Friday, April 08, 2005

[Book Review] Dhampir by Barb & J.C. Hendee

It seems that I’ve been jumping from one bad book to another. The concept of a damphir, a half-vampire hunting vampires, is nothing really new. And neither are vampire stories. This book ain’t Vampire Hunter D, ain’t Blade, ain’t Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is definitely no Anita Blake. It isn’t even a composite of all those stories. So what does Dhampir have to offer?

Well, the opening had some nice parts. The protagonist is a character who pretends to be an undead slayer, and when she decides to retire, actually runs into the real thing. And then it devolves into your typical story wherein the character discovers she has superhuman powers, defeats the vampire “miraculously”, and you can probably guess what happens next. Aside from the fact that most of the various characters in the story all have hidden pasts, there’s really nothing much to look forward to, except perhaps the ending.

As for strengths, the book really has no strengths. Nothing really stands out, except for what it lacks. Of course having said that, there’s nothing obscenely horrible either, but that’s only because Damphir is generic fantasy. And when I mean generic fantasy, I mean generic fantasy along with medieval weapons and elves. It’s not even a setting that’s fleshed out. We see elves and half-elves, fey dogs, vampires, ghost, and lots of peasants. This could have easily been dropped into a Dungeons & Dragons novel line and no one would notice the difference.

The characters in the book are stereotypically well-rounded, with the heroes constantly being in denial, while the villains arrogant but humane. There’s really no one memorable, either antagonists you love to hate, or protagonists to cheer on as the novel progresses. The only consolation I have is the fact the book is more or less easy to read, and just as easy to finish.

Overall, I can’t really recommend this book to anyone. I mean it’s obviously not good, but it’s also not that horrible that it stands out. And as far as guilty pleasures go, there are probably other, more interesting novels to choose from. The book doesn’t have romance, can’t really say that it’s action-packed, and it’s not really character-driven. The setting isn’t even original. Most likely, readers of the book will forget about it, not because it’s bad, but because there’s nothing memorable about it.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

[Book Review] Requiem for the Sun by Elizabeth Haydon

Banking on her established series, The Rhapsody Trilogy, Haydon came out with a bunch of sequels obviously aimed at getting more mileage out of a story that ended with the third book of the trilogy. Requiem for the Sun is the first book in the series, a stand-alone novel (well, you’d need to read the original trilogy to appreciate it but other than that, no cliffhanger endings) that builds on the existing setting and characters Haydon has woven.

While Haydon’s plot and writing style leaves much to be improved upon, Requiem for the Sun succeeds as a sequel in several ways. For one thing, it stands on itself, and acts more of a supplement to the original trilogy. Most writers would usually craft a prequel to build on a popular work. Haydon gambles with a sequel, and it’s a sequel that doesn’t disrupt the ending for the trilogy, yet manages to be intriguing nonetheless. The setting is also fleshed out more, and historic characters from the past and present show up to give this novel an interesting edge. Lastly, Haydon manages to be consistent with what made her earlier work popular.

Not that the book doesn’t have any weaknesses. Nobody likes a sequel where the challenges aren’t up to par with the characters and in this book, the stakes are raised. As usual, there’s the more powerful villain, a more nefarious nemesis, and a potentially bigger threat endangering the land. Which I think might appear boring or self-defeating at this point in time, especially after the epic backdrop of the trilogy. Also to me, some new characters in the novel should have remained buried in the past rather than being brought up again to conveniently assist and antagonize the characters. The novel is also blatantly setting up the readers for the next sequel, Elegy for a Lost Star. Lastly, I found that the book resolved issues too quickly. Five hundred pages of conflict and build up all neatly ended in the last hundred. Not to mention that the protagonists are rescued by external forces.

There’s nothing really new to mention about Haydon, which is probably both a good thing and a bad thing. You can’t really ruin an experience when you know what you’re going to expect. But similarly, well, the book is only as good as your expectations for it. If you bought her earlier work, then by all means get this one if you enjoyed them. If not, skip it, and your money is better invested elsewhere. The original trilogy stands well on its own, and you don’t really need to commit to the sequels just to satiate your desires. But if you’re still looking for more of Haydon’s writing, well, there’s always this book and the next.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

[Book Review] Destiny: Child of the Sky by Elizabeth Haydon

The final book in her trilogy, Destiny is either the last chance Haydon can redeem herself to her readers, or give a stunning finale to those who appreciate her work. It’s the thickest book yet, and all the major players in the series have gathered for the final act.

At this point, I’ve given up expecting change on Haydon’s part. Her writing and plot has been fairly consistent in the past few books. That is, Haydon is formulaic and her characters and events are predictable. They’re fairly complex characters though, mind you, but nonetheless predictable. The best analogy I could think of is that Haydon is as modern-day McKillip. I mean they both utilize lovely prose, and insert poetry into their text. The main protagonist holds back to a previous era where those who had a pure heart were the heroes, and the rest of the angst and anti-heroes is left to the supporting cast. Perhaps a big difference between them though is that Haydon writes thicker novels and utilizes more sophisticated words, while McKillip tries to keep it as simple as possible. But I think the former is just part of the current trend of fantasy nowadays to be bigger and thicker.

If you’ve read the other books in the series, you probably know what to expect in this book. There are still some surprising battles, but in the end, Destiny is more of an example of the archaic fantasy novel. Another thing noticeable about Haydon is how she frequently quotes her other books as a means of flashback. I’d just like to point it out because at this point, I feel Haydon is overdoing it. Not that refreshing your memory is a bad thing, but the book would probably be significantly less thicker if it weren’t for Haydon’s repeated flashbacks quotes. And as I mentioned before, the book would have been easier to read if it had a glossary at the end.

