Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Red Rising

Darrow is a Red of Mars, dedicated to slaving away his entire life for the good of the upper echelons of humanity to live on Mars hundreds of years in the future. He mines for an element needed to terraform the planet and lives in poverty with his family and his wife Eo. One day, they are found in a forbidden place, meriting a whipping, but Eo sings a forbidden song sealing her death. Darrow buries her (which is also forbidden) and is executed. He wakes up later to find he was saved in order to do greater things. He is sculpted and tortured to become a Gold, the highest caste of his society. After becoming educated, he is sent into the Academy to become an influential and powerful member of society. Darrow isn't prepared for the Academy, but it will shape him to be the leader needed to bring the Society down and change nit forever.

I honestly thought Red Rising would be a lame Hunger Games rip off, but I was wrong bothers are definite parallels and similarities between the two books, but Red Rising is a wholly different experience. The first half of the book sets up the world, shows who Darrow is at his core, and follows his transformation from Red to Gold. Reds work at hard labor and die uneducated and poor, never being offered any opportunities to rise above their station. Even though he's only 16, Darrow is wise beyond his years. He is a married adult who provides for his family and tries futilely to make their lives better, a victim of a biased system. He is broken after Eo's execution, but struggles to make her rebellion and her dream a reality. He endures the most painful torture in order to move forward with the insane plan. Surprisingly, his Red skills make him quite suited to becoming a Gold. I feel so much for Darrow. He was lied to by all of society and only wanted a good life for his family. The callous treatment by the Golds and the injustices against Reds fuel his hatred and drive him to push through the pain. The beginning of the novel starts a little slow, but delves into deep emotions and politics very early. This is easily an adult novel and only seems to have the YA label because of the age of the main character.

The second half of the novel is the Academy. Darrow thinks that it will be an easy, plush, and purely academic experience. He is incredibly wrong and his introduction is to kill a fellow classmate in order to get into the Academy. Afterwards, they are separated in to Roman deity themed houses and compete to take over every other house. This part of the novel is most like other dystopian novels (Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies), but as I read it, I was so engrossed in the story and the vibrant characters that I never made any of those connections until reflecting on it later. The Proctors don't interfere at all at the beginning, even if students are dying. There are no real rules and the students are left to take each other over in the way they see fit, whether it's morally sound or not. The students are hardened quickly, faced with starvation, death, violence, and rape. Darrow learns a lot about how to become a leader and also makes a great many mistakes. Through all the politics, real friendships and real enemies are made. Darrow's friends and enemies are all richly imagined with their own sense of morality and quirks. My favorite were Pax, a giant of a man who hated Darrow intensely then became great friends, and Mustang, the woman who helped him when he was at his lowest point and gave him some hope in humanity.

Red Rising is an amazing debut novel. The ending made me both excited and outraged at the same time. The plot had crazy twists and turns that I never saw coming. I highly recommend it. The only lament I have is that I read it before it was even released, so I have to wait even longer to devour the next in the series.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

* spoilers *

Violet White and her brother live by themselves in a decaying mansion by the sea. Their parents are flighty artists who have been gone for months on end. Because their money is gone, she decides to put up fliers around town for someone to rent the guest house. A mysterious and attractive stranger named River West comes to stay and chaos almost immediately ensues. Violet's best friend Sunshine sees a monster in a cave. Then a little girl goes missing and the local children are convinced it's the devil that they have to kill with wooden stakes. Violet is already completely infatuated with River even as she suspects him of creating the chaos in the town. Her grandmother warned her against the devil, but never expected him to be so charming.

The cover of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea doesn't do it justice. It looks dark, gothic, and twisted, which it is, but it's more than that. The setting is a sleepy little southern town by the sea. The atmosphere starts as relaxed, kind of like time doesn't matter and days can be spent lazing in the hot sun, drinking iced tea all day. It also has a vintage feel. The Whites don't lock their house at night and watch old movies in the town square with their neighbors, like in bygone eras. All of that changes when River comes to town. Before, people trusted their neighbors and acted friendly. Afterwards, everyone is on their guard and suspicious. The children are super creepy, running around at night with wooden stakes and attacking random people. They refused to go home at night and it was bordering on Children of the Corn with the kids attacking people.

The drastic change in the town also happens with Violet. Before River, she's carefree, trusting, and generally happy. She knows everything in her town and nothing really comes as surprising. The loss of her grandmother and the absence of her parents have affected her, but didn't make her jaded. She seems more determined to get the most out of the little things in life and has a more introspective view of life. After River, she is unhappy and suspicious. She doesn't know what to believe or even if her own feelings are authentic. I found Violet to be likeable until the end, but a bit on the naive, immature side. I liked the way she observed the small thing swithin the people and the world around her. Her falling in love with River was very instalove-y, but it is later shown to be intentional.

