While it took me awhile to get through this book because of circumstances, Last of the Amazons was a book I couldn’t put down when I resumed reading it in the dead of night ’til the morning.

This is my second book as I make my way through my two challenges :  Once Upon A Time IV and Spring Reading Thing 2010.

Author :  Steven Pressfield

Publication Date – First Edition :  June 1, 2002 (Hardcover)

Publisher – First Edition :  Doubleday

Publication Date – This Edition :  July 2003 (Trade Paperback)

Publisher – This Edition :  Bantam Dell

ISBN :  0-553-38204-7

The Story :

It is about 1250 B.C., way before Troy or the Battle of Thermopylae, a time where stories have been regarded as myth or legend. It has been told that a nation of Amazons, a warrior race of only women, existed as an independent, self-sufficient society that stood as a testament to the strength, intelligence and hardiness of the supposedly weaker gender.  Steven Pressfield picks up on this tale from accounts of Plutarch and legends and carves his own marvelous what-if of an all-female society with its own culture, mores, lifestyle and government.

The story opens with a Greek family’s nanny, an Amazon slave named Selene, who escapes and unwittingly induces her eldest charge to follow her. A search party of some of the noblest Greeks follow the trail of their comrade’s daughter and Selene. While at sea, the men who had  previously encountered the Amazons with King Theseus tell their tales of these extraordinary warrior women.

When King Theseus of Athens accidentally discovers these legendary women, he sets off an irrevocable chain of events that seal the Amazons’ fate. Antiope, the Amazonian queen falls in love with Theseus, and elopes with him. The new queen Eleuthera tells her nation that the elopement was actually a kidnapping.  In their fury, the entire Amazon nation rounds up its allies and marches on a warpath to Athens to rescue their queen. The story that follows centers on the politics, logistics, and brilliant war tactics these Amazons employ in their war with Athens and continues on to when Antiope returns to them as a foe and heralds the Amazonian civilization’s diminishment into the twilight of their age.

The Review :

I have come out impressed by yet another of novel by Steven Pressfield. Last year, I had been floored by Gates of Fire, his gripping must-read version of the Spartans’ desperate stand against the Persian empire at the Battle of Thermopylae. While Last of the Amazons falls a little short of this novel, it, nevertheless, still is a dazzling read.

There is nothing exciting in the first few pages of the book with the plodding pace and a rather abstract ramble on Amazonian beliefs. But if you just hang in there, you’ll notice that the pace picks up in a while. Soon, you find yourself drawn into a fascinating legendary nation of wholly warrior women equal to men in physical stamina and battle skills. Pressfield tells of a civilization of true feminists, sufficient unto themselves and needing no man except for the serious business of procreation.

Although Pressfield has his doubts of the existence of the Amazons, he writes of them as if he himself had gone back in time and been intimate with their society, lifestyle, and psyche. Indeed, Pressfield’s real forte here is his ability to get readers involved with the story and  through his vivid writing, immersed  in the culture and mindset of the Amazonian civilization.

Without the author’s note at the end about the historical reality of the Amazons being largely based on Plutarch’s accounts and unsupported by archeological evidence, I would have thought this story based on historical fact and not simply on the author’s remarkable imagination. I am sure however that his renderings of the battle scenes are well researched accounts of how lance, shield, horse, etc. had been employed or how different ancient warrior nations conducted themselves in battle.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Ancient battle enthusiasts will be delighted with Pressfield’s meticulous and fascinating detailing. It all comes to life with his vivid accounts of battle strategy, politics, weapons, psychology , emotions, tactics and gore in living detail. For instance, it is quite fascinating to read about how the discus was employed as a weapon.

For the more sociologically inclined readers, Pressfield will not disappoint with his wonderful depiction of Amazonian culture and lifestyle.  In addition,  he handles the dynamics of human decisions and emotions very well.  There even is a marvelous debate between King Theseus and Eleuthera on the advantages or disadvantages of civilized society, the Athenian King arguing for the settlement of a civilization for its advancement while the upcoming Amazonian Queen rebutting a wandering society’s grounding for its loss of freedom and oneness with the natural earth.

Just a small caveat:  Some may be confused with the format of the book. The story is told from about four or five character viewpoints so it would be most helpful to take note of the narrator’s name before every chapter. Also, as I have said, this book needs a little more reading attention with the slew of names and the author’s wordy and somewhat old-fashioned prose (perhaps made to match the “ancient-ness” of the story(?) ).

