Book Review: Night of the Purple Moon

Author: Scott CramerPurpleMoon
Publisher: Train Renoir Publishing
Date Published: May 28, 2012
Number of Pages: 179 (Kobo)

Abby and Jordan Leigh were looking forward to watching the moon turn purple. Little did they know that the comet streaking through the night sky causing the purple phenomenon, was carrying a dangerous pathogen that would dramatically change life as they know it.

The first in his Toucan Trilogy – Night of the Purple Moon is an interesting twist on the post-apocalyptic, survival story. With a very subtle Lord of the Flies like undertone it never quite reaches the same extent of the dark, grisly, side of humanity thrown into chaos, instead offering only small glimpses.

Brother and sister Abby and Jordan Leigh faced with the fact that a seemingly harmless comet and the “space germs” it trailed across the earth have not only caused the death of their own parents but of just about every adult and teenager in the world are forced to band together to take care of their three-year-old sister Toucan and figure out how to survive in a world without adults. Soon Abby and Jordan are joined by Kevin and Emily Patel – with the Patel’s, specifically the scientifically inclined Kevin, Abby and Jordan learn that the space germs attack hormones – putting anyone who has entered puberty at risk. Knowing the cause of the epidemic and how it acts as a ticking time bomb for anyone on the verge of puberty, Abby, Jordan, Emily and Kevin soon collect all the surviving children on Castine Island and begin to rebuild society to the best of their abilities.

Night of the Purple Moon has great moments of being a captivating read – in Abby and Jordan Leigh, Cramer has created two interesting main characters whose overall personalities both clash and remain strikingly similar (which makes sense with them being siblings.) The back and forth perspectives – which are provided mainly by the siblings offer glimpses into the minds of children learning to be adults. The commune-like setting that develops through their efforts and brings together just about every kid on the island – safe for a small group of rebels, who add the perfect amount of threat and tension to the children’s’ safe haven – is an unexpectedly peaceful and well-oiled machine.

Despite this neither Abby nor Jordan hold any falsehoods that the rest of the world is living quite as peacefully, and regardless how well things function on the island the effects of the space dust wreak their havoc on the older (at 12 and 13!) population, forcing the children to mature and learn to deal with and accept death much sooner than they should have to.

The books pacing for the most part is good, however there are some moments when the story seems to drag – specifically towards the end when the race is on for Jordan and Abby to procure the antibiotic created to stop the space germs from decimating the rest of the population.  Despite this fact the change of scenery –moving from the island to the main land- adds a new, more heightened threat as both Abby and Jordan fight against the effects of the space germs but also the pillaging gangs of children out to save themselves.

There are moments in the book where it’s hard to reconcile that these kids are meant to be 10, 12 and13-years-old – especially when it comes to the budding relationships that develop between some of them – it seems too mature. But then it could be rationalized that with a world in peril, they’ve been forced to grow up faster than is generally expected.  Also there are times when certain issues – particularly when Abby hits puberty – where the description is perhaps a little too forthright. It’s really dependent on the age group this book is geared towards.

Cramer’s Night of the Purple Moon is an entertaining read, the story is clever and fresh, with interesting characters who’s overall fighting spirit has you rooting for their survival and on the edge of your seat as you wait with baited breath to find out if they can survive in a world unlike any they’ve known before. If you’re someone who enjoys stories of survival and a world in peril this is a story you can definitely get on board with.

*This copy was provided to me by author Scott Cramer through LibraryThing.

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Book Review: The Kill Order

Author: James Dashner

ImageSeries: Yes, prequel

Publisher: Random House

Date Published: August 14, 2012

Number of Pages: 336

The much-anticipated prequel to James Dashner’s The Maze Runner trilogy – The Kill Order – takes place before Thomas and the Gladers escape the maze and take on WICKED. After sun flares hit the earth, destroying civilization as we know it and what’s left of humanity falls victim to a virus unlike any ever seen before friends Mark and Trina band together with a group of fellow survivors to learn to stay alive in this new world and find a cure for the fast, mutating disease that turns those infected into rage filled lunatics.

Though set in the same world as the The Maze Runner trilogy The Kill Order works both as a prequel and a stand-alone novel. For those who have read the trilogy it’s nice to get a little more insight into what led the Gladers to the maze to begin with, but for someone not at all versed in this world The Kill Order still makes sense and entertains.

The story begins within a settlement of survivors who have banded together to create a makeshift community. This is where we are introduced to our cast of characters. After the initial set up we are led back in time to when the sun flares first hit as seen through our protagonist Mark’s memories.