My big problem with the novel is River. His personality is fine. He's charming and he's got that rich boy attitude that everything is attainable. He has the power to create illusions and make people do what he wants through touch. He reminds me very much of Loki from the Thor films, creating chaos and causing death wherever he goes. Anyway, he constantly touches Violet and this shows why she becomes so very infatuated with him in such a short amount of time. He basically made her fall in love with him with his power, which is so not ok. Then he goes on to almost rape her in her sleep. This is besides the fact that he forces the town drunk to commit suicide in front of the whole town and he feels absolutely no remorse for it. After that point, he ceases to be even remotely attractive to me with his rapey, murderous, creepy ways. Violet and River's whole relationship reminds me of a woman that loves an abusive man, but can't leave him because she loves him. That's just not a healthy relationship and it makes me feel gross to read it. Ugh.

Although I liked the writing and the setting, River and Violet's attitude towards him ruined the novel for me. I'm ok with bad boys in literature, but there has to be something redeemable about them. The murder and mind rape just make him an awful character that I don't want to read about. I lose respect for Violet for being obsessed with him even after she knows all these horrible things about him. I guess it could just be River's power, but it looks like just another girl trapped in an abusive relationship.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Friday, December 6, 2013


Ignatius William Perrish is miserable. His girlfriend was murdered and he is the prime suspect. His name will never be cleared due to the lab with the evidence catching fire, so his life remains a torment. One day, he wakes up groggy and hung over after a not-quite-remembered night of drinking, blasphemy, and wallowing in his own misery. He notices he now has horns growing out of his head. Wondering if their a hallucination, he goes in public to see others' reactions and finds that everyone suddenly confides in him their deepest and darkest desires. Plus he can convince them to give in to those horrific desires. Ig decides to use his new found power to find the real murderer and enact revenge.

From page one, Horns is an addicting read. I didn't have any idea what it was about before I read except some guy randomly sprouted horns, but I couldn't put the book down after I started. The situations were so bizarre. People would just start spouting off their deepest, darkest, most sinful desires and secrets as if they talked about them all the time. These are the types of secrets people would never say out loud to anyone and were often disturbing. It was amusing at first, but grew quite serious as Ig encountered the people closest to him and heard their real opinions about him, namely that they all think he's guilty and hate spending time with him except his brother. His power is not easy to control and leaves him vulnerable when faced with his family. With the horns came other powers that showed themselves later on in the book that made it clear he was a modern adaptation of the devil complete with horns, a pitchfork, and snake minions. Despite all this new power, the villain of the novel is formidable, much stronger than anticipated, and also supernatural. I personally think a lot of Ig's bad decision making leads to the villain being so difficult.

I like and dislike the way the story is told. It starts in present day after the murder and goes until he discovers the identity of the true murderer. It's then interrupted by flashbacks to Ig's childhood for a long portion and then hopscotches back and forth from past to present. I like that clues and revelations are doled out slowly and carefully instead of in a rush all at once. However, the fast tempo the book started with was completely destroyed. It took me a long while to warm up to the new story and just as it got really interesting, the narrative again switched to the present. I would have liked it if it started a little slower and built up momentum instead of starting crazy and slamming on the breaks. The only other complaint I have is the ending. Compared to the epicness of the story, it was a little underwhelming and odd.

Horns is a wonderful novel about guilt, love, good and evil, and revenge. My favorite part of the story is the love between Merrin and Ig. We get to see her through past memories and other people's view of her. Their story is beautiful, heartbreaking, and felt the most real among all the supernatural aspects. I am eager to read more books by Joe Hill because his writing is beautifully written and sticks with you long after you've read it.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Favorite Horror Themes Part 2

1) Bram Stoker's Dracula by Wojciech Kilar

This horror theme is epic. The low strings sound powerful at the beginning with the hammering of the piano in the background. It builds drama quickly and works perfectly with the intro of the film, which introduces Dracula when he was alive and his story with Elizabeta. The male choir in the middle of the piece sounds sinister and creepy and then the high soprano comes in with the mournful love theme. Then, the music builds with repetitive rhythms and adding instruments and voices into a huge crescendo, ending with a quiet, but menacing bass ostinato (a phrase that repeats over and over in the same voice). Kilar wrote beautiful and deeply emotional music that reflects the film perfectly.

2) Jaws by John Williams

This theme is incredibly simple, but never fails to instill dread in the viewer. This theme makes the entire film and makes it one of the most suspenseful and scary films I've ever seen. I've seen it countless times and I still jump at parts of it.

3) Psycho by Bernard Hermann

This theme is iconic and quite simple. It's just screeching high violins, but illustrates the scene insanely well. Although this theme is the most famous of the film, the entire soundtrack is amazing and worth listening to. It helps create and maintain the ominous atmosphere at the Bates Motel.

4) The Village by James Newton Howard

I don't enjoy this film, mostly due the poor twist ending, but there's no denying that the score is fantastic. This is my favorite part of it called The Gravel Road. The sweeping violin lines, the sparse arrangement, and the constant movement of the background instruments make for a beautiful atmosphere. The soundtrack definitely outshines the film.

5) Lady Vengeance by Choi Seung-Hyun

This whole soundtrack is simply gorgeous. It features newly composed music in a baroque style that goes well with the elegance and beauty of the film's cinematography. Harpsichord isn't a typical instrument and it adds something special to music.

What are your favorite film themes?