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Olive C. (Oxford, England, UK)

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A Court of Thorns and Roses
A Court of Thorns and Roses
by Sarah J. Maas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunningly human fairytale: truly the best of the genre, 18 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
S.J. Maas’ debut, ‘Throne of Glass’, was (I felt) hampered by the fact that its inspiration from ‘Cinderella’ was left out of the marketing. ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’, presented as a cross between ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and the ballad of Tam Lin, does precisely what it says on the tin. Feyre, a 19-year-old girl who hunts to feed her crippled father and disinterested older sisters, kills a wolf that turns out to be a faerie and, as punishment, has to enter the faerie world to live with Tamlin, a faerie lord whose entire court is kept in masks by a mysterious ‘she’.

This book is built up in much the same way as ‘Throne of Glass’. The cast follows a similar template: self-sufficient heroine, noble love interest, his emissary/friend, sharp-tongued but kind servant. I saw similar motifs, too: Feyre’s preference for trousers over dresses, her figure filling out as she is properly fed in the manor, the jaw-dropping moment she does finally wear a dress. But both books are fairytales, and the scenes fit into both; it’s very skilful to be able to reproduce what feels like the hallmarks of a genre in modern retellings. The important thing is that it is Feyre who chooses to wear the dress.

Otherwise, this book is stronger than ‘Throne of Glass’. Maas shows she can adapt her style to a new protagonist, who, unlike Celaena, is not a ‘chosen one’, amazing at everything with one major flaw. We meet Feyre ruthless, cynical and depressed, and she develops beautifully, coming to regret her resentful decision to kill the wolf, admitting her desire for recognition, and enjoying life for the first time. Upping the age of the male protagonist (Tamlin is physically in his late 20s and his demeanour corresponds to that) was a good move; his struggle to manage a position he never expected is sympathetic and believable. The romance is perfect, much better than the blurb, which actually disguises the way Maas straightens out the potentially troubling aspects in the fairytales, proving that such things are not the cornerstone of the genre. I could list so many points, but most importantly for me, Feyre feeling at home is a condition, not the result, of the romance beginning; Tam’s mood swings are treated sensitively and not presented as attractive in themselves, nor is Tam attracted to Feyre by any perceived ‘opportunity for redemption’ through a sexually naive partner. This is NOT a story about a girl reluctantly falling for her ‘captor’. These two unlikely people bond over the burden of caring for others and give each other hope, respect and understanding; to be able to root for such a healthy relationship, between two complex characters who have been dealt a rough hand in life and have tried to make the best of it for others, really is the stuff of fairytales.

The supporting cast was brilliantly balanced in ‘Throne of Glass’ but here it is even better thanks to the more rounded protagonists. It does just that: support. I was particularly pleased to see Feyre come to revise her opinion of her sisters. Lucien, Tamlin’s emissary, provides dry comic relief but has his own story and develops a friendship with Feyre that means she doesn’t fall for Tamlin simply because he’s her only company. I won’t say too much about the character of Rhysand, but he demonstrates that ‘a man helping a woman’ does not have to be sexualised. Everyone, even the villain, has a plausible backstory.

Minor quibbles: for the first few pages, it was apparent that Maas was easing into first-person narration (plus she seems to have felt obliged to open with the classic one-sentence paragraph, which didn’t really suit this book), although I should stress that when she gets going, it reads effortlessly; and there was a slight deus ex machina moment at the end which would have worked fine if there had been even the slightest indication of its possibility, say, in the form of a myth that no one believed.

Not enough to stop me giving it 5 stars, though. The magic is, of course, magical, as are the well-controlled descriptive passages. There are some wonderful flashes of grotesque detail worthy of the best Disney films. The geography is well thought out, expanding beyond ‘village, forest, manor’, which makes more of a difference than you might think. The structure and pace are perfect. Maas seems almost deliberately to have avoided the perennial YA fantasy pitfall of the boring middle, by separating the introduction (to us and each other) of Feyre and Tamlin (at the beginning) from the introduction of the wider problems for them to solve (in the middle). The ‘end’ is psychologically plausible. As I mentioned, Feyre lacks Celaena’s brilliance, and must use common sense and resourcefulness, and others’ help, to get through her tasks. This does not make the victory any less hers.

The combination of Beauty and the Beast with Tam Lin gives us a story about a girl saving her beloved by some form of action – not just by loving her captor when she has no one else to talk to – and that’s what it feels like, it is not simply a girl in the prince’s shoes. The resolutions of the fairytales are combined by a brilliant twist that would seem a bit too much of a coincidence – if not for its failure for fantastically human reasons. That is what makes this such an inspiring fairytale: its humanity.

I wrote in my review of ‘Throne of Glass’ that I thought S.J. Maas would become a real gem of YA fantasy with subsequent books, and I am so happy to have been proven right. This book reminded me of Robin McKinley with better supporting characters, and Diana Wynne Jones with added raciness. There is no higher praise than that. These characters come a long way in this book – and I still can’t wait to see where they go next.