In A Nutshell:

Steven Pressfield is my go-to for ancient war books.  I have not yet read any author who can match his breathtaking battle scenes laid out in all its  glory, page after riveting page.   If you have, I would appreciate the info for my comparison.  Moreover, this book exemplifies Pressfield’s  exceptional talent in handling  intricate layers in a story.

On the whole, Last of the Amazons is a very well written novel, mesmerizing on all accounts.

My Mark :  Outstanding


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Book 1

My, this summer is sizzling HOT! The grass on my lawn is tanned to a crisp and  ice cubes aren’t being formed fast enough to satisfy our lust for cold, cold drinks.  The heat has made me lethargic and so this blog has been  dozing on its virtual hammock as well.

Amid the El Nino heat though,  Percy Jackson was good company for ice cream binges and beach trips.

Author :  Rick Riordan

Publication Dates :  2005-2009

Book 2

Publisher: Hyperion Book CH

The Review :

I’m opting for not writing a synopsis this time, as I have given one for the first book, The Lightning Thief, several weeks ago.  (My review here. ) I find that giving a summary of a book in a series (other than the first one)  sometimes gives away the ending of the plot before it.  So, it won’t do to spoil anyone’s reading pleasure with some guess of a previous book’s ending now, would it?

On this note,  I shall review the series as a whole, which is a set of five action-packed books for kids aged 9-12 years.  However, the story is so interesting that even li’l ole me was hooked from page one!

Book 3

Despite being written as a children’s series, the story actually appeals to a wide age range, from kids to their parents; hey, maybe even grandparents!   Why the appeal?

First of all, the books are hip, fast and made for light reading.  Riordan makes sure he tickles his young readers’ funny bones with humor specifically geared toward the target age bracket.  Although some of his jokes may seem too corny in some places for mature readers, these I’m sure sit quite well with those in their preteens and early teens.  But hey, he does have some well-placed wit that would make anyone chuckle from time to time.

Second, the interesting concept of Greek mythology modernized with 21st

Book 4

century culture is just too different to pass up.  Kids and adults alike have an enjoyable time escaping in a world where Olympus is the invisible 600th floor of the Empire State Building; Poseidon’s son is a regular kid at school with a ballpoint pen for a sword; Hermes has winged sneakers; Dionysus wholly drinks diet soda ; or one of The Furies may just be your strict, scary pre-Algebra teacher.

Third, there seems to be something for everyone.  Stuffed with scrapes and adventures , the story  revolves around characters who rely on their individual powers and magical stuff to make fights and getting-out-of-tight-spots interesting and fun.  Those inclined toward Greek mythology would have an amusing time with Riordan’s  modern take on them.  Those who don’t have a clue would actually find they have missed out on some really great ancient  legends and perhaps get themselves to surf on who these dudes were :  Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, etc.    Then, there’s a budding romance to delight young girl readers.  However, parents would be so relieved to note that this series is quite wholesome.  There isn’t a whiff of mature content, implied or stated, that sometimes sneakily plague a great many YA books.

Book 5 (The End)

Fourth, there are a lot of pretty cool characters to like and relate to.   Hey, even the monsters are great!

I feel Riordan’s strongest books were the first and last ones, where his writing style was most entertaining.    Moreover, he ended his series quite well.   Vastly entertaining for both young and old, this series is one of those you may not want to miss out on.

My Mark :  Outstanding

Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication :  May 19, 2009

Publisher :  Del Rey

ISBN-10: 0345512251

ISBN-13: 978-0345512253

No. of pages :  384

The Review :

I have dispensed with the summary for this book to avoid spilling the beans on Empire of Ivory (Book 4).

This is a darker piece,  with Laurence and Temeraire forced to make difficult decisions on their own. Both go through a character building process, while trying to defend England from France’s invasion.

Temeraire is forced to deal  with  the  complexity and irrationality that often plague human psychology as he learns human politics and negotiation.  With  straightforward and simplified draconic ways of thought, Temeraire is often frustrated at how difficult humans can make life be when things seem to be plain as day.

