Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
Title: The Desert of Souls
Author: Howard Andrew Jones
I loved this book. This could possibly be the shortest review I ever write, because I
don't know how to say it any other way: I loved this book. I wish it had been about
800 pages long. I wish I could pop in the DVD and watch the movie. I wish I had
the kind of pocket change to pay Howard Andrew Jones to write me another story
just like this. I wish I had the power to stop time, drop everything, and read every
single one of the source texts he lists in his afterword. Heck, I wish I had the power
to turn back time two days just so I could read this book all over again.
I was raised in a family of storytellers. At a very young age I fell in love with
Grimm and Andersen fairy tales. I was used to having stories "told" to me, and this
was how these tales were written. The whole "show me, don't tell me" rule was the
hardest one I've ever had to learn . . . and I later discovered it was possible to do
both. Jones has made this discovery too.
I feel very old-fashioned sometimes in this sea of urban fantasy -- werewolves and
vampires are like Bluetooth cell phones. It's tough having a new world with new
rules explained to me every time I crack open a cover. A true storyteller snares his
or her reader with a subtle intrigue, and from then on if magic happens, it happens.
Everything is within the realm of the imagination if the storyteller tells us so.
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Jones is a masterful storyteller, as is his main character, Azim. He uses techniques
of storytelling -- such as foreshadowing, hyperbole -- with deft subtlety. The tale
begins with the whims of a warrior trying to distract his rich master from the death
of a beloved pet. What better reason does one need to start an adventure full of
sandstorms and djinns and keys to other universes?
Guess what: Azim lives. This shouldn't come as a shock to any of you who have
ever read a novel told in first person, as the narrator (in most cases) is the one
needed to survive the adventure so he or she can pass it along to you. In fact, in the
very first chapter of the book, Azim and his master visit an old woman who tells
them their future. In a way, you as the reader already know everything that's going
to happen. This ruins nothing . . . for as any great taleswapper will tell you: the
heart of the story is never about the outcome. It is about the journey.
Let this knowledge set your mind at ease. Fill a bowl with popcorn, pull up next to
the fire, and let yourself be swept away by Azim's tale. Your only disappointment
will be when the book lasts only two nights, instead of a thousand and one.
And if you find desert sand when you reach the bottom of that bowl, blame it on
Title: The Stainless Steel Rat (audiobook)
Author: Harry Harrison
Reader: Phil Gigante
For the last few years, Brilliance Audio has been expanding their science fiction
and fantasy selections by snagging the audio rights of classic novels in the genre.
It's a brilliant (no pun intended) move on their part -- the audio presentations
breathe new life into these gems, putting them back on the radar for those of us
with too little time to go back to the library and catch up on the sections we missed
when we were twelve.
The Stainless Steel Rat was originally published in 1961. Back in those days the
novel format was a lot shorter and tended toward the "pulp" side of serial
novelization, reading more like an episode of a television show today. The mission
of these novels was to throw you into a setting far and away from your every day
life and take you on a fast-paced adventure with one or more very interesting,
Harry Harrison's main character is Jim DiGriz, the titular "Stainless Steel Rat."
Are you familiar with the television show Leverage? Jim, in essence, is every one
of the team members combined: Hitter, Grifter, Hacker, Thief, and Mastermind.
Outwitting the interstellar governments has almost become too easy for this
talented, slippery rat -- until this last job, where he's herded through a maze and
meets Harold Inskipp, one of the Great Rats of All Time, at which point he is
pressed into service with the Special Corps. Because what better way to catch a rat
than with a rat? And what else is Jim doing with his time, really? He may as well
work for The Powers of Good for a change.
Almost immediately, Jim uncovers a scandal and gets permission to travel to the
planet and check it out. But the rat he's stumbled onto is possibly even slipperier
than he is . . . and crazier. This one doesn't mind leaving bodies in her wake.
For a 50-year-old book, I have to say, this classic pulp novel definitely stands the
test of time. In fact, the caper-esque subject matter might be even more popular
right now than it was back in the day. (Don't be surprised if you suddenly see a
promo for a Stainless Steel Rat TV show. FX, are you listening?) The characters
are fun, the banter is witty, the backwater alien planets are easily taken advantage
of . . . it's the perfect storm.
Phil Gigante is no stranger to fiction narration, and he does a mighty fine job here.
So fine that at one point I caught myself thinking, "Ha! Jim does a pretty good
imitation of Inskipp." And then I remembered that Phil was reading every
character. Obviously he would do a passable imitation of himself. Duh. I might
have smacked myself in the forehead were I not worried about falling off the
elliptical machine at the time.
The only real flaw is that the first half of the book barrels along so fast that the
second half (when Jim becomes obsessed with catching Angelina) seems to drag a
bit. But the outcome is satisfying, if not slightly predictable . . . but only because
by 2011 we've seen so many television shows like this. After finishing this
adventure, I'd find myself curious to know how the next episode was going to play
out. Which is exactly the point of the pulp novel, isn't it? Well then, consider me
Read more by Alethea Kontis