Category Archives: 5

A Princess of Mars (1917) – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!
Princess of Mars

I was unfamiliar with Edgar Rice Burroughs or his character John Carter until the property came to my attention when Disney adapted the character for the big screen in the 2012 film John Carter. From the looks of the trailers, I was pretty darn excited for the film, but I never went and saw it, possibly due to the less-than-stellar reputation it was accruing at the box office, becoming Disney’s biggest flop ever. I gradually lost interest, but when Amazon offered the book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, by Michael D. Sellers, for free on my Kindle, I read through it feverishly, fascinated by the history of the film and its source material. Halfway through that book, I decided that I had to give John Carter and the people of Barsoom a chance…and, good gosh, am I glad I did!

A Princess of Mars is the first in an 11-book series about Civil War veteran John Carter, who is suddenly and inexplicably spirited to the planet of Mars, called “Barsoom” by its inhabitants. Carter soon realizes that the lesser gravity on Barsoom allows him to leap great distances and greatly multiplies his strength. However, he is soon captured by Tharks, Martians who have green skin, four arms, stand fifteen feet tall, and are known for being fierce warriors. His strength allows him to climb ranks among the Tharks and befriend Tars Tarkas, one of the Thark chiefs. Soon, an attack on the flying ships of Helium, a city-state populated by Red Martians who look identical to humans except for their red skin, introduces Carter to Dejah Thoris, princess of Helium and the most beautiful woman he has ever laid eyes on. Carter plans an escape with Dejah Thoris in order to return her to her people, but many obstacles stand in their way. Accompanied by Dejah Thoris and an ugly but faithful companion named Woola, John Carter faces friends, foes, and everything in between in his first adventure on Barsoom.

The first thing I noticed about this book while reading is the way Burroughs writes. His sentence structure, choice of words, and descriptive prowess all join together beautifully to form sentences that are almost romantic in their presentation; that is to say, not “lovey-dovey” romantic but expressive and artistic. All of these wonderfully composed sentences build into a story that carries with it the largeness of the world and the larger-than-life qualities of the characters within it. The story is more episodic than plot-based, with each chapter bringing Carter to a new place or introducing him to a new task or character, which makes sense since the story was originally published in monthly serials before being compiled into a book. These vignettes from Carter’s time on Barsoom aren’t disjointed, however, with everything flowing and connecting rather nicely.

There is a lot of appeal in this book, from the desire to be a hero like John Carter to the swashbuckling swordplay to the fantastical descriptions of Barsoom/Mars to the romance between Carter and Dejah Thoris. It’s a novel that transcends genres, with elements of science fantasy, romance, and Westerns all coming into play. A Princess of Mars gave me what is possibly the most fun experience I’ve had while reading in quite a long time, increasing my interest in the following ten sequels, the film (my review), and in Burroughs in general. If you want to have a great time reading, go read this. Now!

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

-Chad

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The Hobbit (1937) – J. R. R. Tolkien

Like many, I sought to read J. R. R. Tolkien’s original book The Hobbit before the release of the films based on it. I had previously read his Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I was already familiar with the world. However, though the world and a few of the characters are the same, The Hobbit manages to be just as unique and charming on its own terms. After all, it was this book that first introduced us to the characters of Bilbo and Gandalf.

While I struggled with reading The Lord of the Rings due to the incredible details presented and the length overall, I had no difficulties reading The Hobbit. Tolkien’s prose is light and enjoyable; I loved the fact that it was told from the point of view of an almost passive narrator, which allowed jokes to be made about what was going on with our characters and allowed smooth transitions between the stories of one party to the next (i.e. explaining the whereabouts of Gandalf, etc.). The scope of the story and the consequences of failure are of course no comparison to Frodo’s later adventures, but the prospect of facing a terrible dragon and trolls and goblins (orcs) and the like is exciting nonetheless.

Though there are too many dwarves (Tolkien’s spelling of the plural of “dwarf”) to keep track of, the author manages to do a fantastic job of separating one from the other by attributing specific qualities to help you remember who is who; for example, Bombur is the fat one, Gloin is Gimli’s father, Thorin is (of course) the leader, and Balin is most fond of Bilbo. I could go on, but the point is that Tolkien makes each dwarf to be his own person with his own endearing qualities, which is no easy task (and something that I hope transfers to the big screen well). Of course, Bilbo Baggins is delightful…one of my favorite characters from either this book or from the following trilogy. He is smart, he is funny, and he is faithful, all qualities that make him entirely lovable. Gandalf the Grey, while playing a smaller role in this book than in that of The Lord of the Rings, is still filled with all the nobility and wisdom that we’ve come to expect from the great wizard.

