Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

Having read Fight Club and Choke, I have high expectations for Palahniuk's novels. I think that's one of the biggest reasons I didn't like this book as much as I could have. While still entertaining and witty, it just wasn't what I had built it up to be in my mind. I enjoyed it, just not as much as I thought I would, which is why Damned earned itself 3 out of 5 stars.

From the publisher:
“Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison,” declares the whip-tongued thirteen-year-old narrator of Damned, Chuck Palahniuk’s subversive new work of fiction. The daughter of a narcissistic film star and a billionaire, Madison is abandoned at her Swiss boarding school over Christmas, while her parents are off touting their new projects and adopting more orphans. She dies over the holiday of a mari­juana overdose—and the next thing she knows, she’s in Hell. Madison shares her cell with a motley crew of young sinners that is almost too good to be true: a cheerleader, a jock, a nerd, and a punk rocker, united by fate to form the six-feet-under version of everyone’s favorite detention movie. Madison and her pals trek across the Dandruff Desert and climb the treacherous Mountain of Toenail Clippings to confront Satan in his citadel. All the popcorn balls and wax lips that serve as the currency of Hell won’t buy them off.

This is the afterlife as only Chuck Palahniuk could imagine it: a twisted inferno where The English Patient plays on end­less repeat, roaming demons devour sinners limb by limb, and the damned interrupt your dinner from their sweltering call center to hard-sell you Hell. He makes eternal torment, well, simply divine.

My thoughts:
Basically, the story is about 13 year old Madison Spencer, the daughter of a celebrity couple who dies and is sent to hell after a marijuana overdose (seriously?) She writes in the form of a Judy Blume novel, addressing Satan with each chapter: "Are you there Satan? It's me, Madison." Some of her observations are about the goings-on in Hell, while other comments are just her gripes about life and her complaints about how people can be Miss Whorey Vanderhoors and whatnot. The fact that the first half of the book was interrupted every other chapter by comments about how yes she's thirteen, but she's not stupid and knows what certain words are, really got on my nerves.

I did enjoy Palahniuk's vision of Hell, where candy is currency and the demons travel around devouring sinners, who just pop right back up after being eaten. The landmarks, lakes, and other obstacles that the small group comes across are both disgusting and inventive, and it takes quite the imagination to come up with. What's more interesting to me, having a deep interest in mythology and ancient civilizations, I enjoyed the concept that deities from each civilization are present after being overpowered by a new civilization who replaces the religion in the area. If there was any real way to conceptualize the toppling of a religion, it's by sending the losing side to Hell to become demons.

I didn't know where the story was going until she went on her adventure across Hell with Babette, Patterson, Archer, and Leonard, who played a role in the first part of the book but then kind of fell to the wayside. Why were they traveling? How did they all end up in Hell? It turns out they want to appeal Madison's damnation, which seems silly because she didn't seem to dislike it all that much. Especially by the end of the book, anyway. I would much rather have preferred if Madison was a bit less annoying, and the other characters played a bigger role and were more involved toward the end of the book. I happened to like Archer and Babette, and would've been interested to learn more about the whole Breakfast Club gang.

This all being said, once the plot picked up and they were on their way, I found it much more difficult to put the book down. Madison became less obnoxious, and I started to get a feel for the main points of the novel. I would still prefer to have read one of Palahniuk's earlier works, but this was not a bad way to pass the time.

- Justin

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Call of Agon by Dean F. Wilson

Yet another book sent to me by the author for a review :) If you couldn't tell, it always makes me feel a little more special when people want to know my opinion on something. Anyway, this time around it's the first book in the Children of Telm series, The Call of Agon. Part fantasy, part mythology, and bearing a slight resemblance to many different classic novels, TCOA is very well written and I give it 4 out of 5 stars, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series when Wilson finishes them up.

From the publisher:

Ifferon is one of the last in the bloodline of the dead god Telm, who mated with mortal women, and who imprisoned the Beast Agon in the Underworld. Armed with a connection to the estranged gods in the Overworld and a scroll bearing Telm's powerful dying words, he is tasked with ensuring the god's vital legacy: that Agon remain vanquished.

Fear forces Ifferon to abandon his duty, but terror restores his quest when the forces of Agon find his hideaway in an isolated coastal monastery. Weighed down by the worries of the world, but lifted up by the companions he encounters along the way, Ifferon embarks on a journey that encompasses the struggles of many peoples, the siege of many lands, and discoveries that could bring hope to some—or doom to all.

My thoughts:
At first, I was very confused with the story. I couldn't figure out who was who, what was happening, and the main plot line was lost in the early chapters. That being said, the action and the mystery behind who Ifferon is, and why he is being hunted, add a strong element of intrigue and don't give the reader an opportunity to put this book down and forget about it. Ifferon meets an assorted crew, nay, a FELLOWHIP, on his quest to use the god Telm's final words to vanquish Agon back to the Underworld. Wilson does a great job making these characters fun to read about, and likable (even if you dislike a character, you still love to hate him as you read). Not only, by the way, is Ifferon's quest very comparable to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, but other details also bring the epic fantasy to mind. For example, Oelinor cannot die by natural means, but he is still fallible in battle (elves, anyone?) It was pretty fun to read this story, and think of where the inspiration for Wilson's characters and world came from.

As I said above, the beginning chapters can be confusing and hard to get into, partly owing to the fast pace and lack of explanation (which is mostly remedied throughout the story), but is also due to the difficult and somewhat similar names. I know enough mythology to know that this is to be expected, and also makes this story seem so much more similar to ancient stories. Many aspects of life and nature were humanized and deified by ancient civilizations, and it's interesting that the personification used in TCOA speaks to Wilson's ability to make the story and words themselves reference the world of mythology.

Overall, the combination of mythology, fantasy, and adventure makes The Call of Agon a great story to read, and I definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys ancient mythology, epic novels such as LOTR, or who's looking for a good new book to read :)

- Justin