Friday, July 24, 2009

Book's Read This Week

Abinadi, by H.B. Moore

I bought this when it was first released last fall at the now dearly departed, Provident Books grand opening. Crom! I wish they were still around. Anyway I actually didn't get around to reading it right away and I ended up getting the audio-book from the local library and listening to that while I was working. I have listened to a lot of audio-books that way. Well this one just didn't do it for me, I was left unimpressed by the lead female character Raquel.

But this is not the end of the story. After reading a discussion at the arts site AMV Heather (the author) made a few points as did a number of other commenter's and I had to stop and think, that I had missed way too much of the book when I listened to the audio - WAY TOO MUCH.

I went back and read the physical book. I never once regret having the physical book, I prefer it, audio is just handy but obviously leaves you crippled at times if you are doing anything besides driving.

I still did not like some of the anachronisms, such as "He is stupid as an alpaca," but that is nothing. (Bear with me Heather)
The thing that got to me, was Heather did not shy from portraying the evils of King Noah's court. That means a lot to me because I don't think we need watered-down fiction that fails to illustrate what those evils are. And in the same light showing what the rewards of doing right are. All too often in LDS fiction I think we are centered on the lighter side and the dark side of life is left too vague. Why? For fear of it looking glamorous? Then it wouldn't be temptation would it? When the evil is too vague, conversion stories are weak, they fall flat, because I don't buy the motivation of the characters.

The most talked about piece of Abinadi is that he is portrayed as a young man, as opposed to the classic Friberg painting of old man winter. I am a Friberg fan. But the young man, who has so much to lose is excellent. I love it when authors take standard tropes and give us a new (possibly more correct) ways of looking at them.

While I was much more appreciative of Raquel with my second go through on the book, I was also very interested in the side character of Alma and the relationship with his love interest of Maia, the abused wife of King Noah. I kept waiting for some familiar things to happen and when they didn't it just made me want to read Alma the sequel, all the more when it is released in a couple of months. I really hope there is some resolution there despite the stickiness of the situation. (I became convinced that Maia's stillborn son was actually Alma's but I'm probably wrong on that)

Heather remarked on the AMV post (might lose people here, if so . . .catch up) that she was not familiar with the "chewed gum" metaphor, I always heard "licked butter" growing up. But in any case, I don't like to think of people that way, and if there is a repentance I don't think people should be categorized as such after the fact. Maia represents the perfect example as does Alma, of going beyond the stereotypes of the used, and worthless.

The final scene where (I doubt this is a spoiler alert for anyone) Abinadi is burned alive for preaching the gospel, reminded me of one of my favorite movies Braveheart. I doubt this was Heathers plan but it caused a resonance with me about the idea of sacrifice of which each of these were good examples of men dying horribly for great causes.
All in all, I liked this book and am really looking forward to Alma.

If this was bad Heather, crucify me when I send you 'Heroes of the Fallen'

The Blackfoot Moonshine Rebellion of 1892, by Ron Carter
Crazy Horse, by Larry McMurtry

I am putting these two together because they are both westerns and both rather short. Beyond that they are diametrically opposed in that McMurtry writes that he is not about to tell you what Crazy Horse was thinking and Carter pushes for a good stretching of the truth for the stories sake and telling you what everyone was thinking, and I like both of them for it. Each is strong on relating history of the times and each is very pro-Indian. Perhaps not as pro as Vine Deloria, but then who is? Each give good slices of life about the Indian and it was easy for me to picture things because of the quality of writing and because I have walked the lands of these two books many times. These are tales I will dip into again.

The Legacy: Legend of Drizzt.Book 7, by R.A. Salvatore, adapted by Andrew Dabb and pencils by Rob Atkins and Tim Seely

I want it clear that not everything I read and review get 2 thumbs up. (But you do Heather)
Ok this is the graphic novel and not the original novel which I have not yet read. So being a comic book I will say the art was good, not great, but still above average. Now comes the bitterness. I don't fear reprisals from R.A. Salvatore or Andrew Dabb (like I do from Heather) cuz I don't know them and they don't know me. I must say that I really, really like the previous 6 graphic novels in this fantasy series. So I don't know who is to blame for this one, Salvatore or Dabb.
Salvatore wrote the original novel and Dabb adapted this graphic from it, and here is the problem, for a fantasy the monsters were weak and lame, the most impressive thing was demon that showed up and was killed in a moment of sacrifice by Wulfgar, that's cool. I know he's not really dead but the characters don't. The magic was lame, the motivation of the bad guy Artemis Enteri was weak and halfway through I was thinking this is the dumbest one yet.
Its like somebody was trying way too hard to flesh out these characters and give them depth so they would be real to me but instead pushed to hard and made them caricatures of themselves. I still want to go and get book 8, Starless Night, whenever it comes out but if the story keeps going like this I won't get another.