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies [DVD] [2015]
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Martin Freeman
Price: £6.99

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An ode to what could - and should - have been (spoilers for book & film!), 30 Dec. 2014
I did not expect this film to be faithful to Tolkien's book, not because it has been expanded - which to me was an improvement - but because the entire trilogy (more so than LOTR, which featured more obvious motifs) has been stripped both of its Roman Catholic ethos and of its mediaeval erudition, and packaged instead as a mélange of Homer, Shakespeare and `Beauty and the Beast'. I approached it therefore as an interpretation of a myth - which certainly retained the potential to be a wonderful film. Sadly, it wasn't clear what type of wonderful film it wanted to be. About halfway through, we see the consequences of the change from two films to three, and from `There and Back Again' to `Battle of the Five Armies'. The pace is inconsistent; while the actors without exception make the very most of what they are given, they are often given depressingly little; and though the individual scenes are uniformly stunning, it feels like they were divided and put together by someone with blunt scissors and no eye for a straight line.

Up until just over halfway, we are undeniably seeing scenes produced for the second of two films. Each subplot is developed through equally timed vignettes, all impeccable. The moment the flamboyantly foreboding elf-king Thranduil and gruffly earnest dragon-slayer Bard (Lee Pace and Luke Evans, both extremely compelling) stop their diplomatic bantering to reel at Bilbo is spot on; Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman battling Sauron is magnificent (and a necessary addition); even Legolas and Tauriel's unnecessary side-quest was a reasonable way to show the Orcs' activities through a sympathetic perspective. The narrative never seems too heavy, and the brisk, magical pace only differs from Tolkien's book in that the perspective is not all Bilbo's. In fact, to a point, this is the only fault: all this (wonderful, otherwise) high fantasy narrative choreography makes the down-to-earth hobbit of the title the most inscrutable character in the film. A mere two scenes show Bilbo (Martin Freeman) determining to withhold the Arkenstone from the dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage) in an attempt to stall his dragon sickness (a blend of schizophrenia, drug addiction and Alzheimer's). Treating this plotline as only equal in importance to the others is an almost fatal flaw, especially since its tone is vastly different from the book. The book's Bilbo kept the stone because he was seduced by it, and Thorin - towards whom Bilbo evinced little beyond a sort of hero-worship - turned into a fairytale villain when he found out. In the films, the hero-worship has been reversed and here it reaches its zenith. Bilbo's inexplicable immunity to the stone gives him a strange hold over a much more vulnerable Thorin, who, while viciously fearful of everyone else, shows a playful, adoring side with Bilbo alone. After a few eerie, intimate scenes that stand out from the surrounding disorder (good and bad), Tolkien's pantomime confrontation on the battlements is turned upside down; it is Bilbo who loses his temper, and Thorin, blindsided to tears, chokes, `You have no claim over me!' This unusual dynamic does not receive enough screen time for us to work out what it is. We rely on the superb performances of Richard Armitage, whose sensitive portrayal raises Thorin above all stereotype, and especially Martin Freeman, whose incredible ability to express 50 emotions in one frame is clearly exploited. Together they blast the rest of the film - and the book - out of the water.

It is when the battle begins that things go awry. The film's struggle to disown hindsight is palpable, but the main problem is that each battle scene is too long, not that there are too many per se. Some were in fact among the most moving scenes of the film. Thranduil's eventual decision to fight alongside the unhesitating dwarves is a stirring moment, but it is dwarfed (ha) by what Jackson makes the climax of the film: Thorin, inspired at last by Dwalin's admonitions (a stunningly powerful exchange that makes the film's general focus away from the dwarves even more galling) to wrest himself out of his sickness, discards his crown and becomes a king, emerging from Erebor in an unforgettable charge straight out of Tolkien's book. The entry of Thorin's cousin Dain (an excellent cameo from Billy Connolly) is pitch-perfect, the choice to make it a surprise definitely the right one. The significant deaths are improved on the book, which does not show them at all (unacceptable for the film version - critics of the battle scenes seem to ignore this), but neither the characters nor we get time to digest them. In both climactic moments of Bilbo's story, the Arkenstone revelation and Thorin's death (a highly effective overhaul of the book - he dies, in Armitage's words, 'full of love', as Bilbo, desperate and disbelieving, announces the triumphant arrival of the eagles in a heartbroken gasp), Bilbo's reactions are cut in favour of minor characters, and the tone is defused by the appearance of Gandalf providing awkward comic relief. Neither of these was really the place to remember the deceptively frisky tone of the book, when it has been drained out of much of the rest. Bilbo's farewell to the surviving dwarves was even more unforgivably truncated so it is yet another testament to Martin Freeman's talent that the crack in his voice was what finally drew out the tears.