As frustrating as it is I really like that Dashner never answers everything, or gives us complete insight into just how awful the sun flares were. We know they’re bad, we know that people have basically been melted and what not, but somehow Dashner manages to give us only a snippet of the devastation caused, which somehow makes it so much worse. Mark’s flashbacks to when this catastrophic event happens and being in the underground really helped to build the feelings of foreboding and dread that Dashner perfected in The Maze Runner trilogy.

As far as characters go I don’t know that I liked anyone in The Kill Order as much as I did the Gladers from the Maze. As the main protagonist Mark (especially when compared to Thomas) is a bit of – I don’t want to say a pansy – but he’s a little whiny. He doesn’t have the same sense of inner strength and know-how that Thomas seemed to possess – he lacks confidence. On the flip side Alec as the pseudo leader/father figure despite being gruff and kind of curmudgeonly was by far the most likeable character. He seemed to have the most feeling.

It doesn’t really matter that the characters weren’t as enthralling as those in the original series because this book is very story driven. The sequence of events and the race against time are what make The Kill Order enjoyable. Once the Flare hits and it’s a given the group will eventually lose their minds getting Deedee (as the only one seemingly immune to the disease) to safety heightens both character need and tension within the story.

However as suspenseful as the story is a lot of the events seemed crazy and in some weird ways unnecessarily dangerous and/or lacking insight – Mark and Alec leaving Trina, Lana and Deedee in the forest while they investigate the creepy singing – why? Clearly that was not going to end well. Breaking in to the underground bunker. Jumping on the Berg in the first place when you know that the people on it are currently shooting, at random, civilians with darts that seem to kill on impact.  But in retrospect I like to think the method behind the madness of these events was to offer a kind of duality – to demonstrate the subtlety of the diseases’ evolution and to really hammer home this idea that despite the initial reactions of immediate death or immediate crazy – then death, the truly scary element to this new world is the Flare’s quick progression to a slow and scary descent that begins with poor choice and ultimately ends with outright lunacy.

What really worked is the brutality of this world. The way people almost instantly revert to base, animal instincts. From the flashbacks to life in the Lincoln building and the marauding couple to the crazy cultist (who granted were in fact infected by the Flare but none-the-less demonstrated brutality that I’m going to go out on a limb here and just say was instinctual to begin with.) Even Mark demonstrates that brutality when fighting.  The progression to Crazy Town is steep and raw but makes you wonder, even without the Flare how cruel and evil this post sun flare world could have become.

I found the ending both poignant and distressing – when Mark and Alec finally reunite with Trina, Lana and Deedee the infection has taken over so fully that there really and very obviously is no hope left for anyone but Deedee. Lana’s execution style like death and the fact that Trina’s so far gone she can’t even remember Mark were truly sad moments in a book so packed with action that sometimes the human element of the story gets a little lost. I found it quite courageous that despite knowing the loss of his sanity is imminent Mark pushed himself to save a little girl and that in fact that last final act was the best demonstration of his character (and is why I can’t call him a pansy, even though I clearly want to.)

The Theresa Connection

Now if you’ve read my previous review on The Maze Runner series you’ll know that I absolutely hated the character of Theresa, and as evil as it makes me seem was glad when she met an untimely end. That being said I really enjoyed that Dashner placed that one small connection between the Gladers and this origin story by alluding to the fact that “Deedee” was in fact “Theresa”. What can I say? I love a good tie-in.

Overall as far as prequel’s go I really enjoyed The Kill Order, I like that it can act as a stand alone novel but that it also ties in to what is a great series. Dashner manages to answer questions that were left open in his original series while still maintaining a lot of the mystery and suspense he created in The Maze Runner trilogy.

 

Book Review: The Maze Runner Trilogy

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The Maze Runner Trilogy: The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure

Author: James Dashner

Date Published: October 2009, 2010, 2011

Publisher: Random House

This review encompasses the entire Maze Runner Trilogy because quite frankly once I started the series I couldn’t stop.  I’m a big fan of series’ to begin with but I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed this series as much as I did because it’s a little more science fiction based than I’m used to but regardless.

The Maze Runner

What’s it about?

This is the story of a teenager named Thomas who finds himself sent to an unknown location where he joins a group of castaway boys trapped in a seemingly unsolvable maze. As Thomas learns the ropes about life in their safe have, known as the Glade, and the threats that live within the maze he realizes he was sent there for a purpose – to be one of the runners whose job is to crack the mazes mystery and lead the Gladers to their freedom.

The first book in James Dashner’s series The Maze Runner has got to be one of the most suspenseful and creepy books I’ve read in a while. Maybe I have an overactive imagination but I found this first book unbelievably compelling. I wanted to race through it and at the same time it built in me such an intense feeling of foreboding and worry that I constantly felt as though I was on the verge of an anxiety attack. It was kind of awesome.