Of course being formula has its strong points. If you haven’t been disappointed by Haydon yet, then chances are you’d like this book. And her prose has this appeal that enables you to keep on reading, much like the effect that David Eddings has. Destiny and her ilk are addicting books, but more in the sense that it’s a guilty pleasure rather than something innovative or new.

Everything that could be said has been mentioned in my earlier reviews. If you’re interested in pursuing the series, I suggest you start at the beginning of the trilogy, with Rhapsody. Give it to your friends who want formula fantasy, to those who want a happy ending, or to those into romance. If you’re looking for something new and epic and modern like, say, George R. R. Martin, this isn’t it. The series is enjoyable, just as long as you have the right expectations.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

[Essay] Did You Read the Fine Print?

I believe that within each person is a desire for simplicity. Unfortunately, not everything in life can be simplified. Taking religion for example. Yes, it’s true, we can summarize the main idea of a religion (Catholicism, for example, can be summed up by believing in God and doing good works), and that’s a technique most people use to get converts started, but it shouldn’t end there. There’s a belief that once we belong to a certain religious institution, we’re already “saved”. But that isn’t necessarily so. From a Christian perspective, the analogy would be a contract with God stating that as long as he’s our God, we’ll go to heaven in the afterlife. Unfortunately, many of us neglect to read the fine print.

Many of the misconceptions about doctrine of various religions probably stems from the fact that its members don’t read (or don’t take the time to read) the fine print. Take Catholicism for example. The common belief is that once we’re baptized, as long as we donate to charity, and go to mass regularly and pray everyday, we’ll be saved. Or the main point raised against Protestants is that if such Christians are saved by faith alone, what compels them to do good deeds? As much as every religion revolves around a central idea, there’s more to it than just that. It’s a good starting point, yes, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of any religion.

Where does one find the fine print? Well, it varies from religion to religion. But a few thing all religions share is that you begin with the text from which your faith was based on. For Christians, it’s the Bible. For Buddhists, it’s the precepts of Buddha. For Muslims, it’s the Qur’an. I can’t speak for the other religions, but as a Christian, how can you really say you’re living your faith when you haven’t even read the Bible in its entire context? I mean many arguments and counter-arguments will be thrown at you, and unless you have a firm foundation on the basics, what reply can you give that will satisfy not just the person you’re talking to but at the very least yourself?

Earlier I brought up some misconceptions about Catholics and Protestants. And it’s by reading the fine print that some of the issues raised above are cleared up. I mean for Catholics, there’s more to it than just attending mass, praying, and obtaining the seven sacraments. Anyone can do that, be it the holiest of men or the kingpin of crime. It’s a good starting point, but it won’t assure you salvation (in the same way that in Islam, a pilgrimage to Mecca won’t guarantee salvation, although it will take you a step closer). You can find in the Bible text that essentially mentions being faithful to God and loving your neighbor. Mass, prayer, and the seven sacraments merely fulfills the former. What about the latter? And Catholicism is one of the largest and longest reigning institutions in the world. There’s also lots of supplementary text that discusses these ideas. And not just that fact but other controversial issues as well, such as birth control, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, etc.

For Protestants, well, it’s the Bible. It also mentions in that very same text that faith without action is well, pretty useless. So claiming that “I’m saved anyway because I believe” won’t get you into heaven if you don’t back it up with good works, not because you have to (which is the case with Catholics), but because it’s proof that you’ve grown, that you’ve matured as a Christian. And of course, there are also your pastors to talk to regarding guidance and interpretation of scripture.

And I’m sure all the other religions have their supplementary text to support their faith. If I were a Buddhist, it’s honestly not enough to say that “I’ll be saved through my own actions and willpower alone.” How does one achieve that? It goes back to reading the fine print and getting more acquainted with your faith.

Of course not everything can be solved by the fine print. I mean a time will inevitably come up when you’ll either disagree with dogma, or don’t find the answers given to be satisfactory. Many people fall prey into giving up their religion entirely just because no viable solution is given. Which to me is faulty logic because one must understand that religion is a tool of the masses, meaning that it targets a huge audience rather than just one person. Any rulings they give are for the majority and cannot address each unique circumstance perfectly. If there’s something that can’t address your need, one must first ask the question whether we did everything to look for an answer when it comes to our religion (for example, there’ve been various treaties on artificial and natural contraception). Then it must be followed up by the question how it affects the majority rather than just the minority (if upturning that ruling would have dire consequences on everyone else and not just you). If there’s still a failing, you could ask what’s been done to change or revise it (as much as we want to believe that religion is a static entity, it really isn’t as new discoveries help enlighten us and interpret text differently). Ultimately, even we find that the religion we belong to is flawed, careful inspection of all the other religions will also show that other religions will similarly be flawed, not necessarily for the same reasons we found our existing religion to be less than satisfactory. I don’t think there’s a “perfect religion”, although I do believe in a perfect deity. But just because we find a religion to be imperfect doesn’t mean we should give up on it. We could study it more and hope for a revision or change. I mean look at our governments, our nation. They’re far from perfect, but we don’t say “let’s give up our national identity because there’s a flaw in our culture”. Or if we start-up a business in less than ideal conditions, we don’t just give up on it. We take steps to rectify it. Sometimes, we don’t have the perfect solution, but rather set it up so that it’s enough to survive and sustain us (I mean a lot of us obviously don’t have the perfect jobs, but we nonetheless keep at it… some might call this a necessary evil).

Our religion comes with strings attached. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but we can’t oversimplify it and think that all our duties and responsibilities are over once we “sign up”. I think one’s spirituality is part of the learning process. As we become more mature, we learn more and grow. Our faith should similarly grow. But it’s not something easily attained, but rather we should take the time to learn and explore.