The other main changes to see through are of course the romance between rebellious elf guard Tauriel and Thorin's goofy nephew Kili, and the intruding origin-tale of Legolas, who is also devoted to Tauriel. Orlando Bloom delivers a subtle performance as Legolas for which he probably won't get enough credit. Unfortunately it is in the wrong film. He is at best redundant, at worst insultingly ubiquitous, and the Romeo-and-Juliet subplot admirably avoids petty love triangle territory only to commit the worse crime of providing much of the emotional satisfaction at the expense of a rewarding conclusion to plotlines introduced earlier. Tauriel is an excellent character, but she and Kili exchange little beyond clichéd maxims and re-enactments of scenes between Thorin and Bilbo from all three films, by the end so startlingly marked that for once I felt it was not only my classical background (which admittedly destroyed my ability to take the mithril scene at face value) that left me wondering if they were trying to tell us something. In any case, compared to the relationship between Thorin and Bilbo, this one feels like an amateur, forced commentary (though this is certainly not the actors' fault). It is also supposed to trigger the humanisation of Thranduil, whose intransigence is mitigated when he ratifies Tauriel's love for Kili and finally shows affection towards his son. It is a beautiful moment, but only supplementary artbooks reveal that Thranduil's downright cruel crusade against the dwarves arose from the desire to retrieve his last memento of his murdered wife, so more appropriate would have been an acknowledgement of Thorin's sacrifice - a lack palpable even without knowledge of the book. The film short-changes important characters of the first two, particularly Radagast and Beorn (whose battle scene is the only one shortened, when it should have been longer than the others). Alfrid served as a great foil to Bard and Thorin but should not have been allowed to do so at such cost to the dwarves, many of whom don't get a single line. Legolas leaves this film jaded - to enter the Fellowship for his first experience of war (?). It is not clear how his support for Tauriel will impact his `unprecedented' alliance with Gimli, and therefore the cohesion of all six films is somewhat shaken. Unless of course (sarcasm) Tauriel's disappearance from Middle-Earth's history is a final parallel to Bilbo's low-key departure from Erebor, refusing to witness Thorin's inauguration as a legendary figure, because, `To me he was never that. To me he was...'

That unfinished sentence hangs over the conclusion, the only part I really felt should have been done better and not just `differently'. Bilbo practically teleports back to the Shire and yet again has to be rescued from oblivion by Martin Freeman, whose one expression at finding the handkerchief over which he fretted at the start of the trilogy instantly renders the preceding chaos forgettable, and who allegedly had to refuse to play the scene for nostalgic laughs. We close on the ring and Thorin's map (interrupted yet again by Gandalf), as though these were Bilbo's main mementos. His sword and mithril shirt are reserved for LOTR, but it is taxing to recall that - and did he ever plant his trees? The overall impression is of a complete denial of emotional recovery. This seems to some extent intentional, but it didn't sit quite right. The credits show Bilbo smiling fondly at an acorn (!) and Thorin framed by his tomb, and Billy Boyd's outstanding end song 'The Last Goodbye' poignantly sets to music most of the sentiments of the book's last chapter, but they demand keen eyes and ears. This film was far shorter than the other two and the addition of these crucial moments of closure as real scenes would not have been burdensome.

All in all, we are one star short of a masterstroke, because this finale wavered at the last minute between `The Hobbit: Already-There and Back Again' and `Lord of the Rings Episode III: Revenge of Sauron'. I was left reeling, with a sense that the hobbit himself deserved so much more, not to mention the dwarves - this is inherent in the story itself but not sufficiently clarified as such. In places I was unsure what the film was trying to say, which was never the case with Tolkien, who wrote, `Bilbo may have lost the neighbours' respect, but he gained... well, you shall see whether he gained anything in the end.' Jackson seems to have emphasised instead what he stood to gain but immediately lost, transforming a sobering but nonetheless inspiring adventure tale into a pointedly undefined but equally pointedly abortive love story. Perhaps the extended edition will resolve many of the problems. Still, largely thanks to Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage, the heart and soul of this trilogy stand out clearly enough that the older Bilbo's repeated ramblings about revisiting the Lonely Mountain before he died (a wish thwarted by the ring he discovered on his first journey there) acquire their full resonance at last.


Sherlock - Series 3 [DVD]
Sherlock - Series 3 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Benedict Cumberbatch
Price: £7.50

30 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular - too spectacular, 2 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Sherlock - Series 3 [DVD] (DVD)
I confess I refused to watch ‘Sherlock’ when it came out, expecting it to be a self-indulgent pastiche. Then one day I happened to come across it on the TV and was proven wrong, spectacularly and happily, for two seasons. However, if Series 3 had been the first series, I would have gone away quite chuffed with my initial prediction.

The plot of this series is as follows (SPOILERS): Sherlock comes back from the dead, but John Watson has moved on with his fiancée Mary and is furious at Sherlock. They have multiple tussles, culminating in Sherlock exploiting a terrorist threat to trick John into forgiving him. He gets away with it, though, because he saved John from a human bonfire, so John asks him to be his best man. After the wedding, John becomes hyperactive and violent because he isn’t around danger anymore, and Sherlock turns to drugs, claiming that it’s to lure a master blackmailer into making him a target. They are prevented from talking this out by the discovery that the master blackmailer, Charles Augustus Magnussen, has something on Mary, who turns out to have a very dodgy past. Sherlock goes about trying to get the information back from Magnussen.

If you haven’t actually seen the series you may be thinking, ‘But this is about Sherlock Holmes… where’s the mystery?’ Well that’s just it. We saw little snippets of cases, but essentially, the first episode contained a terrorist threat that no one took seriously (the only mystery was the pun on ‘underground’ vs ‘Underground’, which hardly took Sherlock Holmes to work out), the second involved a rather convoluted murder attempt that would have been clever had we not had to see Sherlock stumble through it while drunk, and the third wasn’t a mystery at all, just a game of cat-and-mouse.

