Thursday, 7 February 2013

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling

This is the 29th book I have written about in this blog, but the very first one that is a re-read.  It's not that I've run out of new books to read (not by a long way), the time just felt right to read something more familiar.  And after a book that was pretty heavy-going in places it was nice to read something a bit lighter.

Like a lot of other people, I've read all 7 Harry Potter books.  Books 4, 5, 6 and 7 were read as close to the day of release as could be managed.  But actually, the Goblet of Fire is the only one of those that I've ever read since.  Despite reading the earlier books several times I've never found the motivation for the others.  Until now.

My husband has said I need to watch the films, which I've managed to avoid very successfully.  The condition for me giving in is that prior to each viewing I will read the relevant book, and so will be fully equipped to complain about portions of the plot which are incorrect or missing.  And so yesterday I sat down to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  It was somewhat of a novelty to be finished just a few hours later.

The main thing thing to strike me about the book was the content balance.  In my head, Harry arrives at Hogwarts really early on, and a large section is devoted to trying to get the Stone at the end.  I'm not sure if I should be blaming this on my devotion to Lego Xbox games, but it was a fair distance from reality.  Around three quarters of the way through the book it's only got as far as Christmas.  And conquering the challenges to reach the stone takes merely a chapter.

This may actually be a good thing, as it helps the book to retain its innocence.  The focus is on making friends and adjusting to life in a new school, with inter-house rivalry being of the utmost importance.  Sure, the basics of the evil that has occurred are told.  Yes, Harry has to face the guy who tried to kill him.  But really those parts serve as what they are supposed to be, a warm up for next time.

And for me that next time may be very soon indeed, as easy-reads are about all I can manage this week!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Assassin's Quest - Robin Hobb

Books are powerful things.  They can transport you to another time, to another world.  They can temporarily change your perception of reality, and permanently change your perception of yourself.  They can make you wish for more in your life, and completely take over your life.

Now that reading is becoming more of a habit for me, I'm managing to become more absorbed in stories.  And as is now tradition, reading the third book of a trilogy meant that many other things moved down the priority order.  The final component in the Farseer trilogy had me reading through my lunch break, and going to bed earlier just to get more chapters in.  One day I even got some reading in before work.

As might be expected from the title, Assassin's Quest follows the storyteller assassin on a quest.  The quest takes different forms as he and the world around him change.  A quest for revenge, a quest for knowledge, a quest to serve, a quest to save.  Much of the story is a journey with changing purpose.  Do you fight to harm your enemy or to help your friends?  How do you know who your friends are at all?

One theme that runs throughout is that of family, friendship and love.  When most of the world thinks you're dead, trusting people with the knowledge of your true identity isn't so simple.  The journey into the mountains that features in the later section of the book brings together a misfit group who are forced to lean on each other to survive.  The struggles they have each faced bring them closer together as a 'pack'.

Ok, so I haven't been the most specific here.  And there's a good reason for that.  I'm not actually sure how I felt about the book.  All I know is that it made me think about what is important.  I guess that has to be a good thing, but along the way there were aspects of the plot I struggled with.  Some of the Skilling got a bit much for me, and while I know it was supposed to be unclear when things were Skill-influenced I still got confused and slightly annoyed.  There were also a few times when I quickly read through pages as they seemed to be background detail on a subject about which I no longer cared.

The characters, as ever, were wonderful in their quirks and secrets.  The ever-evolving relationships between those characters was beautifully written.  And for all I got confused with the Skill aspects of the plot, I couldn't help but feel for its users and those used by it.  For the White Prophet and the Catalyst, the constant struggle to interpret the prophecies and not be disheartened by them also tugged at my emotions.

I think the impact from the trilogy is going to take some processing, and maybe in a few days I will feel a bit clearer about the whole thing.  But I can't dwell for too long, there's another story out there just waiting to pull me in.