Book: The Sleeper and the Spindle

"The Sleeper and the Spindle"

She was one of the those forest witches driven to the margins a thousand years ago, and a bad lot. She cursed the babe at birth, such that when the girl was eighteen she would prick her finger and sleep forever.

Sleeping Beauty has gotten its fair share of retelling. Heck, Sleeping Beauty itself is a retelling. But there is something to be said about Neil Gaiman’s version that makes it so very other-worldly. Sure, Chris Riddell’s artwork is amazing and adds to the feel of the storytelling– but even without it, the words itself seem to have a weight upon them as they spin the tale of Briar Rose.

I love the fact that our protagonist is a woman–and Snow White at that. She has her own story that doesn’t get told outright, but is filled in through trickles of exposition that feels like accidents. It’s as if the character herself doesn’t want to take away from the gravity of her adventure to save her kingdom–and the babe who was cursed by the witch–

And then there’s the lightness in the sparse dialogue peppered throughout the story, as if to balance the whole affair.

But what I love most about The Sleeper and the Spindle is how it subverts expectations. Everyone knows the story of Briar Rose in one form or another, but even as Gaiman ticks off the plot developments that people expect–he also adds his own whimsical twists to the events that unfold, pushing the familiar story into new territories.

The Sleeper and the Spindle ends where Sleeping Beauty ends; with the curse lifted, and the witch defeated. But Gaiman also provides a different happy ending for his characters. He doesn’t tie their destinies to each other just because it is what’s expected. He gives them the happy ending they all deserve. Freedom to choose their own fates–something they hadn’t been given their whole lives.

And I realized I sort of spoiled the ending.

Believe me, though, when I say that The Sleeper and the Spindle is worth reading on your own. Multiple times. And then sharing the story with friends. And acquaintances. And even strangers.

Let it cast its spell on you.

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Book: Eternity’s Wheel

"Eternity's Wheel"

Joey Harker is a leader.

With InterWorld trapped by HEX and his only other companion–the mysterious Time Agent Acacia Jones–missing in action, Joey’s the only one left. Though injured and alone, he refuses to give up. How can he, when all the worlds are depending on him?

As the threat of FrostNight looms ever closer, Joey seeks out more of his fellow Walkers across the Altiverse, training them as fast as he can and trying to track down InterWorld Base Town along the way. But even a solid team of recruits–including Acacia’s brother, Avery, who’s not a recruit so much as a tenuous ally–can’t prepare Joey for the ultimate showdown with InterWorld’s enemies, old and new.

Joey never wanted to be in charge. But he’s the one everyone is looking to now, and he’ll have to step up if he has any hope of saving InterWorld, the Multiverse, and everything in between.

Eternity’s Wheel is the heart-pounding conclusion to the InterWorld series, full of time and space travel, magic, science, and the bravery of a young boy who must now face his destiny as a young man.

If I can only say one positive thing about Eternity’s Wheel, it’s this: it’s not afraid to do what the story needs to happen, regardless of how the readers might react.

Fortunately, this being my blog, I don’t have to stick with just one positive thing.

Eternity’s Wheel serves as a great conclusion for the Interworld series. It gives a fitting ending to the main character we grew to know and love over the course of three books. And, the best part for me, is that it didn’t go the route I was expecting it to. Although it would have been an awesome twist, what with the time travel and all.

But it’s far from being a perfect book either.

Unlike the first two books in this trilogy, Eternity’s Wheel doesn’t have the benefit of a set-up. The second sequel drops us off right into the heat of the chase, and, unless you’ve just finished reading the second book, it’s very difficult to catch up to what is happening–even though the first chapters are supposed to serve as a catch-up.

Once the action starts though, all qualms are quickly silenced–because, even with Neil Gaiman no longer being one of the writers, both Michael Reaves and Mallory Reaves do a good job of having this book retain the feel of the first book.

That is, until we get to the climax. There will be spoilers from here on in. You have been warned.

In hindsight, I now understand why there was a need to bring Joey Harker back in his original world at the beginning of Eternity’s Wheel. Aside from going full circle, it’s also supposed to anchor us to our main protagonist’s longing for home, and his desire to keep it safe. So when the climax happens, something big is at stake for our hero.