The writers say that their series is ‘a show about a detective’, not ‘a detective show’. If there’s any character on whom you could base an entire show, it’s Sherlock Holmes - but they have managed to ruin him. Throwing up on the carpet (in a rather maliciously crass revision of a scene in rival show ‘Elementary’), hallucinating John’s voice, spending long, visually unsettling sequences sorting through disturbing issues in his head… no one wants to see that. That’s for fan fiction writers. There’s another problem: pandering to a certain type of fan. We had Sherlock Holmes, of all people, spelling out that he loves John Watson in a garbled, overly rhetorical best man speech that lasted an entire episode (really! I learned 'show, not tell' in primary school). We had a clingy woman talking about a relationship that had gone sour while the camera focused on a drunken Sherlock & John as they reacted sentimentally. We had Magnussen actually showing John a video of Sherlock saving him from the bonfire (okay, they didn't need to take 'show' so literally)! We had Benedict Cumberbatch’s parents as Sherlock’s parents, which would have been a nice cameo had the rest of it not been so ridiculous. I’ve no problem with people wanting to see Sherlock & John as a couple, but these people's pleasure (I chose that word carefully) can’t come before an accurate portrayal of the characters. The first two series made the dynamic agreeably ambiguous. This one, despite its introduction of John's wife, is at risk of alienating people who just want to see them as, in the books, they are. ‘We don’t have to stick to the books,’ the fans will cry; no, fair enough, but in that case the writers should stop bragging that theirs is the most faithful adaptation.

There are good things about this series. Amanda Abbington as Mary Morstan wiped the floor with anyone who claimed that she got this role solely thanks to her relationship with Martin Freeman. She stole the show in every single scene she was in. Certain aspects of Mary's behaviour needed some (or even a lot of) explaining, but it’s hardly Abbington’s fault that the writers decided to skip her attempt to explain herself with a time leap, and have John decide that he doesn’t want to know her backstory. Sweet, but we needed that backstory, to account for something very specific. On the other hand we have Mycroft, developed very well, and played with Gatiss’ usual wit (although occasionally degraded like all the others: can you imagine Jeremy Brett slamming Charles Gray against a wall and saying 'Don't appal me when I'm high', in order to excite screaming fans who find psychotic behaviour sexy? No). Sadly the other supporting characters were reduced to montages of reactions seemingly designed to make the perfect ‘gif set’ for aspiring graphic designers on Tumblr.

Hints of brilliance demonstrate that 'Sherlock' should really stick to what it set out to do, because it does it fantastically. The nods to the books were excellent - Gatiss gave us not only a new, very funny version of Sherlock’s return but also an enactment of the original one, which turns out not to be Sherlock - very clever, in the good way. Sherlock’s acquisition of a fake girlfriend was played very well (although rather belied by the mawkish behaviour in the first two episodes). Lars Mikkelsen gave an absolutely spine-tingling performance as Magnussen; I didn’t think it was possible to be so fascinated and revolted at once. I was rather put off by Sherlock’s jarring statement that he hates Magnussen because ‘he preys on people who are different’, since we get no sign that this is Magnussen’s motivation AT ALL, and the line was clearly just thrown in to rub ideology in our faces; but the twist in the tale was absolutely genius. I thought, ‘That’s more like it,’ before the finale went rapidly downhill.

I won’t quite spoil the end; suffice to say it is utterly bonkers. It started with an almost word-for-word, non-supernatural remix of a Doctor Who episode, then we got the cherry on the cake for the James Bond reminiscences. I’ve seen a lot of people blaming Moffat for what’s wrong with this series and that’s unfair, as it was Gatiss who gave us 3 drawn-out false versions of the suicide stunt, and Thompson who wrote (most of) the best man speech and the absurd ‘stag night’ scene; Moffat actually did some of the best work with this series, since he tied up several seemingly random plot threads really cleverly. But we can blame him for this finale. All realism was lost and the moral compass of the series completely shattered. I’d be interested to see how that’s explained away in the next series, only I don’t think I’m going to watch it.

All in all this was a great disappointment. Buy it if you want 4.5 hours’ worth of a mentally troubled detective named ‘William Sherlock Scott Holmes’ (?!) and his downtrodden best friend having ‘a domestic’, with some flashes of narrative flair, cinematographic circus acts, and admirable attempts by Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman to deal with a rather schizophrenic script. And I'm sure many do want that. Or you may want to watch it from an anthropological point of view, since the show's decline into madness is in itself worthy of a Poe story. But if that isn't what you signed up for, stick to the Rathbone films or Granada series, which thankfully give us Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2014 5:01 AM GMT


The Secret History
The Secret History
by Donna Tartt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do not trifle with divinity, 28 July 2013
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
I am a classicist and I had avoided this book - ironically enough, with the foolish, cultivated arrogance of the characters - on the grounds that it would probably just be using the subject for glamour and give a false impression of it. I am pleased to report I couldn't have been more wrong. It was a literally stunning read, from the moment I opened the first page and the narrator described how he and four of his classmates had murdered the sixth of their number, right up until the reflective epilogue when, for once, all loose ends up are tied in a way worthy of the originality of the preceding 600 pages.