The adventure is grand, the characters are memorable, and the world that Tolkien has created is fantastic. Though not quite the epic tale presented in The Lord of the Rings, it is still a lot of fun and, truthfully, is much easier to read. The Hobbit is a swell introduction to the world of Middle-earth, setting up the story of the Frodo Baggins and the One Ring wonderfully.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

-Chad


Artemis Fowl (2001) – Eoin Colfer

After reading The Last Guardian, I thought it would be appropriate to go back to the very beginning for a series readthrough, something that I haven’t ever done with the Artemis Fowl books before. I started the first one last night and finished it this morning after waking up.

Reading this book was almost like stepping into a time machine, going back to when I was a sixth grader reading it for the first time. It was even better this time around because I read the first book immediately after finishing the eighth and final book, so I was able to see all of the references that The Last Guardian made to the beginning of the series; for example (mild spoilers ahead), the closing paragraph of The Last Guardian is the first paragraph of Chapter 1 of the first book (spoilers end here). The flashbacks don’t start there, as we see references to certain gadgets or characters that were created at the start, only to be brought back or mentioned at the end. At the end of a series, it’s always satisfying to know that the author cares about bringing things full-circle for his/her readers.

I’m straying away from the first book, so I’ll focus only on it now: Artemis is at his most sinister, and it’s delightful. When I first read this, I was Artemis’ age, so it was almost empowering to imagine this kid who was no older than I was accomplishing so much. Another part of the appeal of this book was that there’s not necessarily a true hero – who do I root for? Who is the villain? There isn’t a “hero” because the title character, who you’d expect to be the hero, is a criminal mastermind who is using his superior intellect to kidnap for ransom. Despite his genius, though, we do see a glimpse of Artemis’ humanity every once in a while, which is refreshing because it grounds the character and gives us something further to identify with.

As for the People, that is to say, the elves, pixies, dwarfs, centaurs, and trolls that Artemis is taking advantage of, their world and existence is so beautifully imagined by the author that I’ve had the same vivid pictures of the various characters in my head since I was first introduced to this universe 8 years ago. Perhaps the most impressive part of their world isn’t the beings, which are merely re-imaginations of classic mythical creatures, but instead the technology. Everything from Neutrino 2000s to iris cams to time-stops to bio-bombs is incredibly detailed and, to a 12-year-old especially, super cool! Even now, I wish that I could sit down with the centaur Foaly and have a look through all of his technological innovations.

I didn’t realize until this read-through how “green” the series is; Colfer constantly seems to be promoting environmental preservation, condemning pollution, violence, and humans’ tendencies to kill of entire species of animals, doing this all through the perspective of his elfin non-human characters. It’s great to see Colfer showing kids the importance of our environment and the value of an animal’s, or even a human’s, life. I noticed these same messages were still present in The Last Guardian; it appears to be close to Mr. Colfer’s heart.

Everything wraps together to create a book that is nonstop from the get-go. Of all of the Artemis Fowl, this first one is the most captivating. While it’s no Harry Potter, Eoin Colfer manages to spin a tale that kept me reading for eight years. Who knows? If you give it a chance, you may find yourself just as enthralled as I was.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of the graphic novel adaptation of this book here!


Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian (2012) – Eoin Colfer

I just finished reading the final installment in Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series and thought to myself, “Hey, why not add book reviews to my review site?” So here we are! These probably won’t be as frequent as my other reviews, but I’ll try not to let this section of the site stagnate too much.

I first started reading about the adventures of the teenage criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl, his trusty bodyguard Domovoi Butler, and the spunky LEP Captain Holly Short back in 2004 or so. I first picked up The Eternity Code, the third book in the series, and was hooked from the start. I went back and read through the first two and became a loyal follower of the series over the years. The first three or four books were excellent, and the next few, while not as good, were still quite enjoyable. But The Last Guardian…wow.

Colfer’s writing is as top-notch as always; he never fails to make me laugh. His books always feel so smart, from the dialogue to the jokes made when the narrator is simply describing the situation.  The pace is set in the first chapter and it doesn’t slow down until the very last chapter, when just about everything is resolved in the best ways possible. My only complaint is that it seemed that Colfer was explaining things a lot of the time, particularly in the first half, and a lot of it, such as an ancient game of the People that involved chewing on worms, simply didn’t need explaining. This complaint is small, though, because the rest of the book was everything I could have wished for.

I don’t want to spoil anything (a spoiler I am not!), but I’ll say this: we are given an excellent villain appropriate for the final book of the series, the characters that we all know and love all have their shining moments, and the plot is one of – if not the – best out of all eight books.

I wouldn’t hesitate to say that this is my favorite book of the series. If you’re a fan of Artemis Fowl, this book is a must-read! If you haven’t read any of the young Artemis Fowl’s adventures, you’re missing out! Start from the beginning and read on…you won’t regret it!

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

-Chad

P.S. – Goodbye, childhood.