Last Argument of Kings, by Joe Abercrombie

This is the last book in the First Law trilogy and it is frakkin ace! I can't contain myself this is my favorite book read this year. Such action and intrigue, so many unexpected twists and then how Joe throws his characters into the fire and then pulls them out again, genius. I cannot wait for his next book Best Served Cold, its getting released at the end of the month.
Now before we get to far ahead of ourselves gentle readers, a word of caution. Anything I said about Heather properly illustrating the evils of Noah's court would be to the power of three in Last Argument of Kings. If you are familiar with George R.R. Martin, this is like that, but harsher and better. Yes, I am saying it Abercrombie is better than Martin. Why? Because he springs traps better, he twists the knife at harder angles, and he brings magnificent philosophical presence to his characters beyond just about any writer I can think of.
I daresay I am pained at the thought of besting him, but I will try. The one thing I can think of is the spiritual message I bear that he neglects . . . other than that it is a fight to the death for me to top him.


Melanie Goldmund said...

I'm trying to get the first Joe Abercrombie book through my local bookswap, but the wait is becoming tedious -- I might just have to break down and actually buy it!

You asked why, in LDS literature, the dark side of life is often left too vague. Well, I don't know about anybody else, but I've personally shied away from depicting the dark side because I just don't have any experience in it. Not that I'm perfectly good, oh no, far from it, but I am at least striving in that direction. I'd have to use my imagination to show the dark side ... I'd have to think about evil motivations, and, um, to tell the truth, it's just a little bit scary. What if it affects me somehow? How far can I go and still get out again unscathed? I don't know, and I don't want to find out the hard way.

Weak, I know. *hangs head*

Karen Gowen said...

Every book has conflict,and if an author chooses the conflict of good vs. evil, then the evil had better be portrayed realistically or the whole story falls flat. Because you can't write good vs. evil and gloss over the evil like it doesn't really exist. Not to mean you have to glory in it, but it's got to at least matter.

Mary Gray said...

Writing instructor Alicia Rasley talks about "setting in" a character. She sits in a chair, closes her eyes, and actually becomes that character. She then writes what she sees, how she feels, what she wants.

But sometimes she has a hard time with that one (I would expect with characters so very different from herself). She said another technique she uses is interviewing a character. She'll write up the list of questions beforehand then just free-write answers without hiding anything. She said she's able to hash out POV, feelings, and intentions way better this way. I love the idea.

Sol Stein (I'm always bringing him up!) says if you have a conflict and you really want one character to win, try your darndest to make the OTHER one win (pretend you're him). I've thought a lot about that with my villain in the book I'm editing. Helps make his intentions for clear cut.

As for feeling evil? Yeah, I'm pretty much already there, and really enjoy that point of view!!

David J. West said...

Great points about character everybody. I don't know that I would want to become my bad guys at all-too much, but they are fun to write from more of an interview type atmosphere.

Melanie, I am warning you about Abercrombie if your sqeamish. You have been warned. And I don't think it has to be prtryaed as dark all the time, it depends on the story. Family drama's don't have to have an evil step mother just a strong disagreement.

I suspect this is the kind of thing I'll read in Karen's Book, Uncut Diamonds. Not a son of perdition, Gadianton Grand Master that is the driving wheel of conflict in mine.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

Very interesting post about the Abinadi book! Who is releasing the sequel, if the publishing company doesn't exist anymore? That's really too bad that they only lasted a year!

As a people, we are afraid of evil. We don't want it in our lives. WE don't want to know about it. What we often don't realize is, we can't protect ourselves if we dont' know what we're protecting from.

That's one of the reasons Wido changed my book from a YA novel to an adult novel. I'm not graphic by any means, but the subject matter is sensitive. There will probably be some people who think it is better left unexplored. I am not one of them, but I believe I explored the evils in a tactful and sensitive manner. We'll see.

Heather B. Moore said...

You're awesome, David. I just happened upon this and wasn't doing any google searches. Thanks for your candor (I loved it!). I appreciate that you feel that I depicted the dark side well.

I think Melanie brought up a good point of writing about the light vs the dark side. This is done in every fantasy, historical, and suspense novel that I've read.

I think when I read the scriptures about the harlots (Book of Mosiah), I knew that sin really was going on in King Noah's court and most likely involved ALL of the high priests. It wasn't swearing, it wasn't skipping Sunday School, it was real temptation--just like each of us have today--and some became subject to it.

So how to approach it? Have Alma be the good guy in a room full of wicked high priests? Have him look but not touch? What about those of us, or those around us, who have committed serious sins? Do they have hope of repentence and forgiveness? Will they ever hold leadership callings in the church?

This is why I decided that Alma, a future prophet, would actually commit sins that he would need to repent for.

Just like all of us. Just like the leaders of our church. Not that Alma's sins in this book are exactly the same sins others have committed, but we can relate to a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

I wanted to show the slow descent into temptation and how the adversary can get ahold of us bit by bit without us even realizing it. Then I wanted to show how someone in the deepest pits of despair could claw his way back up. That there is hope for everyone. That we can seek forgiveness and enter the light.

David J. West said...

