Saturday, April 26, 2008

Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead

First off, I have to say that I'm addicted to this trilogy. I've always had a thing for Robin Hood and this version just blew me away. Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead is the second book in the King Raven Trilogy. The Premise of the story is that Bran ap Brychan has been more or less exiled from Elfael - his rightful land. He's taken to the forest where his loyal followers are eking out a living while Bran and his men wreak havoc on the Ffreinc invaders.

In this book we're introduced to William Scatlocke - Will Scarlet. He is the main focus of the story, where Bran was the focus of Hood. When the book begins, Will is in prison telling his story to a scribe named Odo. Through the retelling of this story we learn of Bran and Will's exploits and how he came to be imprisoned. Throughout this there are a smattering of chapters that take place while Will is in jail, letting us know what is going on in the meantime.

The pace of this book was wonderful. It never drags, never gives too many boring details, and is pretty much filled with surprises. Lawhead succeeded in making these characters extremely real and vibrant. The thing I love the most about this book and it's predecessor is that it is the story of Robin Hood, but it isn't. The settings and circumstances are similar enough to see but different enough to make this a brilliant new twist to a tried a true legend.

My only complaint - besides that the third book Tuck isn't out yet - is the repetition of certain phrases. Occasionally Odo interrupts Will in his retelling of the events that led to his predicament. Will patiently answers Odo's questions and then the sections end with some version or other of "and so we trudge on.." It's a minor complaint to be sure, but it did irk me something fierce.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with a love for righteous bandits, raven legends, the myth of Robin Hood, or a good story set in the conflicted realm of England.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott

I was really excited to receive this book through Librarything's Early Reviewer program. The day after the book arrived I began reading it. I do have to admit that my nervousness about writing a review may have clouded my enjoyment of the book, as this is the first review I've ever written.

This book is about a crystal skull referred to as a heart-stone, two of it's keepers (one past, one present), and possible Armageddon. It is also about the struggle between those who seek with all their souls to do the right thing and those individuals that succumb to the failings of humankind such as greed and a lust for power. It is about reconciling science with the mystical and following your path despite the difficulties.

Overall, I'd say The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott was a good read. The history was fascinating, though I can't vouch for it's accuracy. I found that Manda Scott was able to marry the practical and the mystical very convincingly. The characters are startlingly vivid, especially Fernandez De Aguiler. Character relations were believable and well fleshed out. I also found that most of the scene-setting descriptions were the perfect depth - no tedious goings on about each tree and hill. One criticism I feel I must point out is that a lot of the situations seemed a bit too convenient. The story bounces between past and present. I find no fault with the chapters dealing with the past, in fact they were my favorite. However, in the present things happened much too easily. People were easy to locate, meetings were always possible. Things were unbelievably punctual and reliable. I wouldn't say that it detracted from the story at all, it was just a personal pet peeve. I imagine that most books with an element of mystery and discovery have their own "well, isn't that convenient" moments as well.

All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes history with a bit of mystery and suspense thrown in. If I were to generalize, I would group The Crystal Skull with books such as The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and Labyrinth by Kate Mosse for their past/present switching and enthralling history as well as books like Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, The Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry, and The Lucifer Gospel by Paul Christopher for their similarly suspenseful history-mystery themes.