Reviewing the Red Queen Series

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It’s a world torn by difference, where some people are superior to the others. A daring girl from an oppressed community, different from the rest, sets out to change the world or die in the process. While on her quest, she has a chance encounter with secret community of rebels who works towards a similar goal, share the same enemies. She is torn between two suitors/lovers who seem equally good, are equally breath-taking and love her equally. Except over the course of series she’ll find one is not good enough and make her choice, after having spent enough time with both. Perhaps, you’ll pick a side too. The villains almost die to get their hands on this girl, who despite being not-so-powerful is the face of the rebellion. She  threatens to reveal who they really are, is captured, tortured, brought back again and the cycle goes on, till the greater cause of the secret community is revealed. Then everyone again makes choices and fights more battles. Before you even picked up the book, you knew it would have a bittersweet ending. All the way you hope that the protagonist survives. And your favourite characters as well.

Sounds Familiar? No, it is not the Hunger Games. Not Divergent either or the Lunar Chronicles.

I’m here reviewing the Red Queen Series, which is probably like every other dystopian young adult fantasy-fiction book out there. I know the blog title was a giveaway, so I am pretending you did not notice it.

The major problem with this genre is (at least, the books I have read), is despite the amount of new elements introduced to keep the reader thrilled, the elements seem stale, or stolen from some other fiction hit. The combination of the elements is definitely magical, and at the outset that would be the very reason you’d have considered reading one of them. However, once you set out to explore them in detail, the glamour wanes as quickly as the fragrance of a cheap perfume, unless it is bolstered by a meticulous world development or layered, relatable characters or marvellous plot that doesn’t get boring due to the narrator’s monotones or an impeccable writing style. The bestsellers perform well on one or two of the parameters, and are satisfactory at the most of the others. The lower priority parameters are mostly underperformed on.

These fictional worlds mostly are shallow or constricted, definitely not the ones you’d wish to lose yourself in, time and again. Mostly found written in the first person, they always border on over description and over detailing. Initially I thought this was the curse that came with the narrative, but reading the Bell Jar and Great Gatsby made me think otherwise. While it is enjoyable to be inside someone else’s head in a book, too much of cribbing or reminding or obviousness repels, so much so that you want to get out of their head, right then.

And yet they are hugely popular. They have a very good reason to be so.

The thrill, oh, the thrill! The plot is so action-packed that you are on the edge all the time. The moment it starts getting dull, well, a plot-twist drops and boom! You are again frantically turning pages to know what happened next, probably even peeping ahead to check if the characters survived. The unjust society and the villains make you hate them, the system and fuel your rage further. No matter how much you were annoyed or frustrated by the protagonist, you always find yourself rooting for her, wishing her and her loved ones well. You find the characters to be grey, imperfect and you love them all the same. Amidst all the emotional turmoil, both good and bad that the book has taken you through, you find that you can so easily relate to them.

Nearly all of them have that male lead (or couple of them) with charms that make you swoon, who makes you want to dip further down. Maybe the ship that you support or that starboy himself is another major reason why you follow till the end. The characters turned villains are very intriguing, especially with their tragic back stories that made them so twisted.

It wasn’t very difficult to figure out that all of them make good movie material, books that have already gathered a more-than-decent fan base. Evidence shows that the rights to their movies sold out very quickly.

Screenwriter Victoria Aveyard had sold the rights to the movie even before the book was released.  And rightly so. In spite of the many maladies it suffers due to it being another one from the dystopian YA genre, it is vivid, enthralling and captivating. The scenes are well constructed, and the characters are conflicted. Maybe even broken or twisted. The actions and situations look like they are out of a movie, and now we know why. Everything here is a shade of grey. Before long, you are already empathizing with the characters, their choices.. You relate. Perhaps even find a bit of yourself in them. And once you are done with this book, you find yourself thinking of the many what ifs, your mind wanders without control to the people in the pages.

In short, it is a reader’s delight.

Friends, Readers, Citizens of the Internet. May I have a moment to fangirl over Red Queen?

Of course I haven’t come to bury the series, but to praise it—even with its many flaws!