More than enough people have reviewed this book for me to need to describe the premise or Richard, Charles, Camilla, Francis, Henry and Bunny. Despite all receiving the same education and all (except Richard) being from similar upper-middle class backgrounds, they are all memorable, and possibly made more realistic by the fact that Tartt doesn't try to give each one a single, off-the-wall distinguishing trait to justify their similarities: they're a group of friends who get on but occasionally want to kill each other, of course they will be 80% similar, and it's great for an author to understand that. Richard is both unremarkable and an enigma: the development of his efforts to become someone else by establishing himself in this little insular group of friends is done perfectly, an analysis of the effect of upbringing without turning into a psychiatrist's notebook. While he's not the most interesting of the characters, that's one of the book's achievements: it's rather the point. Another achievement is that every reader will probably have a different favourite character.

But I will say this: as critics sometimes say of books about e.g. London that 'the city is a character', in this book the discipline (in both senses of the word) of Classics is a character, both in itself and incarnated in the charming Julian Morrow, the class teacher. The half-voluntary isolation, the sense of knowing something others don't know is not only reminiscent of Classics classes (it's a bit of a stereotype, but one that's so rarely described with such truth that it gets away with it) but also chimes disconcertingly well with the plot of Euripides' Bacchae, a literary masterpiece that still leaves me in a moral quandary. It is central to the plot of this book, and Tartt more than does it justice. She brings up and evokes the defining precepts of Classics with enough erudition to delight a classicist, but just the right tone of explanation, neither reticent nor patronising, to make the book equally accessible to those who haven't slaved over prose composition or muddled their way through philosophy and ancient codes of warfare.

As for Julian, none of the classicists knows that much about him and yet they all feel a privileged connection to him; Henry, who practically thinks in Greek, is correspondingly closest to him. Quite elusive at first, he becomes almost like a good friend, but one that can never be known fully, evoking the same frustration as the age-old 'inability to write like a Greek/Roman'. He has friends in high places, but is mistrusted by other teachers who misunderstand him because he doesn't bother to engage in niceties with them. The profound but concentrated education he provides clearly prepares students for anything if they make the most of it, but it can clearly go horribly wrong if bestowed on those who are half-hearted or just not up to it, as with the elenchus of Socrates.

Evidently, 'trying to understand the Greeks' DOES go horribly wrong, and as with Socrates, Julian's merits become as obviously questionable as they are obviously authentic, yet in a scary and dishearteningly inevitable way, it is the hysterical young adults who are left to pick up the pieces when they are patently not morally equipped to do so. I think this terrible shadow of despair cast over the story from the beginning is what made me start, continue and ultimately finish this book when I knew it was about 5 murderers trying to avoid punishment. I was left with a profound sense that the punishment they DO receive is not the one they deserved. Greek tragedy-worthy moral reflection in a book about university is just astounding. As for the writing, I rarely enjoy first-person points of view, but this is spot on: introspective without compromising plot and pace, descriptive without straying too far from a person's likely train of thought. There are some really beautiful passages, the dialogue is witty and well placed, and the literary allusions are varied and always appropriate.

I have only 2 possible criticisms. One is that some readers may not 'buy into' the one semi-supernatural but integral element; personally I feel that the incisive analysis of the rest of the book largely makes up for it, but there is an element of the ridiculous that 'you had to be there' just doesn't cover, and the temporal distance means the 'believing is seeing' idea doesn't quite work. (It is certainly not something that can be tested.) In my case it was only habituation to Classics that stopped me scoffing a little; for others, perhaps, in reverse, the novelty of it will mean that its incredibility is taken to be the point. The other arguable fault is that actions that would be anecdote-worthy one-offs for most people, such as 'going for an aimless wander in the middle of the night and bumping into one of the others acting oddly' and 'getting dangerously drunk/high and being incompetently nursed or driven to the hospital by one of the others' became somewhat repetitive and motif-like, but in a book of this scope, that's forgivable. Certainly overall, the accelerating spiral into madness is absolutely fantastic.

I heartily recommend this book whether you're a classicist or not, although I suggest you read the 'Bacchae' first (while it's not necessary, you can read it in 2 hours and the experience is much better if you know what Tartt's trying to do). As with anything that deals with 'morally questionable' characters or actions, I would only say that it isn't a book you should buy for your aspiring classicist child, unless you are sure they have a very firm sense of right and wrong. I've had 9 years of Classics study 'wrecking my head', and I still found this book, and my own sympathy for its characters, absolutely terrifying.


Hobbitus Ille: The Latin Hobbit
Hobbitus Ille: The Latin Hobbit
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A cultural gem - a real shame the execution doesn't do the concept justice, 5 Dec. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I have never been so eager to acquire a book. Mark Walker was bold enough to announce that he was marketing his Latin Hobbit at people who like to read Latin just because they can - kudos to him for being so perceptive, at least in my case! Unfortunately, he seems to completely miss the fact that his target audience, people who read Latin just because they can, DOES generally expect it to be good Latin that might be spoken by a Roman. What concerns me most is not the presence of mistakes in the Latin, already more than adequately illustrated by other reviewers. That's forgiveable - who could check it? - although the quantity IS somewhat worrying. I am more alarmed by the reason they were made, which to me is transparent, and as galling as it is baffling.

