Book Review: The Core by Peter V Brett

SUMMARY: (4 of 5 stars) A very nice conclusion to the series. It’s a little bit predictable, but the likable characters and the gruesome-but-fascinating magic system make it very enjoyable.

SPOILER WARNING: From this point forward, I’m going to discuss this book without any concern about spoilers. So, if you don’t like spoilers you should stop reading now.

The Core is the fifth and final installment of Peter V Brett’s Demon Cycle series and I have to say it’s a good way to wrap things up.

I really enjoyed the first book in the series, but the following three were just okay in my opinion.  But I finished a book the other day and I was lining up my next few reads and I got an email alert that this one came out.  So, I figured I’d just go ahead and wrap things up. I’m glad I did because this is the second best book of the series.

Readers of the series will recall that the fourth book ended with the apparent death of the two main protagonists, Arlen and Jardir, one of whom we’ve been led to believe is the fabled Deliverer.  Guess what. They didn’t really die.  Arlen staged that whole thing so that he and Jardir could kill a buncha demons, yadda yadda yadda.  Anyway, they’re back now because they’re going on a quest to kill the demon queen.  Since they’re actually walking to The Core, it takes them months.  Meanwhile, various supporting characters are all fighting demons on different fronts with their own concerns and conflicts.  Bottom line: the good guys win.

So, here are some random thoughts on things throughout the book.

First and least importantly, the word “ichor.” This word is almost exclusively used throughout the entire series as a reference to the splashy viscera, guts, entrails, blood, internal fluids, raw tissue, innard, insides, bowels, entrails, insides, vital organs, gore, and whatnot of the demons.  I get that the word “ichor” has a connection to the mythological and by using it and not other terms, Brett is able to maintain a sense of “alienness” to the demons.  They’re inhuman, so we don’t want them to be described in human terms.  I get it.  But maybe the fact that they have insectoid social structures and the leader castes have giant, bulbous heads, weird eyes, and all that is enough.  I dunno. I’ve never written a novel, but I do know that I got real tired of the word “ichor.”

It’s a tiny bit predictable.  If you pause for a second, you can easily guess who’s going to have a baby, who’s going to die, and how the main threads of the story will resolve themselves.  You saw the spoiler warning about so: everyone has a baby, Arlen and a bunch of supporting cast — some loved, some less so — die, and at the darkest hour, Arlen saves the day.  None of this made it any less fun for me to read, though.  But if you were looking for some new story structure or a twist ending, you probably shouldn’t tune into the final book of an epic fantasy series for that.

One specific comment: Is it just me or was the death of Jake whatshisface kind of gratuitous?  The last time he made a significant appearance was back in like book two, I think.  And Arlen got over the fact that his ex-girlfriend married him.  It was no longer an issue.  But in this book, Jake makes a sudden appearance and proves to everyone that he’s a craven little punk and then goes and dies two seconds later.  I’m just saying this felt a little extra to me, like maybe Brett knows “Jake” in real life and “Jake” has welched on a bet or something.

The tone of this book is different.  This is hard to put my finger on. And the earlier books bounced around in tone/style a little as well.  But the reason I struggled with previous books was because some of them were just very sad and dark for me.  This one was pretty upbeat throughout.  The characters do struggle and some fail, but overall, it felt like the heroes were just straight-up kicking ass from dawn to dawn.  This isn’t a legitimate complaint because I kind of loved it.

I don’t understand why there wasn’t any “payoff” for the fact that Olive is intersex.  It seemed like it was going to be a really big deal and then it ended up being nothing.  I mean, great for the positive treatment of an intersex character.  But as a reader that felt like, “Alright, then.”

I hate the artificial folksy wisdom/mannerisms throughout all the books, but it was especially bad in this book.  The worst scene was Leesha using a creeky rocking chair to manipulate the conversation among a whole bunch of people who don’t know her and are not native to the manners and society of her culture.  It was just very weird and there are lots of touches like that.

I did like the magic system and the demons in these books. I would have loved even more exploration of the biology and social structures of the demons. I don’t fully understand the motives of the demons, but that’s OK. I love all the different kinds.  (I noticed that the Krasians think there are only seven types of demon, but there are actually lots more that they don’ t know about. I thought that was a really nice touch.)

And there are lots of very likable characters throughout the books.  Oddly, I didn’t like the main guys very much at all.  I mostly enjoyed the supporting people.