Unfortunately, this is the book’s biggest misstep for me. Because, for some reason, although Joey comes back to his original world–we don’t see the actual ties that bind him to this particular world. So when the climax comes, our fear stems not from the emotional attachments that will be severed once FrostNight wipes everything out–but only from our desire to not let the bad guys win.

I feel like this was a missed opportunity for the book to be more than just an adventure book for young adults.

Of course, that still doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of the entire package. Eternity’s Wheel, as I said, is a great conclusion for the Interworld Series. But it could have been even better.

Book: Fortunately, The Milk

"Fortunately, The Milk"

I was out at the end of the plank, facing certain death, when a rope ladder hit my shoulder and a deep booming voice shouted, ‘Quickly! Climb up the rope ladder!’

And so begins the tallest, and maybe the most exciting, tale Neil Gaiman has ever told.

I really wasn’t planning on picking this title up. I prefer Gaiman’s novels more than his shorter stories. But the randomness of the quote got to me. I had to find out what happened after ‘I’ climbed up the rope ladder. If he did. And why was he standing at the end of a plank anyway?

Oh, spoiler alert: ‘I’ is a guy.

Neil Gaiman’s latest story centers around a dad who doesn’t seem to be very responsible. At least, to his kids’ eyes. And his trip to get milk seems to cement this fact. Until he starts talking about the adventure he had to undertake just to get his kids the milk they want.

The story isn’t very long, and I fear talking too much about it might make me spoil what happens. So I’ll just say this:

Fortunately, The Milk is a fun romp to read whatever age you may be. And I think it’ll be more fun if you read it with a kid…since, I think the book is geared towards kids.

But age won’t stop you from reading a good story, would it?

Now, let’s find out what other people have said about Gaiman’s latest work:
Boing Boing
Kids’ Book Review
Literary Exploration

Book: Black Orchid

"Black Orchid"

In an anonymous corporate boardroom, a super-hero is shot through the head. Her body is consumed by flames, and her killer walks free.

So begins Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s BLACK ORCHID, one of comics’ most remarkable and transformative creations. Simultaneously a deconstruction and a resurrection of an entire genre, this tale of the uncanny lives of Susan Linden embodies the new maturity in graphic storytelling that revolutionized the medium at the turn of the millennium.

I didn’t have any expectations when I picked this title up. I didn’t even know who Black Orchid was. I’m a Marvel kid. I’m familiar with DC heroes, the popular ones, but I prefer my Marvel heroes. Hence, the reason why I didn’t know that Black Orchid was a heroine.

Truth be told, it was Neil Gaiman’s name that drew me to pick this up. And the promise of a very good story.

And it is. A very good story. No buts.

Black Orchid, the mini-series that Neil Gaiman wrote in the 80’s is an origin story for the little-known heroine. It tells her story as she tries to find out who she is, what she is, and she gets a little help from better known DC characters, heroes and villains alike.

It tells the story in such a way that it feels like a mystery to be solved. But it’s really not. I mean, it wasn’t to me. Black Orchid was who she was from the very first page.

The very first page she appears in, that is.

Our heroine goes on a journey to understand who she is, and what she is, and she takes us along for the ride. But this is not an origin story so much as it is a character study. Of a battered wife. Of a woman who longed to have a child. Of a broken woman who sought paradise…and found it. But what use is a paradise to a woman used to heartache?

Neil Gaiman, with Dave McKean’s art, tells a very powerful story about the importance of identity. Of knowing who we are, what we want to be, and where we want to go.

The book starts out with an introduction from a contributing editor of the Rolling Stones. He says people have issues with how the series ends, that they yearned for a fourth volume to properly finish the series. I don’t see why. The ending we get, the ending in the book, is beautiful as it is.

It doesn’t end with a bang, no. But it ends with a promise. And when you have a story this beautiful, what better way to end it than with a promise, right? That another story will blossom soon.