From the very beginning when Thomas wakes up in the box with no memory of who he is beyond his name and is pulled into the Glade I was intrigued. The fact that the protagonist was introduced in such a way that you already knew he was in danger but didn’t know why or what from was captivating. Furthermore he’s introduced into a totally foreign landscape and is greeted by what develops into a great cast of supporting characters.  The main Gladers (namely Alby, Newt, Minho, Chuck, Gally and Frypan,) were given such distinct and vibrant characterization despite the size of their roles.  In a weird way it was like a more grown up and far less happy Our Gang reunion – for those out there not up on their obscure references, AKA The Little Rascals – with strangely sadistic punishments (that scene with Ben being hung out in the maze and left for the Grievers – kind of harsh considering the Gladers are perfectly aware of how crazy the Griever stings can make a person, it was very Lord of the Flies.) With the introduction of Theresa the cast of characters was made complete. I have to say I wasn’t a big fan of Theresa – I found her to be a bit of a know-it-all and I kind of hated the spell she seemed to have Thomas under.  Thomas on the other hand is really fascinating as the lead character. Despite the lack of a memory he seems so complete and self-possessed.  You know just from the way he reacts to the maze and the entire situation to begin with that he’ll eventually be the leader, and you kind of can’t wait for that to happen.

The weird lingo was a little off putting, but if I’m being totally honest here by the time I finished the third book I found myself calling people ‘shuck faces’ and saying ‘good that’, it was not comfortable.

What I loved most about this book was the maze itself because it’s so unusual that the antagonist in a book is a thing as opposed to a person and really throughout this series – despite the whole WICKED thing (see below) the maze acts as the first big “bad guy” and it’s quite the doozy. The vines, the moving walls, the apparently never ending-ness of the whole thing, I’m shocked none of the characters began to suffer from severe agoraphobia. Couple the seeming impossibility of solving the puzzle with the addition of the Grievers and suddenly the craziness and creepiness of the entire situation gets kicked into high gear. That being said I found the idea of the Grievers much creepier when I didn’t really know what they were, there’s something about the idea of massive slug-like creepy crawlies that despite turning my stomach (because I think of the gelatinous quality of their bodies) makes them kind of comical. (That could just be my incredibly strange sense of humour coming into play here.) But I guess I feel that the threat of something is always more enticing then the actual knowledge of what it is. And it’s that quality that makes The Maze Runner so enthralling. You’re afraid to learn what’s going on or what’s going to happen next but you have to know. I mean how creepy is the maze? Pretty creepy. But how much creepier does it become when you know that the walls move and there’s insane monsters that howl in the night waiting out there to poke you with their crazy juice or just flat out eat you? Quite frankly I’m kind of afraid of ever going to a garden party out of fear there may be one of those hedge mazes.

When things start to go bad – the doors not closing, the lights no longer simulating day and night – the threat from the grievers becoming so heightened I couldn’t help but find it almost deliciously sadistic that they would be programmed to take one Glader every night until no one’s left. The threat of death and the need to escape became palpable. You could taste their fear. I loved every second of it.

As far as endings go for a book I found The Maze Runner’s to be pretty rad. After so much build up everything just comes crashing down at once. It was organized chaos, the puzzle was solved but that didn’t mean they were in the clear. Once everyone’s left the maze the death of Chuck at the hands of Gally is almost overwhelming. I mean really? After all of that? REALLY? Not cool. (But cool.) And of course everything’s set up to lead in to the second book.

The Scorch Trials

After escaping the maze and being rescued from WICKED the Gladers wake up to discover that they’re still very much in danger and in fact are all infected with a life threatening disease known as the Flare. They learn that WICKED (World in Catastrophe Killzone Experiment Department – possibly the coolest acronym ever) is testing them in order to study their brains, which in turn will help them to find a cure for the Flare. The Gladers are told if they follow orders and do their best to succeed the trials they will be provided with the cure.

Initially after reading The Scorch Trials I wasn’t too sure I liked where things were going. The threat of imminent death is still very much alive but this second book in the series seemed to lack some of the intense, anxiety inducing, suspense The Maze Runner built in me.

That being said in retrospect I’ve grown to really appreciate this second book if not for the simple fact that I really loved Thomas’ character development and that more concrete answers are provided. I also really love the concept of the Flare. Which, I know, kind of weird, but it was like a massive outbreak of Syphilis (cause it can make you go crazy while eating your brain, so really the Flare was in fact just outrageous syphilis, only you didn’t catch it the fun way…so to speak. Not that anyone should want to catch syphilis. This line of discussion has really gone downhill…) and I was really pleased that the Cranks were Cranks and not in fact Zombies by another name because I really hate that (I’m looking at you Beautiful Creatures with your “Casters”. Please there damn witches and you know it.) The fact that this new information came from a man that would go on to be called Rat Face was also a great way to further push the idea of ‘adult bad, teenager good’ that was kind of seeding in the first book.