So, yeah. This was actually my second favorite book of the series behind the first book.  I’m glad I decided to stick with this series for it.

Book Review: The Moonstone

Review Summary: 4/5 stars. Very fun read with lots of humor. The “mystery” is kind of lame, in my opinion, because there’s no way you could deduce who the thief is from the clues. Instead, you’re mostly following the revelation through the eyes of the characters. The use of different character perspectives is part of what creates most of the fun. Drusilla Clack is my favorite! The audiobook performance is excellent.

SPOILER WARNING: From this point forward, I’m going to discuss this book without any concern about spoilers. So, if you don’t like spoilers you should stop reading now.

I finished listening to the audiobook of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins last night. It was a really fun “read!”

A little background on the book before I get into my review.  I picked up this book after hearing it recommended on the Criminal podcast by Marilyn Stasio, the NYT mystery book reviewer.

It was published in 1868 and is generally considered the first detective novel.  I guess I can understand why people say that, but I am inclined to quibble a little with the designation.

First of all, although there’s a detective in the novel, Sergeant Cuff, he’s not a main character and he doesn’t even really solve the crime. Wikipedia says that Franklin Blake, not Sergeant Cuff, is the “detective” in question.  But not only does he not emerge as a protagonist in the story until very late, he doesn’t even solve the mystery out of an urge to solve a crime, but to clear his own name and win back the love of his cousin, Rachel Verinder.  And he doesn’t really solve it so much as bother other people into doing things that reveal the solution.

Second, the mystery isn’t one that could be solved deductively from the clues provided.  I guessed at it through meta-analysis of the characters presented. My favorite character, Drusilla Clack, is the one who really gave it away for me.  She’s completely silly and her infatuation with Godfrey Ablewhite clenched it. And even the way the characters solve the mystery is highly, HIGHLY questionable.

However, I am willing to grant that perhaps I’m projecting my modern expectations on something that is just about 150 years old and the first of its kind.  Inarguably, the novel does contain a lot of hallmarks of a mystery novel that we take for granted today.

The book is composed of written statements from various characters who appear in the book.  The main background and description of the events leading up to the theft are presented by the main servant at the Verinder estate, Mr. Betteredge.  He’s an utterly lovable old man. And then other stages of the story are told by other characters in shorter sections.

The basic gist of the story is that Rachel Verinder’s uncle stole a sacred diamond from India and then left it to her in his will when he died as a gift for her birthday.  She wears it during her birthday party/dinner and then the diamond is stolen in the middle of the night. After lots of running around, they don’t find the diamond and, being 19th century British people, they refuse to have frank conversations about the events of the evening, which makes a lot of them seem stupid and/or guilty.  Ultimately, it turns out that Blake was slipped a laudanum roofie and took the diamond while sleep-walking. Then, Ablewhite found him with the diamond after Blake fully passed out and took it. Blake didn’t remember what happened, so Ablewhite was able to escape. Ablewhite pawned the diamond to pay some debts, and retrieves it a year later only be murdered by some Indian guys who’ve been trying to get the diamond back since it was stolen years earlier.  But Blake, Verinder, Cuff, Betteredge, et al. do figure out what happened and everyone lives happily ever after.

Mr. Betteredge is a very cute old man and I love him to bits, but my favorite character in the book is Drusilla Clack.  She’s a cousin to Rachel Verinder who lives in London.  Apparently, she’s not very well off and spends much of her time with religious charities for women.  And she makes a nuisance of herself to her friends and relatives by constantly trying to talk to them about her religion.  She even hides religious books in their houses and tries to trick them into reading passages from the books.  Clack is the epitome of the silly holy-roller type of person.

I was very frustrated by the fact that one could not actually deduce the solution to the mystery from the clues provided.  I would have much preferred to have all the pieces laid out for me including the red herrings and the solution and then read the book to piece through them.  But, again, this may be a modern expectation of mine. And even many modern mysteries rarely do this effectively.

Readers should be aware that this is a book of its time and the narrators are characters in the book.  So, you are exposed to a bit of casual racism, sexism, and other notions that we would regard as offensive today.  If you’re very sensitive to those things and find them unforgivable among people of the past, then I would recommend against reading any books from the past and certainly avoid this one.

Overall, the book is very fun.  The characters are pleasant and colorful.  The audiobook narrator gives a great performance with lots of voices and accents.  And it was a delight to experience this seminal work of literature!