On the other hand,  Laurence must temper his ideals and his inherent insistence on righteousness, sometimes misplaced, which earns him more harm than good.  He is faced with the need to reassess his values when they  prove to be impractical nor right  anymore.  For instance, Laurence is challenged with  situations where authority isn’t always right and can be in serious conflict with his personal sense of right and wrong.

The action does not let up in this one as well.   Novik perhaps intends to let her duo travel the world as the next destination for them is Australia.  Books two to four see them through China, the Middle East, Germany, Russia, and Africa.

I can’t wait for the sixth book, Tongues of Serpents due in the middle of this year.   One caveat though:  if you plan to read the Temeraire series, you must start with  Her Majesty’s Dragon (Book One).  You would not appreciate this series should your first book be other than the first.  Novik hardly takes the meticulous pain of backtracking and if she does, it is rather cursory as this is the type of series that must be read chronologically.

My Mark  :  Outstanding!


Squeezing in another novel before the year ends…

Author :  Arlene J. Chai

Date of  First Publication :   1995 (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition :  Random House Australia Pty Ltd.

This Edition’s Publication Date :  2008

ISBN : 978-0-345-50958-1

No. of pages : 350

The Story :

Caridad gets a cryptic letter from her mother in the Philippines, asking her to come home.  Since her mother never writes,  a worried Caridad rushes home to Manila.  As soon as she arrives, her mother bluntly reveals a lifelong secret that forces Caridad to come to know herself and her family.  And as she listens to the stories reliving the painful period of the Second World War in the Philippines, she is taken into a tale of family love, strength, human frailty, hope and forgiveness.

The Review :

Arlene J. Chai is a Filipino, born and raised in Manila; thus this novel is refreshingly very Filipino.  It is set in Manila and told from the perspective of a Filipino-Chinese family.  It isn’t often that  I get to read an internationally distributed book by a Filipino author so I was pleasantly surprised to be immersed in a well written fiction in the league of many good bestsellers.

Chai writes very simply, fluidly but with enough sensuousness to create a clearly palpable Philippines in the throes of World War II.  The vivid historical details provide a great backdrop and interest to the otherwise simple plot.  But, the best feature of this book is the author’s choice of telling the story with the voices of four principal women characters.  As each narrate their own side of the story, each character infuses her own perspectives, feelings, and humanity in slow layers that deliciously build the novel’s depth and richness.

Aside from events in Manila during the war, the story also takes the readers through a bit of contemporary Philippine history with mention of tidbits from the People’s Power Revolution, the Marcos’ regime, and the Aquino assassination.

The author also treats us to a lot of insights into the Filipino’s complex family life, psyche, and culture, along with a better understanding of  the  multi-faceted Filipino society which owes its character to social class factions subdivided further along racial lines.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Filipino readers will be happy to relate to a story along familiar contexts, nuances, and events.  However, this book’s appeal  sets no racial boundaries. This is first and foremost a story about familial love and relationships which do not differ among race, social status, or creed; hence, this book’s international success.  Anyone can relate to the story; one just gets the added bonus of learning much more about Filipino life.

My Mark :  Outstanding

Author :  Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Date of First Publication :  March 2006  (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition:  William Morrow

Date of Publication for this Edition :  December 2006  (Mass Paperback)

Publisher for this Edition :  Harper Torch

ISBN 10: 0-06-085398-0

ISBN 13: 978-0-06-085398-3

No. of pages : 432

The Story:

Heaven and Hell had left their agents on Earth since the dawn of time on Earth — an angel to make sure things go right and a demon with the express mission to wreak havoc on mankind.  Things seem to be going so well for both through the centuries; but now the powers-that-be both above and below decide it is time for the showdown between good and evil.

Crowley, the demon had been charged by Hell to oversee the coming of the Anti-Christ.  But hey, he’s enjoying the twenty-first century and Earth is much more exciting than Hell.  Aziraphale, the angel, also in his comfort zone on Earth, finds himself much more comfortable being with humans than with the “hosts on high”.  Both are loath to see THE END.  So angel and demon strike an unlikely alliance to divert the Prophecies and avert Armageddon.

Only no one knows there was a mix-up in the hospital.  Both Crowley and Aziraphale try to influence the little boy, Warlock, to thwart his nature as an Anti-Christ.  Only too late did both realize that Warlock is just a normal boy;  it is Adam who is the Anti-Christ but he had grown up outside their influences.  So, Crowley and Aziraphale both race against time and the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse (Hell’s Angels) to see if they still stand a chance of saving the world.