Walker declares in his preface that he decided to translate the book literally, rather than imitating Roman authors. Aside from the fury I felt personally, having spent 8 years slavishly imitating Roman authors, I would have thought that Tolkien's pages of description were just begging for a potential translator to plunder Vergil's Georgics. I felt as though Walker had proudly announced he'd thrown away the Sibylline books. Nonetheless I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. One good thing that did come of his approach was that, despite not having read 'The Hobbit' in English, I got the impression that I was indeed reading Tolkien - the tone and syntax were very close. I should also point out that the songs have all been translated into varied Latin metres, which was very gratifying.

However, leaving aside instances where the Latin is sound but 'the Romans just wouldn't have said that' - along with the overpowering sense of a wasted opportunity - most of the grammatical errors could have been avoided by imitating Roman authors. No one emulating Vergil would have written such elementary gibberish as 'solis oriens' ('the rising thing of the sun') for 'sunrise'. More importantly, for me, this approach renders the book unintelligible to anyone other than native English speakers - let alone hypothetical Romans! If it took me quite some time to work out that 'ei maledic' did not actually have an addressee, imagine the difficulty faced by a non-English speaker, for whom 'curse him' does not share its form with the imperative... And that's a minor example. It goes against every translation principle I have ever learned.

A literal translation of often idiomatic English is not only an insult to thousands of international fans, it also seems the complete opposite of what *Tolkien*, a renowned linguist, would have wanted; I am sure he would have been aghast merely at the failure to translate the characters' names, after all the effort he put into giving them meaning. But worst of all, it is a total affront to Latin itself - an incomprehensible disregard for its outstanding literary heritage, and shameful waste of the power it holds NOW as a language that can be equally understood all over the world. Coming from anyone at all, such oversight betrays what could at best be described as colossal ignorance, at worst as supreme arrogance (both of the kind that I suspect, sadly, would not ensnare a European translator). From a Latin *teacher*, which Walker apparently is, the failure to recognise the endeavour's potential simply defies belief.

Don't get me wrong, this was a charming read. It's an excellent book, of course, and it's wonderful to have the opportunity to read it in largely decent Latin that mirrors the tone very well. Perhaps the exclusivity of the translation will be of less concern to many people. However, even reading it solely as a native English speaker, it is rather unwieldy at times (to put it mildly), and the experience is marred by the knowledge that it COULD have been a linguistic masterpiece of which Tolkien would have been proud.

On a positive note... it left me with a very strong urge to re-translate it myself.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2013 1:57 PM BST


Commissario Montalbano (Il) - Box 01 (5 Dvd)
Commissario Montalbano (Il) - Box 01 (5 Dvd)

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This is the Italian edition (and the English boxed set is much better value), 29 Aug. 2012
I haven't seen these particular episodes (from what I have seen, the series is excellent), this review is just to clarify what this product is. This is the first boxed set of Inspector Montalbano released in Italy. So THE PRODUCT IS IN ITALIAN and there are NO ENGLISH SUBTITLES.

It contains the episodes:
La forma dell'acqua (The Shape of Water, 2000)
Il cane di terracotta (The Mystery of the Terracotta Dog, 2000)
Tocco d'artista (The Artist's Touch, 2001)
La gita a Tindari (Excursion to Tindari, 2001)
Il senso del tatto (The Sense of Touch, 2002)

The first boxed set with English subtitles is this one: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B008JZGQU6/ref=s9_simh_gw_p74_d0_i2?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=04Z4KKKKPXGH54XK0SR2&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=317828027&pf_rd_i=468294
That one contains these episodes here as well as
The Scent Thief (1999), The Voice of the Violin (1999), Montalbano's Croquettes (2002), The Scent of the Night (2002), The Cat and the Goldfinch (2002)

If you speak Italian, this boxed set and several more like it are available on Amazon.it for around £20 each, and you can buy them without a separate account. However, even if you do speak it, I would recommend waiting for the English one. It's annoying that it's taking so long to come out over here but the English boxed set is much better value for money (more episodes in one set, and at a cheaper price overall). There's also the fact that the English boxed set contains the very first two episodes whereas this one doesn't. The series is easy to follow even if you haven't seen the first ones, but for anyone who does want to see them, this edition leaves you a little perplexed as to why they're not on it. And of course, if you do need the subtitles then the English boxed set has those as well.


The Assassin and the Pirate Lord: A Throne of Glass Novella
The Assassin and the Pirate Lord: A Throne of Glass Novella
Price: £1.49

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Full of fun and stunning descriptions, but somewhat devoid of common sense!, 4 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
'The Assassin and the Pirate Lord' is the first of 4 prequel e-novellas that take Celaena Sardothien, heroine of 'Throne of Glass', and explore her previous exploits. As such, it's pretty much a question of What to Expect in 'Throne of Glass'. This story is set 2 years prior to the main novel, so when Celaena is 16. Arobynn Hamel, head of the Assassin's Guild and Celaena's father figure, sends Celaena to conclude a deal with the Pirate Lord, accompanied by another assassin, Sam Cortland, who is sent to keep her reckless, arrogant streak in check. But when the pair get to their destination, they realise that they weren't told everything about their mission, and Celaena decides to take matters into her own hands.