And it did. According to Wikipedia. I don’t like where it went though, so I’m going to end my journey with the Black Orchid here with Neil Gaiman’s story.

I’m going to end it with the hopeful promise for our protagonists.

Book: The Ocean at The End of the Lane

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane"

A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home and is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl and her mother and grandmother. As he sits by the pond behind the ramshackle old house, the unremembered past comes flooding back–a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out.

Memories. No one remembers the same things the exact same way. And when confronted with a past that happened decades ago… How do you know if you’re remembering events as they really happened? Or if you’re remembering them the way you want to remember them?

Neil Gaiman’s latest novel is a hard book to categorize. It’s easy to write it off as a fantasy novel–but what if it’s not?

Reading the synopsis, the first thing I assumed about our main character was that he underwent trauma. And right off the bat, death hounds his every turn. Take away the fantastical, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a very dark look at a childhood replete with traumatizing events. There’s the aforementioned death, emotional abuse, betrayal, and more.

Masking the darkness with fantasy, the novel feels like a grand adventure of good versus an ambivalent evil, a very elementary definition of evil. So basic is the definition that you know it can’t be that clear cut. And it’s not.

As we delve deeper into the psyche of our main character, and as the story further unravels, we see the gray in between the black and white. And we see the threads that hang loosely. Ended prematurely, not because the writer chooses to do so, but because the story calls for it. Some endings happen without seeming like an ending at all. And the actual ending is not an ending at all.

This is not a book for children to read alone, I think. This is a book best read with an adult to explain why certain things happen. In a way, this reminds me of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, except less explicit about its topic.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane does not tell you that it’s about death, about grief, or about a boy’s coming-of-age story. It gives you the puzzle pieces, that it has the ingredients I’ve mentioned in the third paragraph (not counting the synopsis.) The novel doesn’t solve the puzzle for you.

It can have a different meaning for everyone.

For me, the novel is about the normal evil. The evil we overlook. And how it affects the most impressionable child.

But no one reads books the exact same way. Who’s to say anyone’s reading is the right one? Who’s to say that there’s only one way of reading a book? It means one thing for me, but it could mean differently for you.

It certainly feels like the book means differently for the following:
Geek Exchange
With An Accent

And my favorite of the reviews I’ve read so far:
Lunatic or Genius?

What about you? What did you think about the book? What do you think the book is about? I’m looking forward to discuss this book with you guys.

Book: The Silver Dream

"The Silver Dream"

As Walkers, Joey Harker and his fellow InterWorld soldiers can pass between multiple dimensions–a skill they use as part of their mission to maintain peace as rival powers of magic and science threaten to control all worlds.

When a stranger named Acacia Jones does the impossible and follows Joey back to Base Town, things get complicated. No one knows who she is or where she’s from–or how she knows so much about InterWorld.

Dangerous times lie ahead for Joey and the mission. There’s a traitor hidden among them, and if Joey has any hope of saving InterWorld, the Altiverse, and the mission, he’s going to have to rely on his wits–and, just possibly, on the mysterious Acacia Jones.

This book might say it’s about one thing, but it’s about something else.

Acacia Jones is a red herring, although she does play into the events that unfold in The Silver Dream, she is not as instrumental to the grand design as the book blurb will make you believe.

That warning aside, let us now dive into the sequel for InterWorld:

It’s not as good as the first one. Definitely. By leaps and bounds. And once you’ve come to accept that, you’ll learn to like it for what it is–which is, a good adventure book. That’s how it was for me.

It probably has to do with the diminished participation Neil Gaiman has on this book, but the worlds we visit aren’t as rich as they were in the first novel. Then again, we don’t really dwell too long in any world for any of them to make much impact. The sequel deals more with the interpersonal relationships of the many incarnations of Joseph Harker.

Story-wise, it’s actually very hard to judge the quality of The Silver Dream. Not because it’s not good. It’s just not complete. By the time you finish the novel, it becomes clear that the whole thing is a set-up for something bigger. And you can’t say a book is good, or not good, if the story isn’t finished.