The Review :

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett make a rollicking great writing tandem with Good Omens.  I had loads of laughs with this one. The authors must have had a ball collaborating on creating their funny version of  the Biblical Apocalypse.  And got paid for it too!  Lucky guys!

I wish I had read a Neil Gaiman and a Terry Pratchett book to discern which parts were influenced by which author; unfortunately, this is my first time with both and I had to pick up a co-authored book.

Crowley, a dapper demon  and the bookish angel Aziraphale are both lovable characters you wish you could get to know for real.  Despite the overall hilarity in this book, Gaiman and Pratchett throw in some philosophic bones to chew on from time to time, in their characters’ dialogues :  

“Well”, said Crowley….”haven’t you ever wondered about it all?  You know–your people and my people, Heaven and Hell, good and evil, all that sort of thing?  I mean why?”

“As I recall, ” said the Angel stiffly, “there was the rebellion and—“

“Ah yes.  and why did it happen, eh?  I mean, it didn’t have to, did it?”  said Crowley, a manic look in his eye.  “Anyone who could build a universe in six days isn’t going to let a little thing like that happen.  Unless they want it to, of course.  “

“Oh come on.  Be sensible,” said Aziraphale. doubtfully.

“That’s not good advice,” said Crowley.  “….If you sit down and think about it sensibly, come up with some very funny ideas.  Like : why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!”?

“I don’t remember any neon.”

Metaphorically, I mean. I mean, why do that if you really don’t want them to eat it, eh?  I mean, maybe you just want to see how it all turns out.  Maybe it’s all part of a great big ineffable plan.  All of it.  You, me, him, everything.  Some great big test to see if what you’ve built all works properly, eh? You start thinking :  it can’t be a great cosmic game of chess, it has to be just very complicated Solitaire……”

Well, why indeed?

To Read Or Not To Read :

Feeling bored?  Good Omens makes a good cure for a lazy weekend.  Its irreverent, wry wit,  goofy characters, wacky plotline, and footnotes about funny minutae just make this jocular bundle worth picking up.  Take this little aside for instance :

The end justifies the means, thought Aziraphale.  And the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. *

Footnote: * This is not actually true.  The road to Hell is paved with frozen door-to-door salesmen.  On weekends many of the younger demons go ice skating down it.

Unless you absolutely do not possess a shred of humor where Biblical prophecies are concerned or are a salesman of any kind—door-to-door and telemarketers included,  this book will tickle your funny bone.

Indeed, “the Apocalypse has never been funnier.” —- Clive Barker

My Mark :  Very Good!

I gleefully pounced on this book at Magrudy’s in Dubai.  Ever since I’ve read Attila : The Gathering of the Storm (my review here ), the second book in William Napier’s epic trilogy,  I knew I had to have the concluding book.

Author :  William Napier (pseudonym of Christopher Hart)

Publisher: Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

Publishing Date :  May 29, 2008

ISBN-10: 075286114X
ISBN-13: 978-0752861142
Pages: 480

What a stunning spectacular conclusion this is!

This epic story takes place around the middle of  the 5th century.  The entire Roman Empire, both East and West, has never before faced such a threat to its existence of this magnitude in many centuries.  Attila and his vast eastern army of united Hunnic tribes starts attacking the Eastern frontier of Constantinople with the goal of annihilating Rome.

General Aetius, Attila’s boyhood friend and one of Rome’s last true generals, desperately tries to defend his beloved empire.  Amidst inane politicking, two weak emperors,  a corrupt debauched nobility, and apathetic allies, Aetius attempts his best to muster Rome’s defenses, the military might of which is but a shadow of its former glorious self during the days of the Republic.  With a small but still highly disciplined and skillful army, he leads the Roman war for survival against the Huns which culminates in the Catalaunian Fields (somewhere near what is known today as Chalons in Champagne, France).

Those who were disappointed by the generally philosophic nature of Book 2 (The Gathering of the Storm) will love Book 3 (The Judgement) which more than makes up for the disappointment with enough spilled guts and hard-core action.   Indeed, where the second book waxes philosophic, the third wallows in violence, blood, and gore as Napier (Hart) vividly depicts battle after glorious battle.