Call it the soft corner for X-Men like powers, or the undercutting politics of Game of Thrones, or the aura of the dystopian world, I loved the reading experience. Yes, you may judge me.

I picked the book because I couldn’t keep my eyes (or hands) off the cover. Literally. Goodreads ratings seemed to be decent enough for me to give it a try; being from a genre I liked helped as well. The first book was mediocre. I was amazed in the beginning, hooked on to the story and the elements, but as the pages kept turning, the interest faded—and for a while I didn’t even want to read the sequel, which was to  release in a couple of months. So I almost forgot about it, and went on to buy the book a whole year later. And then I even procrastinated reading that.

This would go down in my diary of disastrous blunders. The second book in the series turned out to be my favourite. It was also the trigger for me to buy the third immediately. These two books were devoured on ravenously, and consumed in a week’s time. Which was great progress, especially when I had to hunt for time to read. Most of the time was borrowed from my sleep.

I see an effort in world building, but yet it falls short. The writing was sloppy and sometimes tired me. With so many books of the genre already popular, this didn’t come exactly out as novel. What kept me going were the characters—good and evil, whose layers and choices always came to me as a pleasant surprise.  The pace helped a great deal, and so did the imagery that made everything seem as if it were happening in front of my eyes. These small factors were done artfully well, making it easy to become oblivious to the numerous blemishes.

Somehow, I never liked Maven, since the very beginning. It was Cal who led the show for me, and thankfully the author followed it through. Mare was a frustrating and repetitive narrator, but I liked her anyway. She was imperfect but that made her real life-like, and a little difficult to predict. Over the books, all the main-cast characters mature, and deepen substantially, along with the relationships that they share. Addition of more POVs made it even more exciting, though I really hope that Miss Aveyard picks some male narrators as well. The challenges posed by the looming uncertainties completely eliminated the ability to foretell. And the plot uncovers one layer at a time, revealing a greater mesh of history and hidden activities each time. The whole experience was mesmerizing, and it left me in a bad hangover after I had finished reading.

Would I recommend it? Without a doubt. This might be something that sits proudly on your bookshelf, especially if you are a follower of dystopian or YA fiction. Personally, Glass Sword (RQ#2) was my favourite and King’s Cage (RQ#3) maintained the momentum well.

I just can’t wait for the last installment to be out soon!

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“On Writing”-Learning the Craft

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(Image Courtesy: http://www.discardedimage.com/?p=5877)

This book had been on my “to-read” list for a long time. I have never been a serious writer-the most I did was concoct stories inside my mind, and sometimes type out a few words. When that meagre habit too dwindled away, I decided to give this book a read. Perhaps, just to console myself that at least I was reading about writing, if not really writing. Also, perhaps because this qualified for the task #7 of the 2017 Reading Challenge.

It was a good decision.

I definitely did write more in the past few days than I have done in the past two years. Reading this memoir-of-sorts helped me identify my major road block to writing-extensive planning. I would spend days and days planning out the characters. And the theme. And the location. And the plot. And the names (oh! Darn the names…you never get the right ones). And the chapters. You get my point. The planning-obsessed me could never start writing if I did not envision the detailed outline beforehand. By the time it came to really writing, I was exhausted. The once enjoyable hobby started to seem like a task-and thus the stories stayed there, safely locked inside my head. Slowly fading away until what remained was only the silhouette, because the other parts had been covered by dust. It was a task to clean it all away.

When it really comes to writing, the point as the author puts it, is to stay honest to the story. And tell the story to yourself first, as soon as possible. Once the writer starts getting far from the story, inertia sets in. Yes, planning helps out—but writing is much more than the plot. Story takes the centre-stage, although without the other important elements, the stage looks very vacant. There is a beauty in exploring and excavating, too, and it might help you complete the basic outline of the story. After which, you are free to extort what you want out of the piece. This book illustrates many basics (like above mentioned) about writing without getting didactic at any point. Opinionated, maybe, but definitely not didactic.

Stephen King, the master story teller as he is, takes you through his journey as a person which somewhere (quite early) entwines with his journey as a writer. He is upfront on letting you know that the journey of a writer is not going to be easy. He also lets you know how he clung to hope by being focused on his passion, and stayed true to his writing by always being close to the origins. The books starts as an autobiography which later shifts to a conversational tone where King talks about writing in detail.

