Review: Brown’s Angels and Demons

Angels & Demons – Movie Tie-In
Dan Brown

In my attempt to understand America, I read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons
1. It is terribly written. There, I said it. Now to be fair, I don’t know if I could have written it. For many reasons. I couldn’t sustain the level of cliff hanger chapters, or reference to the heroine’s lithe yoga body or the allusions to sinister revelations to come. Perhaps this means I have taste for a different kind of literature. Perhaps this means I will never make millions writing novels.

2. I’m intrigued by people’s fascination with the Catholic Church. Conspiracy theories give meaning to a largely meaningless and fucked up world and while I am sure most of the people who read this stuff don’t think the Illuminati are real and planning to take over the world, the fact that they are eating up a book about a bunch of nerds and bishops is interesting. The lasting nature of the Vatican and the Catholic Church as a symbol of mystery and secrets is fascinating, especially in a world where the Catholic Church is more and more irrelevant all the time.

Not recommended.

Review: Saylor’s Roman Blood

Roman Blood: A Novel of Ancient Rome (Novels of Ancient Rome)
Steven Saylor

Roman Blood is a fun little mystery set in the last days of the Roman Republic. The book is modeled on the actual killing of Sextus Roscius and Cicero’s defense of his son for the crime. Saylor has taken many a liberty with the story and embellished off what is unknown about the incident. By doing so he has created a fun and diverting mystery that does an good job of bringing ancient Rome to life and of introducing Gordianus the Finder, the sleuth who will star in the rest of this series.

The book is better written then the average mystery and the historical figures who make appearances (including Cicero and his slave Tiro, both in starring roles) are well drawn and believable. I could have done without some of the forced humor, but the accurate portrayal of Rome, warts and all, make this a worthwhile read for anyone interested in a decent mystery or ancient Rome.
Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Cronin’s The Passage

The Passage: A Novel (Book One of The Passage Trilogy)
Justin Cronin

The Passage is a seven hundred page vampire novel written by a novelist who graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop. That makes it a pretty rare bird. It is also a book I enjoyed tremendously.

I imagine there is very little middle ground with this book. You either enjoy its epic scope, slightly showy writing, and meandering plot or you think it’s a bloated book by a guy who couldn’t make money with serious fiction so turned to genre literature to put his kids through school.

I liked it, your mileage may vary.

The plot is convoluted and epic, but to put it briefly, and not spoil the fun, the U.S. government has created a sort of vampire. Not Twilight style sexy vampire, but really grody scary vampire. Anyway, the vampires get out, all hell breaks loose, and humanity has to fight… for its very survival!

There must be a thousand books out there with that basic plotline. What separates the Passage is the skill of the writing, which is well beyond what you see in most genre fiction, and Cronin’s ability to be good at both plot and character.

The plot versus character dichotomy is something I have written about before. I remember in undergrad my classics professor drawing a scale up on the chalkboard with “character” written on one side and “plot” on the other and saying, “works which focus on character are literature, work which focuses on plot are entertainment.” He was that kind of a dick. He wore a bowtie. He also had a point. Too often what I find lacking in the genre literature (save the true crossover geniuses like Gibson, Price, etc) is a lack of proper character development. What I often miss when I read “serious” fiction is any sort of plot to care about. I am not particularly interested in cardboard cut outs rampaging through an alien world shooting lemurs with lasers, but nor am I particularly interested in reading something where two very well drawn individuals sit in a café in Brooklyn and talk about fucking “love” or whatever. Can’t I have three dimensional characters AND lasers? I guess I can, in books like the Passage.

Though there aren’t any actual lasers in the Passage. But you get the idea.

Recommended for the enthusiast.