Readers will be mesmerized by the wealth of descriptive details of brilliant strategies, magnificent heroics, and  intense horrific carnage.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this page turner well into the night.  This is just one book you can’t put down.

I wish I read the entire trilogy, though.  To fully appreciate it, you must.

Hats off to Christopher Hart (a.k.a. William Napier).  He has clearly done top-notch work!

My Mark :  Excellent

Author: William Napier
Release Date: 2007
ISBN : 978-0-7528-8103-4
Pages : 306

It’s the early 5th century A.D. and the Roman Empire’s former powers are waning. Attila, reviled by the Romans and exiled by his own people for thirty years, returns to his tribe to seize the throne. His ruthless ambitions and burning vengeance has birthed an all-consuming zeal in him of conquering two vast empires, the conquests of which were promised to him in prophecy. Using his brilliant intellect and forcefully magnetic personality, he succeeds in uniting warring and disinterested factions of the Huns to move with him on two common goals : the conquest of the Roman and Chinese empires.

This is Book Two of a trilogy. Attila here is not drawn as some thoughtless homicidal bully, lording over a people by fear and cruelty alone.  He is, rather,  an enigmatic leader given the intellectual brilliance of a genius, the aural magnetism of a superstar, and the iron convictions of a zealot. Yes, he is shameless, unprincipled, and cunning; yet, he can be compassionate if perceived through a Hun’s skewed sense of justice.

My enjoyment of this book has a lot do with the author’s formal writing style. Far from being stiff and dispassionately bland, the author’s “Oxfordian English” lends to a writing that is beautifully dignified, elegant and precise, and rich with descriptive details. It is a rare talent who can think of likening a living saint’s lice to “the pearls of God” and the sizzles of spat-on fire to the fire’s cowering under the spitter’s bitterness. At rare times, though, the author tends to go a tad overboard with his descriptions; but they do bring vividness to many things.

Christopher Hart’s (William Napier is his pen name) preference of endowing his characters with some sophistry is also very much a part of his creative style.

To illustrate : Attila, true to his egotistical and megalomaniacal self, addresses his warriors :

On Morals:

“Some men worship right and wrong, or make good and evil their gods and their goals,” he said. “ I believe in life and death. The question is not “Is it right?” but “Does it make me feel more alive?” This is at the heart of everything!…Even the wheyfaced moralists in their pulpits…busy censuring every man around them, do so because it makes them feel more alive. It augments their power over others. And so the herdlike many allow them to do so and believe in them.…You are your own arbiter and none may judge your deeds but you yourself…Have you lived? That is the deathbed question. That is the only question. Had you the courage to be yourself, to fulfil your desires?”

On Vengeance:

“Vengeance is wrong ,” say the Christians…“Forgive?” he cried, his voice suddenly harsh. “ What is that to the sweet joy of vengeance? There is life! To wreak bone-crushing vengeance on one’s own ancient enemies is the sweetest, most life-giving joy. It fills you with sweet laughter, it bathes all the world in a golden light, it makes you glad to be alive. Everything we do should make us glad to be alive, make us rejoice in the life that is given us. Nor should you be anxious that your vengeance and your triumph is the ruined one’s defeat. Behold I give you a mystery. It is his triumph, too…the fulfillment of his destiny, to be crushed by a superior, god-ordained might that he could no more oppose…All men must die…He can do nothing to save himself from this punishment…so he goes to his destruction unflinching, a hero shouting defiance into the face of the storm until the end, until he is cut down like a flower by the scythe, to be sung and hymned evermore for his broken nobility. Nothing so noble as broken nobility.”

These may or may not be the author’s personal convictions but they do set a reader’s cogwheels whirring up there.

Just a teeny weeny gripe, though, with his copy editor : I swear Attila’s eyes were described as “leonine” three times – pp. 35, 38, and another page I can’t locate.

For historical readers who usually like reading books anchored in factual details, I can render no judgment on the historical merits of this novel. Being unversed in the real facts behind Attila, I can not discern where the author kept to historical truths and where he deviated to serve his fictional purposes.

On the whole, this book has been an enjoyable find. Although I made the mistake of picking this up without bothering to check if this was part of a series, it’s my good luck that this “middle child” is quite independent of its elder. Now the first and last books are a must-read for me so I can complete my reading journey in this wonderful saga.

My Mark : Outstanding