Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review: The Hunt

"When you're craved, you go extinct."
The Hunt (#1 in a series)
Andrew Fukuda
304 pages

Rating: 3

A YA vampire book where the vampires aren't beautiful and brooding, but instead a frightening nightmare species? And our beautiful human protagonist doesn't fall into a ~doomed love~ with one of them? When I first heard about The Hunt, it sounded way too good to be true; finally, a vampire story that didn't instantly read like a list of stupid romantic cliches. Plus I do so enjoy gladiatorial "let's murder kids for entertainment" stories.

Alas, it was too good to be true.

Gene, our teenage protagonist, is the only human left alive and free in a world run by vampires. He survives by blending in, spending his days at school desperately trying not to sneeze or twitch to give away his human status. He's made it to high school, but then gets selected to participate in a super-rare bread-and-circuses spectacle, hosted by the mysterious "Beloved Ruler"- a human hunt! All the sudden attention makes it increasingly difficult for Gene to pass, and complications ensue. He's infatuated with a beautiful classmate, he realizes the humans they'll be hunting aren't just dumb cattle, and the media wants to give him a book deal. How the heck is he going to survive this?

I've made it sound like a comedy- though now that I think of it, I think this book would have worked much better as a parody- which isn't really the case. It's serious and grim, but unfortunately, Fukuda lacks the writing chops to pull it off.

To Fukuda's credit, the vampires in this book are not normal people with a tragic aversion to light. They're disgusting and alien; they sleep upside-down, they melt into pus in the sun, they are driven into an insatiable blood lust by the scent of a human. Imagine if the first time Bella cut her hand in class, Edward ripped off her arms and devoured her alive.

Unfortunately, this ties into first major flaw of the book: the world building doesn't make sense. Are the vampires another species? Humans apparently become vampires if bitten or scratched, but the vampires aren't ageless (but might be immortal?), and reproduce by having babies. Fukuda tries to make them seem even weirder, by giving them an entirely different range of physical expressions (scratching a wrist instead of laughing, etc), which is good when it works, but when it doesn't...woo boy (two words: armpit sex). Not to mention, why is technology at such a weird level? They have touchscreen computers but ride horse-drawn carriages? And what does "heper", vampire slang for human, even mean?

Plus, the general premise doesn't make sense. Why blend in? The risks are so insanely high, not that Gene makes them any easier for himself. Why be on the swim team if goosebumps would give you away? Why play spin the bottle with your vampiric classmates? There's also a nearby desert waste, know as "The Vast", that vampires hate to cross- why didn't his family gather up supplies during the day, take some horses and try to see what's on the other side? Or just secretly live out there and steal supplies? Heck, why not become a vampire and finally fit in just like you've always wanted?

Beyond our weirdly dumb protagonist, the vamps are all just set pieces labelled "antagonist", and even the humans lack dynamic qualities. In their defense, we don't spend a whole lot of time with any other humans in the book, so they haven't had time to flesh-out. The main female character does stand on her own, and there's a genuinely sweet moment between her and Gene bonding over shared human twitchiness. She's also smarter than Gene; frankly, the book should probably have been about her. Bonus points for having no love triangle in sight (yet).

The plot itself isn't bad. There is some genuine tension in watching Gene desperately try not to get caught, and I was truly surprised at a certain "oh shit" moment. I also didn't see the final twist coming, but I suspect that's more because I'm an idiot rather than it being clever. Mostly though, it's pretty predictable. That's not inherently bad- I mean, we all knew Katniss wasn't going to die in the Hunger Games- but without compensating by pulling me into the story or the characters, getting to the end felt like a chore. I had been hoping for intense survival drama, but the hunt itself is anticlimactic and only happens in the last 10% (sidenote: ebooks need to get page numbers). Fukuda also tries to introduce some potential down-the-line political intrigue, but it falls flat.

Tl;dr- This is Fukuda's first book and it shows. The writing is often laughingly melodramatic (Gene refers to swimming underwater as "The Forbidden Stroke") and sometimes weirdly stilted from a lack of pronouns. The Hunt earns a solid participation award for trying, but fails to deliver a coherent, engaging story. But there's definite potential for improvement, so I'll likely be glancing at book two when it rolls around.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

"Some lives are predestined, so that a single error destroys all that is to come."

The Count of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Dumas
1243 pages

Rating: 9

I know, I know. Your eyes glance over the page count then shoot back up to it, face crinkled in confusion. Yes, really, it's that long. The key is not to panic and remember that it was released as a serial over the course of two years, so if you want you can take that long to read it and smugly claim you did it for authenticity.

You won't want to take that long though. Trust me.

The story of Monte Cristo is pretty famous. There have been a dozen movies, plays, and even an anime version set in the 51st century (which is actually quite good). At its core, the story is eminently simple: Young Edmond Dantes has everything going for him: a beautiful fiancee, a fantastic job as ship's captain, a loving father and devoted friends. But it all comes to ruin when he's thrown into prison for a crime he didn't commit. Fourteen years later, he manages to escape, and sets out on a path of revenge against those who wronged him. 

There's a bit more to it than that, but it's best to discover the details on your own. Even if you've seen screen versions, I promise you don't know everything. Despite the daunting page count and its being written in the 1800s, it's incredibly readable. Dumas (thankfully) lacks that Dickensian quality of writing a sentence so long you forgot how it began. The jokes are still funny, the insults and "sick burns" still scathing, the images so detailed you can close your eyes and see it. And boy does it have everything you have ever wanted in a story: love, betrayal, revenge, murder, insanity, drugs, suicide, lesbians, bandits, serial-poisonings, duels, tragedy, redemption.  

It took me a bit over a week to complete, but I did it while at the beach and had endless free time. I just couldn't put it down. I also couldn't stop talking about it, probably to the annoyance of everyone about me. Every  few chapters I'd mutter "holy crap!" to myself or stare up from the page all wild-eyed. It's the sort of story I wish could have been read out loud to me when I was younger, for maximum effect. My mother told me about how, as a child, she snuck into her parents bedroom at every chance to read it. This is a book that delivers. It's skyrocketed to a coveted position on the list of best books I've ever read, which is saying something. Go read it.

Lastly, if nothing else, it taught me that people in the mid-1800s were just as enthralled with vampire stories as we are today. The more things change...