Reading The Sword of Shannara: Chapters 31-35

The Sword of ShannaraThis week marks our last installment in our conversations about Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara.  You can find them all from the beginning here, and we'd encourage you to let us know what you thought of the book in the comments!


Dear Phil--

Congratulations! We did it! And some more of your predictions came true--Stenmin did get out and then back into the castle through a secret passage. Nice work! I kept thinking of our discussion of the predictability of the plot during these chapters as well. There was one moment in particular where Brooks completely tips his hand, deflating what could be a very climactic moment. This happens at the very end when Curzad Ohmsford tells Shea and Flick that someone is looking for them, and Flick says, “What can we do? We don’t even have the Elfstones to protect us anymore.” Instead of letting holding off until the last possible moment to reveal the surprise that Panamon has found the Elfstones and has survived, by having Flick say this, it plants the seed of this possibility in the reader’s mind, making the ending less exciting.

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Midweek Fiction: Holly Black, "The Dog King"

Holly Black is an absolutely tremendous writer. I've loved her fiction since reading Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, and she is also the creative force behind The Spiderwick Chronicles,  and the Eisner-nominated Good Neighbors series of graphic novels (which I also highly recommend). She has also edited a number of anthologies, including Welcome to Bordertown.

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution LogoLet me get the disclaimer out of the way before I go any further.  When the original Deus Ex was released back in 2000, it wasn’t even a blip on my radar.  College was starting and my eyes were squarely on Baldur's Gate 2 and Diablo 2 at the time.  Then came along Deus Ex: Invisible War, the 2003 sequel, and I purposely stayed away from that title, only hearing horrible things about its release including a multitude of bugs, not truly fitting in the atmosphere and world that the original created, etc, etc.  But it’s present day in 2011, and a new game has been released into the series: Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This time it’s a prequel to the original.  This is perfect; I don’t really need to know anything about the previous two games, and I can go into this one fresh.  How will that turn out?  Well, read on and we’ll find out together.  Please understand that spoilers will be mentioned and that each segment of this series will continually unravel different aspects of the game, much like a review, however, a very long winded review.  I’ll explain some side missions, the essence of the overarching story, and go into the details of the different components of the game, namely gameplay, graphics, sound, replay value, and stability.  In this first segment, story will be a large focus as you and I will be introduced to what’s going on.

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The Bridge-Dwellers of Neverwhere and Who Fears Death: An Uncanny Realization

Who Fears DeathDuring a recent medical mission trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I encountered the term “bridge-dweller.” Before this trip, I lived in the United States, completely belonging to this society and not actively addressing other worlds around me. But that all changed. After two weeks abroad, I recognized these other peoples and worlds, and I somehow could not return to life completely narrowed to the United States. Yet I clearly did not belong to the world of the Costa Ricans or Nicaraguans either. I am, and will forevermore be, a “bridge-dweller.”

Both Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death feature protagonists who themselves are “bridge-dwellers.” Both novels contain main characters who are rejected from their own societies; Richard, from Neverwhere, and Onyesonwu, from Who Fears Death, both exist in between two diametrically opposed cultures, and yet belong to neither of them. NeverwhereThis allows for these characters to interact with other societies and cultures, never completely dwelling on one side or the other, but bridging the gap between the two. As a result, both characters are poised to challenge discrimination and injustice; in the case of Onyesonwu, she faces both racial and sexual prejudice, while Richard’s experiences highlight discrimination based on wealth and social status.

A critical difference in the analysis of these two narratives, however, comes through the endings. Who Fears Death provides a satisfying conclusion for the reader, the admirable traits of the main character shine through, and some degree of social order has been attained. In stark contrast, Neverwhere concludes with Richard, one of very few who is capable of enacting great community change, failing to address these appalling social discriminations. Due to Richard’s inaction, the reader is then obligated to examine real world consequences, and is compelled to act herself as the “bridge-dweller.”

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Judging a Book by Its Cover: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryIn this installment of Judging a Book by Its Cover, Tia Mansouri deviates slightly from the format of her original column on Joan Vinge's Snow QueenInstead of analyzing the cover of a book before she reads it, she takes a closer look at a new cover of a very familiar, well-loved book--Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Released today, the Penguin Deluxe edition of the novel features cover art by Ivan Brunetti and an introduction by Lev Grossman.


"I insist upon my rooms being beautiful! I can't abide ugliness in factories!" - Willy Wonka

When I heard of Penguin's re-release of several children's classics, I was surprised to find Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was selected to be re-done. As a kid, I found Quentin Blake's illustrations to be practically inseparable from Dahl's words. But illustration is about seeing words through the viewpoint of another's eyes, and despite how well known Blake's art is, Dahl's book has had enough visual incarnations not to let any one depiction be the definitive standard. The more I look at Brunetti's cover, the more I like it for being unlike Blake's style and entirely suited for Dahl's story. What Brunetti reminds us with his cover is that the point of what we visualize doesn't need to be the characters themselves, but how each of them interacts with the wonder and whimsy of Mr. Wonka's factory itself.

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