He dispels the common myths pertaining about the craft, such as the need for a great vocabulary or the need for stimulants to drive your creative process or the need for workshops; drives us back to the very basics that are sometimes overlooked by the budding writers in the quest to prove themselves; acquaints us with the common pitfalls (Swifties or excessive adverb usage, telling not showing the story, putting in unnecessary details/research); details out the process of publishing and what is to be done at each stage. The book answers the most important questions present in the minds of aspiring writers, and some other useful tips that would come in handy while writing. It does all of this, while still being a joyful read-King’s vivid imagery and beautiful descriptions establishes his credibility as a person who has a good command on his craft, which is evident even for a first time reader.

Of course, a lot of the content you’d already be aware of if you have been following any author’s interviews, but what this book adds is a good structure that helps you retain the stated basic principles. It also features a long list of books that inspired King.

Any vices? It is difficult to point out. Maybe it was the excessive reliance on the book “Element of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White or maybe it was the bluntness of King’s words that may have caused distress to some writers. As an amateur, I could not really zero down on the flaws.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. For anyone who dreams to be a published writer or wants to just know about the process of writing, or about the life of Stephen King, this is a book that you’d want to preserve in your bookshelf. Keep it at a place handy so that you could refer back to the advice or merely to know that you were not the only one that faced the hardships which came as collateral to the craft.

So, dear aspiring writer-you already are one. Start by putting one word at a time. You’d soon realise that the heart knows things, and so does the imagination, for you to keep going!

The Four Patriots-A Review

Four Patriots Book Cover

It is a story of patriotism, a story of transformation. It is a story of a country where the common belief is “iss desh ka kuch ni ho sakta”. It is a story of four people, like you and me, whose love for the nation and experiences with the system instigate them to take it through a metamorphosis.

Debut author Sumit Agarwal has penned down a real page turner that would keep you engrossed till the end. The pace is super-fast, the plot is enthralling-weaved meticulously through the pages, where small details emerge as major twists-an art that very few Indian writers have displayed! The writing is easy to follow and is done fairly well.  The pain taken by the writer to research the nitty-gritties to make the story as close as possible to the real India is evident in all its aspects.

The journey of all the major characters (Salman, Varun, Aditya and Raghav) have been drawn out cleverly, that easily puts the reader in the protagonists’ shoes. The background stories added at required intervals added more weight to the story line. The romance and other normal happenings were positioned in a manner to not only avoid overdoing the theme but also added some plausibility to the characters.

What is really uncanny is the similarity of events that happened after the book’s publication. Aditya’s move to purge black money from the country is quite similar (and sudden) to that of Modi’s move to demonetize, which was conducted with the same intention. There is also a scene similar to movie Dangal, where the coach asks the contender to be defensive, whereas the mentor asks him/her to be offensive, and following the mentor’s advice the contender leads the country to victory in that particular event.

In short, the book does well what it set out to do—inspire with a clear message that asks people to act in for their country and instil patriotism. It nudges the reader to go out and make an impact in any way possible, a much needed advice for the youth of the country. The underlying idea that anyone could bring about a change with their actions has been drawn out very well.

The book has been launched at a stage where people have started giving politics a thought beyond it being a mere topic of discussion, where the government is taking new steps towards the destination of making India a super power. In times where countries in the globalized world are taking a step towards protectionism, the writer calls out the youth to become the agents of change, to work towards making India the golden bird that it was.

However, the book was a tad too unrealistic. The almost miraculous happenings took away a bit of its credibility and made it appear filmy at lot of instances. Adding especially to the Bollywood-ish nature was the character Salman, who seemed to have emerged right out one of Bhai’s movies. Despite all the author’s efforts the characters were paper-thin, and villains were faded. In fact, the tyranny of villains was lost midway, and the protagonists were made way too formidable. Ironically, new India did not feature any woman at the vanguard-the women characters were present, but merely to execute plans or for emotional support.

Would I recommend this book? For those who are looking for a thriller, or looking for a light read, this is the book to go for. It may not make a place in bookshelves, but it definitely qualifies for a good one time read!