Book Review: Eragon

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Overview: This is a young adult fantasy novel. It was written by Christopher Paolini at the age of 15, but was first published when he was ~18 (in 2001). It is the first in a four-book series entitled Inheritence. In 2006, Fox made the movie adaptation of Eragon in theaters around the world (but the book is way better, in addition to it being very unique from the film).

Plot: The story follows a 16 year old farmboy named Eragon. One day while hunting, an egg magically appears before him, a dragon egg. Once it hatched, his life was forever changed. He instantly became part of a prestigious group known as Dragon Riders, though not many of them still lived. As rumors spread of his whereabouts, danger ensues, and Eragon finds his uncle murdered. Eragon goes on a quest for vengeance, bringing Brom along to train him in swordsmanship and magic. During his adventures, Eragon becomes increasingly interjected into the politics and grudges between evil King Galbatorix and the Varden and Eragon realizes that he must choose a side.

Review: Eragon was a fun read that I thoroughly enjoyed. The characters and their interactions, especially between Eragon and Saphira the dragon, were excellent and life like! Being that Eragon is a farmboy, turning from 15 to 16 during the events of the book, he had a lot of maturing to do in the way of combat and spell casting. As a consequence, I felt the book was on the heavy side with training. There was even a whole chapter about him learning how to read.

In addition, throughout the whole novel, Eragon almost never stopped moving. He was either chasing his uncle’s murderers (which he never did get his revenge), or he was fleeing. Last, but not least, Eragon never confronted evil, evil always confronted him. Even when he was located in a secret city that King Galbatorix didn’t know the location of, somehow an army of Urgals and Kull knew where to assault. Not that these complaints of mine are necessarily bad, but they are what prevented me from giving it 4 stars.

During my review, I always like to point out what I perceive as flaws mostly because it helps me learn as an author, so don’t let it deter you from reading this book. It was highly entertaining, a quick read, and it kept me engaged all the way to the end (and made me want to jump into the sequel!).

Book Review: A Clash of Kings

RATING: 5/5 Stars

OVERVIEW: A Clash of Kings is book 2 of the fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. It’s a fantasy novel that is targeted toward an adult audience. Each chapter is in the perspective of a different character and follows multiple story lines.

PLOT: After the death of the king in book one, now everyone is claiming a right to the throne. There are five self proclaimed kings that fight for the throne of Westeros, all the while the Stark family is torn apart and separated, struggling to regroup if only just to see each other once more. During the chaos of war, Daenerys (the Mother of Dragons) continues to struggle to find ships and an army to carry her across the sea to retake the iron throne.

REVIEW: First, I must commend George R. R. Martin for his vast, extensive detailing of characters and their histories. To have written this novel would have required a mountain of preparation to do it as well as he does. Furthermore, the scale of character detail for an entire continent is immense and impressive.

Second, GRRM’s writing is top tier. He has done so much research into the medieval era that he has brought that historical knowledge to life in his writing.

As far as entertainment value is concerned, I was extremely pleased throughout reading this novel. There was more magic and fantasy elements in this book compared to the first. (It wasn’t abundant, but GRRM knows how to tastefully pepper it in). I found that the chapters for certain characters excited me more than others (such as Jon, Bran, and Arya). The Tyrion and Daenerys chapters were always interesting to me, but the others didn’t catch my fancy so much (ex. Sansa, Caitlin, Davos, and Theon). My only real gripe is that this book really lacked an ending. I had thought the same for book one (Game of Thrones), but this one was worse. There wasn’t a true ending to the story; the story was still alive and open with no closure to really bring it home. But considering this is just book 2 out of 7, it isn’t really an issue.

This is a novel that I would highly recommend to any reader, even those that are not fans of the fantasy genre. As this could technically be considered “low fantasy” (meaning there is not a lot of fantasy elements mixed in compared to traditional swords & sorcery books), any person looking for a good read would appreciate this series of books. Even if you get lost with the world or in the large cast of characters, GRRM provides a map and appendixes at the back of the book for reference. As far as what one would expect from a 5 star rated book, this book (and his series) sets the bar for excellence. You won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell has been revised and updated for its 10th anniversary release to include new examples of leadership. While this is probably a great book for leaders in today’s workforce, I read it with a different tact in mind. As the book describes the 21 traits that a great leader should have (whether they are traits that a single leader should exhibit, or spread across a leadership team), I kept reading the book to search for traits that I should add to some of my heroes in my novel. (I go more in depth about whether a hero should also be a leader here). But whatever your motivation is for reading this book, it does bring forth some traits that I was not conscious of before.