This is an action-packed novella that provides a fun introduction to the world of 'Throne of Glass', particularly as it takes us to parts of the story's world that we don't see in the main novel, and it's great reading for anyone interested in the shady character of Arobynn Hamel. 'New' (or should it be old, as it's a prequel?) character Sam holds his own against the men of 'Throne of Glass' - he's not quite as lovely as Chaol, and he's younger and hence a bit more sensitive, but he's a level-headed contrast to the pretentious and boastful Celaena in the same way. The story is just the right length for when you want a quick escape into pure fantasy, and the style is beautifully descriptive, with an easy charm that makes it very pleasant to read.

The obvious flaw in all of these stories is that it's ridiculous that a beautiful 16-year-old girl should be a kingdom's most notorious assassin, but the author gets around this in an amusing way by making Celaena ridiculously arrogant about it. Apart from her constant (and I mean constant) preening and bragging - which personally I find makes the stories more interesting, as it's rare to find such an annoying heroine that you still identify with - the main thing that could put people off reading this is its absurd naivety. It's hard to explain why I found the story a bit hard to stomach without giving the plot away, but let's just say that it shies away from any actual assassinating in favour of an almost sickening display of Celaena Saving the Day that trumps Peter Pan in its pantomime-worthy execution. Celaena's actions are reckless, idealistic and bordering on patronising, and I wanted to slap some sense into her.

The author stops short of being utterly unrealistic though, as - thank the heavens! - no one else is as impressed with Celaena as she is with herself, and the fact that no one fell at her feet to thank her for her 'compassion' rescued me from utter despair. What's more, it's definitely not all bad - many scenes are pantomime-worthy in the good way. The Pirate Lord of the title is charming and ruthless, smart but of course not quite smart enough. I couldn't help but cackle in both sympathy and satisfaction at Celaena's discomfort in her ridiculous disguises, and the tavern brawl was absolutely hilarious.

Celaena Sardothien has some strong principles, and her heart is definitely in the right place, but she needs to get her head out of her own backside. What I liked about this story though was that her attitude was entirely believable. This IS the behaviour of a naive teenager who wants to make a difference and thinks that a little foot-stamping display of disobedience, with no major consequences attached, makes her a freedom fighter. That didn't make me wince any less, but it made me want to stick with her to see if she ever learns her place and channels her idealistic but well-meaning notions into measured, respectful actions.

If people read this and see that a) what Celaena did isn't how it actually works; b) the true heroes of the story weren't Celaena, then it will have been a worthy read. In any case, it's fun and well-written, and if you don't take it too seriously then it's highly enjoyable.


Throne of Glass: 1
Throne of Glass: 1
by Sarah J. Maas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

80 of 86 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A charming and witty dose of the naive nostalgia of childhood fairytales, 4 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Throne of Glass: 1 (Paperback)
I've been waiting for this book to be released since I read some of it on FictionPress.com more than 5 years ago. If its original hook of 'What if Cinderella had been sent to the ball to kill the prince?' had been kept, it would have made things a lot simpler. It's a great read, but not quite for the reasons it's been hyped up to be. It's an action-packed coming-of-age romance set in a fairytale world, with all the intrigues, impossibilities and archetypes that that implies.

If you like that sort of thing, buy this book. If you read and liked the original version, buy this book. You're guaranteed to love it, so I'm going to write this review for people who don't know what to expect and who are a bit hesitant or sceptical. If you believe the hype and nothing else, you might find the story a bit too much, but if you go in knowing what you should REALLY expect, you'll find it an enjoyable, perceptive, read.

The facts are these. Celaena Sardothien, previously Assassin of Adarlan, is retrieved from prison camp by Captain Chaol Westfall, to represent Crown Prince Dorian in a tournament devised by his father, the despotic king of Adarlan, to find a Royal Champion. If she succeeds, Celaena will be the king's personal assassin for 4 years before being pardoned and freed. But as well as winning the competition, there is something evil lurking in the glass castle, that Celaena must destroy...

Now, what makes Celaena a fairytale heroine rather than a kick-ass warrior? She not only boasts the status of greatest assassin (and when I say boasts, I mean: Celaena herself boasts, and then some), she also happens to be a stunning 18-year-old girl, complete with a blurry past, a sense of honour that (she feels) distinguishes her from street criminals, and a dislike of corsets that (she feels) distinguishes her from backstabbing courtly ladies. 19-year-old Prince Dorian is THE stereotypical exception to the rule: he's a pampered, unassertive idealist, but his pseudo-scholarly charm is a great threat to Celaena's would-be populist prejudices! Proof of their shared exceptional status? THEY LIKE TO READ.

Luckily, once you're armed against these two rather insufferable personages, the book is actually a lot more intelligent than it sounds. Celaena and Dorian are off-set by the exceptional Chaol (the Captain), who alone makes the book worth reading, and Nehemia, a visiting princess from a conquered land. Chaol - totally un-archetypal and instantly likeable, even if it's ridiculous that he made it to Captain at 22 - persistently reminds Dorian that he's a privileged prince whether he claims to like it or not, and Nehemia is learned and captivating, a grounding influence on Celaena whose naive self-righteousness might otherwise have been unbearable. It's also quite bold to give the characteristic, undiluted arrogance of the villain to the heroine. Celaena's constant bragging is vindicated by her struggle to make her weakened body match up to her own glorious notions about her abilities, and by Chaol's faith in her, reluctant but 100% sincere. And surprisingly enough considering both the genre and the characters, the romantic element of the book is extremely well played.

