, I bought and read 'Deathworld', an entry in the 'Net Force Explorers' series for teenagers, written by Tom Clancy, while Steve Pieczenik also gets credit for the creation. That's right, I said Tom Clancy, the same Tom Clancy that writes novels for adults regarding military/police action. That really comes through when he's writing the various characters interacting with each other. The chapters in the story alternate between the points of view of a pair of best friends, but whenever they talk to each other, their relationship seems so forced and awkward. However, it's not the writing that's bad, oh no, it's the editing. I'm serious. Throughout the entire book I kept spotting typos. Not only that, the blurb misspells one of the character's names. What a shoddy work this was.
There were also 2 BIG things that made me groan and roll my eyes. First of all, in this futuristic world, virtual reality is everywhere. Everybody has an implant in their skulls, which means that they work in virtual offices, have their own virtual 'desktops', chat to other people by walking into their VR spaces and only play VR games. Without mentioning what kind of ridiculous waste of resources and money this would be, the entire concept of VR-while all the obsession of the 90s-has been thoroughly discredited and abandoned. If you want to read a story that takes place in a future with a sense of realism, don't read this. The other thing is that the game at the centre of the story, Deathworld, was created to pander to the masses of teenagers who believe so many criminals are never brought to court, not to mention escape justice, that the world stinks, life hurts, humanity is corrupt/unfair, bla bla bla bitch bitch moan moan. What is it with teenagers and this view point? Hell, even I had it when I was 14, and as an adult realise how daft it was. So, Deathworld has 9 levels, each one tormenting one group of particular sinners in different ways on each level, and everyone's trying to get to the 9th. I'm sure the reference to the circles of Hell didn't pass you by. So at the end of the book, I had to laugh out loud when the 9th level was revealed to be...paradise. The game's creator spoke wisely when he said at the end: "OK, so life stinks, but then you stop complaining, and get on with finding out how to make it work."