Unless, of course, this was supposed to be a complete story–and then, I must say, it’s really bad. Because it cuts off just as things are about to get interesting. It builds up and builds up, and just cuts off–

Now, if this were a character-driven story, I’d say it’s okay. But our protagonist, while embarking on a journey of self-discovery, is still on the cusp of actually doing something about said self-discovery. His journey has just reached its climax. Or is about to reach it.

So, no. It’s not good in that aspect as well.

Nor is it any good at building up the characters that already exist–or the ones it introduces in this book.

Come to think of it, The Silver Dream isn’t very good at pacing itself either. Things happen. And then something else happens. And midway, yet another thing happens. By the time we reach the latter half of the novel, we see the random things get connected together. But it’s only in the last few pages that we actually see how everything relates together, and by then, it’s being blown up to be bigger than what we thought it to be.

And then the novel ends.

The Silver Dream is a very frustrating book to read, if we’re going to be brutally honest about it. I remember enjoying the adventure aspect of it when I put it down. Going back to it now, I’m questioning what exactly I liked in the book.

I can’t think of a single reason.

I think I have to read the next book, the obvious continuation, to see if this whole thing was worth it.

This begs the question, though, why the publishers (and the writers) thought it would be okay to publish just this part of an obviously bigger story. Why not just release the whole thing as one? Why put in a cliffhanger? This is not television.

Television: Doctor Who and the Nightmare in Silver

"Nightmare in Silver"

Welcome to Webley’s World of Wonders! Roll up, roll up. Miracles, marvels and more await you. The wonder of the age. The miracle of modernity. They were defeated a thousand years ago, but now they’re back to destroy you. So fast, so smart, and so strong that fighting them is suicidal. Nightmares in silver! Ladies and gentlemen, behold- the 699th wonder of the universe – the Cybermen! As you’ve never seen them before…

And so we finally get a proper Cyberman story after 2006’s two-parter episodes Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel. Unless I count 2009’s The Next Doctor. Which I should. But I didn’t like it. I liked the two-parter from Series 2. I loved Nightmare in Silver.

Going into this episode, I actually feared that my bias would color my enjoyment of the episode. To the point that, I might over analyze, and… well, not like the episode. And all because I’m a Gaiman fan.

But I had nothing to fear. Gaiman delivers. And in spade.

The Doctor’s Wife from the last series had a great emotional hook in Amy and Rory, and had the gimmick of turning the TARDIS human. In Nightmare in Silver, Gaiman doesn’t have the luxury of having companions that are already well-loved, that people already care deeply about. His gimmick for the episode isn’t something that all fans are looking forward too–it’s something people are actually apprehensive about: the return of the Cybermen.

Nothing against the previous writers who handled the Cybermen, but when you make emotion their biggest weakness, it makes the Cybermen a bit of a wuss. It was interesting the first time it was done, back in 2006, because it was new. But their subsequent appearances were as easily resolved.

The Cybermen are enduring enemies of the Doctor, but unlike the Dalek, they don’t seem scary at all. Which makes me wonder why lists featuring scariest Doctor Who monsters always include them. Well, Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver shows us why.

The Cybermen have become too human. To make them scary again, Gaiman took out the humanity. And what we get is an exceptional episode that even includes a great relationship development for the Doctor and Clara.

I do have two gripes for this episode.

Number one, when the Doctor notices the cybermites for the first time, he knew he couldn’t leave the planet. But why have the children stay in the planet instead of in the TARDIS?

Number two, Matt Smith is a great actor, yes–but I thought his CyberPlanner persona was a bit too flamboyant–and not unlike his portrayal of a very happy Doctor. Except more sinister.

I mean, I love the nuances that made Mr. Clever, the CyberPlanner, very distinct from the Doctor. And I get that there’s a bit of tomfoolery in the front that Gaiman wants to keep viewers guessing which Doctor is interacting with Clara. But prior to this–when it’s just the Doctor and the Cyber puppets–I really found it disconcerting that the CyberPlanner and the Doctor were essentially the same.

Unless, there’s a statement there somewhere.

Overall though, excellent episode.

I just hope next week’s finale lives up to the recent exceptional episodes.