I opened the 8th day on my (traditional, picture-based) advent calendar this morning and realised I hadn’t yet posted my November reviews. Oops. Just a couple of books last month but I’m also throwing in a game – I can defend that choice because it involved a lot of reading.
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
I had a look at other reviews before I sat down to pen mine. Wow – Rothfuss absolutely divides readers. As far as I can see, there’s a great deal of jealousy in the naysayers’ camp because they don’t believe a sixteen year old protagonist should or could be like Kvothe (according to Audible, this is pronounced like growth but with a k sound). They take his intelligence as arrogance, his independence as stubbornness and his naivety as a flaw. Have they never met a teenager before? They can be reckless and irritating… but because the plot flipflops between his youthful past and his current life (age unknown), Rothfuss shows the reader how Kvothe has changed. Present day Kvothe is often pretty critical of past Kvothe’s choices.
In my review of the first book in Rothfuss’ series (link), I compared the novel to fish and chips because it’s familiar, filling but not all that good for you. In this sequel, published four years later in 2011, I think Rothfuss shows how he developed as a writer. I complained that the women were superficially depicted in book 1 and I was grateful there was no sex as Kvothe seemed obsessed with boobs. The women in The Wise Man’s Fear are far more dimensional and believable. And there is a lot of sex – but it’s well handled (and no, that’s not a euphemism, I swear). It’s really part of the coming of age tale for Kvothe. One of the fae teaches him how to be an attentive lover, the Adem teach him how to fight and to connect spiritually with his own moral compass, mercenaries teach him how to be diplomatic… it’s the backstory of how Kvothe comes to possess a unique worldview and matching set of skills. Rothfuss also sheds light on how a lot of Kvothe’s reputation in this world is based on exaggeration and rumour – he isn’t as perfect as he is depicted. He is fallible and that’s a good thing; it certainly makes him more believable and likeable to me but also seems to rub other readers the wrong way.
What attracts me most to Rothfuss’ writing is his immense worldbuilding and the reasonably slow pace. The Audible book was over 42 hours (!) and apparently the paperback is over 1000 pages. I know that will deter some folks but I actually love a book that I can’t consume in a couple of sittings. Besides, it also means events and characterisation aren’t dealt with superficially, which is often a complaint I have of Sci-Fi and fantasy books.
Before I recommend this to other fans of the genre, it comes with a George R. R. Martin style health warning. Fans have been waiting since 2011 for the next instalment of the series. Typing Patrick Rothfuss Book 3 into Google will yield more than 1.8 million hits. At times, Rothfuss has declared he won’t be finishing the series because of the fan pressure but, more recently, the next book seems to have a name and a tentative path to publication (link). In the meantime, I’ve happily discovered Rothfuss published a novella based on one of the side characters and a short story about another – those will tide me over for now. And I can’t complain because I started book 2 with the full knowledge that there was book 3 drama – so I’ve done this to myself!
Nightshade by Anthony Horowitz
I’ve long been a fan of the Alex Rider; many of the young people I taught over the years got into reading curtesy of Alex’s activities. Nightshade is the 12th book in the series. Its predecessors have featured terrorist cells, bio-terrorism, cyber-terrorism, organised crime, space travel and nuclear power plants. There was somewhat of a small hiatus before the 11th book, Never Say Die, was released in 2017. I really liked it, despite its lukewarm reception, because it was a departure from some of Alex’s more typical adventures. It was less fantastical than some of the earlier books. At the same time, it felt like the series was coming full circle because the first book began with Alex investigating a family member’s death and Never Say Die was centred on a close friend’s disappearance. Because of this, I thought it was the end of Alex, with Horowitz wrapping up the series. Imagine my joy, when scrolling through Audible with a spare credit to spend, at discovering Horowitz had brought Alex back in 2020. Somehow I’d missed the news.
The first book was published twenty years ago! I’m definitely a different reader now: not only am I much (much, much, much) older, I’m also no longer teaching. I read this for myself rather than through the eyes of my students. Is it flawed? Sure. Horowitz often depicts Alex as a reluctant hero… and his reluctance in Nightshade is the dominant vibe. Alex grouses, grumbles and groans for most of the 448 pages (or 10 hours as an audiobook) in a manner which evokes the Harry Potter of The Order of the Phoenix. It was mildly irritating but I could live with it – not only is he only a teenager, he is being inconvenienced over and over again to save the world. Also, I felt the conclusion was a little rushed in terms of catching the culprit but, again, forgivable as Horowitz spends a great deal of time building the sinister world of the nefarious particular terrorist-for-hire group.
There was lots to enjoy: Alex accepts help from others showing character development; the book deals with manipulation and radicalisation; although the overall story features a lot of technology, Alex’s solutions and actions are low-tech, relying on his skills rather than gadgets. Overall, it was a solid entry to the series with ample potential for maintaining narrative threads in future books.
Detective Stories Case 2: Antarctic Fatale by iDventure
Essentially, this is an escape room in a box. Thank you to my cousin and partner for sharing it with us. You are provided with all the materials you need to investigate a murder. Here is the premise…
In the box, there’s a case file with 20 documents, including an autopsy, witness statements, images and so on. In addition, there are photos, evidence bags, a lie detector readout, an expedition notebook, a newspaper, a letter and a prescription.
There is no instruction about how to proceed or a dictated order… you have complete freedom in what you choose to do and when. We worked together to start reading all of the materials and making notes. There’s a handy investigation proforma included in the case file to help record thoughts – it’s the only thing you need to write on which means once you’ve solved the case, you’re able to pass it on to another person. It’s worth noting that you need to be able to access the internet to test out clues and theories, and to find additional information. A smart phone is sufficient. There are clues online, if you’re stumped. They are quite on the nose, however, and more or less give you the outcomes related to a piece of evidence. That would be disappointing if it wasn’t for the fact there’s so much evidence that getting a leg up with one piece doesn’t mean you’ve solved it.
My wife and I like escape rooms, although we’ve had to stick to virtual versions since March 2020. We also like games, reading, puzzles, and crime TV and movies. So it was a perfect blend for us. Although we did it in one sitting, at around 90 minutes, you could easily come back to it over a few days, like a jigsaw puzzle. You’ll just need to suspend reality and pretend that poor Martin Moor’s death penalty isn’t due to be carried out imminently.
Overall, we’d get another version. I’m pleased there’s the original case and a third case out, too. It’s like having all the bare bones for a reasonably good crime novel but you’ve got to put it all together. Sometimes you need to compare different things you’ve read, other times you’re hacking into emails or even cracking codes. There’s lots to do and plenty of tasks to go around for a larger group. If you’re new to escape rooms and how they work, this might not be the best way to first try them out. We definitely drew on lots of our experience of physical and virtual rooms to figure out what was required of us.