Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review: Clockwork

Clockwork is an imaginative young adult novel written by Philip Pullman, author of a most notable trilogy of books, His Dark Materials.
    A slim volume, Clockwork (or, All Wound Up, as it's alternately titled) is a dark fairy tale that chronicles three converging story lines: that of a desperate clockmaker's apprentice, and the Faustian lengths to which he'd travel to save face; a novelist whose ad libbed narrations have sprung into a life of their own; and at last, a boy prince whose fate swings in a strange, pendulum balance. All three timelines coalesce within the winter darkness of a sleepy German village, gathering themselves together for an ending that is poignant and worthy of the classic fairy tale tradition. 
    I was not disappointed by Clockwork. Despite its being a short novel for a younger audience, the story is rife with themes quite serious, and I appreciate the author's attempt to advocate the taking of responsibility for one's failures, a consideration of the price of material obsession, and finally, the worth of remaining human in a society that  has grown alarmingly mechanized.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: American Gods

"Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end."

This ancient World has long been the spawning ground of Gods and Deity, each one born from the needs and desires of the hearts and minds of humanity. For thousands of years these Gods have thrived, living to serve and, in turn, receive worship. Now, in the United States of America, a country barely 250 years old, new idols of information and industry are born, raised, and revered, forcing the Old Ones - antiquated Gods of creation, blood, life, and death - to battle for their existence, to fend for the prayers and devotions of their creators like street-side beggars...  

  There are many things to admire about author, Neil Gaiman's, novel - the richness of the story is due to a real sense of interest on the part of the author, and it's easy to realize the depth of research that went into the relationships between the various Gods and their counterparts; this achieves an even greater effect when played out between anthropomorphized depictions of deity and human beings, a trick that Neil Gaiman has honed to a perfection over the past twenty-three years. Fans of the Sandman series of comic books will find that this book shares many of the comic's themes - the power of belief and myth, as well as the concept of adaptation in the face of great change; a process which, when faced by some, can only end in oblivion.

    The plot of the novel is moved forward when Odin, The All-Father of Norse myth, places a tremendous wager upon a man called Shadow, a quiet inmate with a penchant for coin magic and Herodotus, as he believes the man will be pivotal in the inevitable battle of the Old Gods and the New. When circumstances provide Shadow with the both the gift of parole and the grief of personal loss, he reluctantly chooses to aid the gruff yet charming personification of the All-Father, tangling himself in a North-western web of  myth, murder, and all the joys of mass-deicide as he spans the continent towards the south-east's own Rock City.  

    American Gods is a story both original in its inception and, at the same time, evocative of the old-school method of story-telling; often I could very well imagine sitting upon the floor of a warm cottage, listening intently to the ever-archetypal Father read aloud from a large book, its weathered pages spread across His lap and aglow in the light of a roaring fireplace ( incidentally, conjuring Neil Gaiman's voice is perfect for this sort of thing). The real fun for me, as a reader, came in trying to identify all of the various Gods included in Gaiman's novel - the casual reader may have no trouble recognizing many of them; others, such as with the case of Mad Sweeney and his Golden Coin, are written in a more subtle fashion, and interested readers may require further study to appreciate their intricacy.

    As fine a story as American Gods is, I found that the the richness of the novel does make it a paradoxical read, and, at times, a bit frustrating.  Like any involved tale, American Gods does possess its subplots, though there are lengths wherein these aspects of the story take up far too much of the actual book. As a result, boredom throughout the second act and predictability may cause some readers to lose their fascination, and the rewards of seeing the subplot through are anti-climactic at best.

    Apart from those feelings, I will say that the world that I live in has been enriched and enlivened many times over by art and literature, and my perception of its beauty has only been clarified and polished by the work of  Neil Gaiman. The author's most prolific creation, in my opinion, Sandman, brought me to a point of transcendence; I was unaware that there were worlds such as those created within its pages, and I was further unaware that my spirit could be moved to the degree that the twelve-volume comic series moved it. I do feel that my adoration of Sandman raised the bar impossibly high for my expectations of American Gods, and it's for the reason that I'm perhaps biased. I feel very strongly that comics are a medium wherein certain ideas are most vividly and best expressed, and I believe that the shortcomings that I perceived inside of this novel stem from this belief.
    Still, I do insist that this book is well worth reading, and I've always professed that the story is what matters most. Simply, American Gods is one of the best ever written. In the least, I hope this book can give those readers who aren't fans of comics a taste of that transcendence, that same glimpse into the grandeur of the Infinite that Neil Gaiman has provided for me over the years.