I won't go into the pros and cons of the story because the plot followed the pattern of 'I can see what's coming from a mile away but I still can't put it down'. As for the writing, it's full of vivid descriptions, plain but acute characterisation, and some extremely witty remarks and exchanges. There were occasional anachronisms, and the inevitable, but still depressing, 'from whence'; but overall, the book is charmingly written. The author has talent and a likeable style, and this is a novel she started when she was 16; I expect she'll become a real gem of YA Fantasy with her subsequent books.

Like I said, if you like character-driven fairytales, buy this book, you're guaranteed to love it. If you don't HATE them, it's still worth a try for its perceptive take on its own clearly defined genre. The story's origins are betrayed by the fact that its view of its well-drawn world, with an empire in chaos, is limited to the perspective of beautiful, important people (and by the 'glass' retained in the title, which is, otherwise, not very relevant), but that shouldn't, and doesn't, condemn it. As infuriating as the characters may sometimes be, and despite the obvious plot, this is a pretty accurate portrayal of what Good But Flawed people at the top are likely to feel. I won't lie, it's not for people who can't stomach characters who are superior to their peers in class, motives and ability; but for people who are interested in the struggles of characters in that situation, this take on it is deceptively resonant.

The characters that drive this story are ridiculously young, but the book knows that, and gives them room to grow, and learn. If I could give this 3 and a half stars I would, because it's far more than average, but it clearly needs its subsequent instalments to round itself off perfectly - as far as I recall, the original story really got going after the tournament. But that isn't to say I didn't enjoy this book, because I couldn't put it down and read it in one sitting. It's a promising and charming introduction to an ambitious series, and I for one am certainly interested to see where Celaena will be going next.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 22, 2012 6:36 AM BST


Delirium (Delirium Trilogy 1): 1/3
Delirium (Delirium Trilogy 1): 1/3
by Lauren Oliver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars '1984', surprisingly well adapted for the 'Twilight' generation, 21 Jun. 2012
I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but this book would really benefit from something less generic. Those who were put off by the comparison to Twilight should be relieved: Delirium takes everything that was promising about Twilight, and turns it into a dystopian novel that's made no less intelligent by the fact that it's a readable coming-of-age romance.

Delirium is set in a society where love is viewed as a disease and all American citizens must take a mandatory cure (some sort of emotional inhibitor) when they turn 18. This is enforced by violent 'regulators' and across-the-board propaganda about how love is the cause of every form of unhappiness whatsoever. Lena is a 17-year-old who is excitedly waiting for her cure, eager to distance herself from a problematic family history - until her life takes a dramatic turn when her pre-cure evaluation is interrupted by a rebel demonstration, and she meets Alex, a mysterious boy who introduces her to the idea that perhaps love isn't as bad as the government says it is...

This book was a very enjoyable read. I've given it 4 stars, because taken individually, none of the elements was particularly unusual, but when they were all put together they formed a thought-provoking vision. The way the regulators went about their business was the same as in any despotic society; the theme of forbidden love is centuries old; and the story played out rather predictably, almost at a textbook pace. But I was impressed by the way the author wove those two themes of love and despotism together from an institutional point of view, and at a level that was perfect for introducing allegory to young adults.

Another strength lies in the fact that the characters are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Lena is an average, slightly whiny teenage girl who doesn't know what she wants. What's impressive is that at the beginning she isn't the underdog freedom fighter, like e.g. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games); I compare the book to 1984 because her struggle is largely a mental one. The book shows, subtly and believably, how she goes from genuinely believing in the propaganda, to feeling guilty for questioning it, to realising that it's all a lie. By the end she has truly matured, recognising her flaws (including the whining that no one seemed to talk Twilight's Bella Swan out of) without becoming miraculously perfect. Hero Alex's secret past is rather transparent, but it's refreshing to see a young adult love interest who is complex without being slightly disturbed, and who is no less charming for it. Lena and Alex are proof that you can have a non-dysfunctional love story, and that choosing love and retaining identity aren't mutually exclusive. Supporting character Hana is a wonderful tribute to true friendship - again, a quintessential relationship, nothing majorly new, but executed without seeming clichéd.

I would particularly recommend this as a gift to any young girl brought up on Twilight and the subsequent deluge of similar 'forbidden love' novels for young adults. This book has all that's right with those novels and none of what's wrong. It is 1984 for the adolescent coming of age as opposed to the already cynical adult. I'm 19 and I could really relate to Lena; I read 1984 when I was 12, so I wasn't shocked by this book, but this would have been a much more comprehensible introduction to the concept. I also think that adults would find it interesting to see how it's done. It's a pleasant surprise - simplistic and predictable, but consciously so, and in a good way. It uses familiarity with the genre and themes to ask fascinating questions without taking readers out of their intellectual comfort zone. Without being pretentious or clever, it's self-assured and intelligent from beginning to end.

One final note: I didn't actually realise that this was the first in a trilogy. Much has been said about its 'cliffhanger ending' but this is only a cliffhanger in hindsight - while, again, it was something I expected, my experience of the book felt complete and anyone who didn't want to drag the story out, or preferred to leave the subsequent events to their imagination, could happily stop with this one. That said, I enjoyed it and I'll eagerly purchase the next two.


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