For example, The Law of the Lid describes the extent of someone’s effectiveness, and especially rings true for a leader’s vision. The grander the vision, the further that leader can lead. The more you raise your leadership ability, the more your effectiveness increases.

The book goes on to describe 20 other irrefutable laws of leadership, but I must say that many of them overlapped with each other. They were not mutually exclusive, but they were definitely intriguing. I’ve read many many business and investing books before, so I had a somewhat cynical attitude while reading this because I could see the author’s ego inserted throughout the book. Also, many business books don’t dive very deep to provide analytic value, so sometimes you have to think, “What is this author not telling me?” But, what this book lacked in deep thought, I made up for by reading it as part of a book study group at work. Lots of intellectually stimulating conversation was brought forth as we discussed each chapter in a group setting.

So in the true spirit of asking, “What is this author not telling me?”, I’ll add a 22nd irrefutable law of leadership: Being humble. This is something that I am working on as I believe I have some ego-related issues. I need to learn to set that aside, as any leader should do, and people will follow you.

Become More Active, Join A Critique Group

As I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier posts, reading is essential to being a good writer. (Do you think there ever was a successful band that didn’t listen to other music?) So to continue to improve your “chops” in addition to reading, you should become a reviewer. Either join Goodreads.com and write lengthy reviews of the books you have read, or join a Critique group (I did both). However, the critique group will improve your analytic skill, and open your eyes. You will learn to know good writing when you see it because you are not reading final drafts that have undergone professional editing.

Critters Writer’s Workshop (critters.org) is a free online sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writing critique group. While it is free, they mandate your participation. If you are not actively submitting critiques to other author’s short stories or chapters, then they will delete your membership. On top of that, they have “pro” members, such as SFWA Chapter Presidents and Nebula Award winner Ken Liu. They were established in 1995 and have over 15,000 members and are still growing.

Being that it is online can cause some uneasiness. “What if my original work gets stolen?” you might ask. They are huge advocates of the Copyright law. It is posted heavily, and there hasn’t been any problems with that yet. FYI, the protections afforded to you under the U.S. Copyright law apply as soon as you put something original on paper, so your work is already protected and there is no need to file with the USPTO. Your alternate choice is to join local in-person critique groups, but you usually have to have something to share in front of the group (which you might not always have) and they critique you on the spot. The benefit of this being online is that I can take my time with my review before I send it in.

Critters allows you to submit your entire novel too, and members can elect to become part of a dedicated reading group for your novel. The point is, they have a really good system, and I highly recommend joining if you write in the fiction genres aforementioned.

As an active member of Critters Writer’s Workshop, I had the pleasure to submit my completed fantasy short story: The Ravenous Flock. I wrote it to a fair length of 5,000 words, which I believe is optimal for submitting to magazines (which they state on their websites), though most short stories that I have read and reviewed are around 7,500 words. Once submitted, you get added to the queue (unless you are “pro” then you go to the front of the line). The queue is so long that it usually results in your manuscript being read 3-4 weeks from when you had submitted it. (Not bad). When I receive feedback, I’ll post my opinion of how helpful or not helpful this process was.

I’ll leave you with this final note: Short Stories are a different beast. Mark Twain once said, “I don’t have time to write you a short letter, so I’ll write you a long one instead.” Terry Brooks also said, “Writing a short story was one of the hardest things he had ever done. He would rather have a 500 page project any day.” So when I read one of Ken Liu’s short stories on Critters.org and saw it was only 750 words, I was impressed. Then I began reading it…. it had a never ending comma… the whole 3 paragraph story was one sentence. I felt beyond inadequate; I felt unworthy… and it really opened my eyes. And I hope all new writers have the opportunity to experience the same. So go join a critique group!