Sorry if that was unclear about Provident Books Tamara. Abinadi and Alma are from Covenant Book.

Provident Books was a local independent book store just down the road from me, and a favorite place to shop. They went out of business right after I started this blog. I think my lamenting their passing was my 6th or 7th post.

When it comes to us a s a people being afraid of evil, I like the quote by Brigham Young (I'm paraphrasing here) that it is our duty to study and know good and everything on the face of the earth but also evil and its consquences.

So to me I must have at least a grasp on why people do things, even if they deem themsleves amoral. (In which I think they are just fooling themselves, you're either hot or cold or you get spit out-IF you know my refrence)
So I like to reflect on motivation. I know exactly why my Gadianton Grand Master does what he does, but I don't hace to be there for it, per-se. Thats the peak of evil-son of perdition, but there are quite a number of grey areas as well. A favorite character of my advance readers is Anathoth and I purposefully (realistically) have him in the middle ground between the righteousness of Zelph and the downright evils of others. I think it makes him a more identifiable character to the audience. Because he does do bad things but he has remorse and guilt at the same time.

Perhaps we should have a WiDo writers blog for topics like this?

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I love that, Heather. It seems so obvious to me in the scriptures that Alma was also a part of the immorality happening in King Noah's court. His conversion is that much greater b/c of it. I'm glad you were able to show that.

David J. West said...

Thank you very much Heather, for dropping by and commenting.
Thats part of why I liked it so much. I could relate because of my own wilder youth.

Melanie Goldmund said...

David -- is Joe Abercrombie more graphic than Patrick Rothfuss? Worse than Brandon Sanderson? I don't consider myself all that squeamish, but then, I don't read a lot of blood-n-guts fantasy, either. I was thinking more along the lines that I, as an author, would be afraid to immerse myself deeply into the motivations of a really evil character in order to write him from the inside out. If I were simply reporting his actions and words from the outside, from somebody else's POV, then it wouldn't be so bad for me, (but perhaps not as satisfying for the reader.)

Just at the moment, I am trying my hand at writing a character who is not firmly on the good side. He's not completely dark, though, either; he's done some really bad things that he regrets, and he's also used to violence and acting and reacting in certain ways, but he hasn't really had the motivation to change until something happens in my story. Even then, it will be a slow and rocky road for him. It's been interesting. Maybe I can grow and develop as an author to the point where I can better show "bad" characters -- er, I mean, characters happily doing bad things.

Annette Lyon said...

Brigham Young said it better than I can:

"Upon the stage of a theater can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it (DBY, 243)."

Heather did a fantastic job "aiding the pulpit" showing the path of sin "with its thorns and pitfalls" in Alma and his journey toward forgiveness.

That's what a good book can do. And if that's good enough for a prophet of God on a stage (where a script would have to be written by a playwright, and then acted by an actor, so I assume it would have to be okay for something similar to be written by a novelist), then that's good enough for me.

David J. West said...

Thanks Annette for dropping by and commenting.

I haven't read Rothfuss, I suppose I better check him out.
Is Abercrombie worse than Sanderson? In the sense of language and violence?
Thats an absolute yes.
Does Abercrombie capture me better than Sanderson?
Thats an absolute yes.
Granted, I still have to read the Mistborns, I only have Elantris and a portion of Warbreaker under my belt, but Abercrombie is British and not by any means coming from the discretionary background Sanderson does.
I think we have to account sometimes that some writers, just don't have the same boundarys, we as LDS writers have, and thats a double edged sword.
So again I caution you about what I say was my favorite book of the year (thus far)Abercrombie is loose with the language and violence but to me he is going for a very realistic (in terms of the human condition) in a fantasy world.
People swear thats a fact, I get around that in my books by saying someone swore an oath or I let them use a epithat that is meaningless to us but makes sense in an old-world vocab. Abercrombie uses words we know currently use because he says he is using what we commonly know. I get his point but I don't feel I have too.
Hope that made sense.

Annette Lyon said...

David, I haven't read Warbreaker yet, but I think the Mistborn series is brilliant--and better than Elantris. It has a real depth to it that amazed me. And yes, it flirts with a line of violence and evil that might make some people squirm, but it asks tough questions that I think are important. It had me pondering a long time after I closed the covers--which tells me it was a good book/series. I enjoyed Elantris, but it didn't have the same depth.

David J. West said...

Thanks for that Annette, I do have the Mistborn's and I mean to read them soon. I appreciate your comments.

Karen Gowen said...

My daughter has discovered your blog, has put all your book suggestions on her reading list and keeps asking, When is the blockbuster coming out? (She's referring to Heroes of the Fallen, of course.)

David J. West said...

I apreciate that Karen.
I just gave Kristine my word doc for the book. Very excited because I wrote in some brand spanking new chapters for my lead female character Bethia and I really hope it makes the appeal for my women readers much better.

David J. West said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Th. said...


Somehow I missed this post before --- I'm guessing when we talked about this book it was after you listened and before you read? I've just put the book back on my to-read list.