*A note on Rat Face – the fact that they just kept referring to him as Rat Face was a great reminder that despite everything, these were still teenagers and that teenagers are awesome at being inadvertently funny while being rude.

I also loved that the Flare though developed by some random government and then spread to the masses by the new post-apocalyptic government is then used by the government as a means of abusing highly intelligent teenagers by putting them through a series of torturous trials to determine why their brains are superior to others and therefore capable of fighting the worst disease known to mankind. Not to mention that lovely bit of dramatic irony when Thomas realizes that he in fact played a much bigger role in the whole thing than initially believed.

So what else really worked in this second story? Theresa as a turncoat – I was glad that Thomas was finally turned off her because she was awful. Kind of self-righteous which was weird because SHE HAS NO IDEA WHO SHE IS. The lightning storm of doom – super cool concept that really helped play up the devastation caused by the sun flares. Minho as the ‘leader’ – I really love this guy, he’s the right amount of crazy to play off Newt and Thomas.  And the introduction of Brenda and Jorge, who if we’re being honest with ourselves dear readers, we knew were planted by WICKED, but Brenda seemed like such a better choice than Theresa it didn’t really matter.

You know what I found had me scratching my head? The metal ball that ate your face (what the hell?) And the weird robot things and what I like to refer to as the ‘Robot Battle of Book 2’. I can’t even be bothered to discuss that weirdness. I don’t know how necessary that really was apart from I guess killing off extra bodies.

The Death Cure

The final book in Dashner’s trilogy, The Death Cure encompasses the full on rebellion led by Thomas, Minho and Newt against WICKED. After discovering that most of the Gladers (excluding a few placebo’s, including poor Newt) are in fact immune to the Flare, the Gladers are given the choice to have their memories reinstated. Deciding they know longer cared to know about their pasts Minho, Newt and Thomas refuse only to learn they in fact don’t really have a choice in the situation. Eventually, with the help of Brenda and Jorge they manage to escape WICKED headquarters and head to Denver with the hope of finding the other Gladers and taking down WICKED once and for all.

Often in a trilogy I find myself super disappointed with the last book (ex. Twilight – “Hey guys, don’t worry I’ll save you with my giant thought bubble!”) But I really enjoyed The Death Cure, to begin with who doesn’t love rebellion? Especially when said rebellion is led by a group of brainiac ruffians against their government? I was glad that the traitorous Gally reemerged. I was glad Theresa was once more separated from the main group.

I thought it was strange that they’d all refuse to have their memories reinstated, though I understood the argument behind it. I felt frustrated however because I wanted more answers.

I liked that the Gladers were kind of reintroduced into ‘civilized society’ and that despite having escaped WICKED continued to exert control over them. And I loved that in the end Thomas – who was in a way the catalyst for the whole series of events – had to go back and face the Rat Man.

The decline and death of Newt was rough and both heartbreaking and comforting – knowing in the end he was put out of his misery, but sincerely wishing he hadn’t been one of the few actually infected (why not Theresa?  I know, I know it’s irrational and unhealthy to hate a character in a book so much. But I do!)

The big thing for me was the ending because I was kind of disappointed that with all the bureaucracy and all the power we’re consistently told WICKED possesses the survivors get their bit of paradise to create a new, more evolved race. I wanted an Orwellian ending. I wanted 1984, I wanted to be thoroughly shocked and disgusted when in the end Thomas just let them have his brain, or negotiated himself into a lobotomy or instead sacrificed a friend (*cough Minho cough*) for the final stage. Is that wrong? Is it wrong that I wanted the hero to lose? Because I kind of totally did. I wanted the dystopia of this world to remain because after all Thomas was part of the reason the others ended up in the maze and why they were forced through the Scorch Trials.

Thomas was the brains behind the operation. Thomas is ultimately responsible for the deaths of Chuck and Newt and Theresa and however many others. Despite the fact that I really liked Thomas (except for that strange quality of being easily led by whatever lady was around him) he kind of didn’t deserve a chance at living in Utopia. Or maybe I’m just a really morbid person.

A quick note on Chancellor Paige – am I the only one who found her kind of, superfluous? Also her showing up at the end after really only being a face on a poster and a voice in a memo was kind of a glaring case of the deus ex machina – she was a giant cop out. Which is fine. I still think the series was awesome. But I can’t help but feel that because Dashner decided Thomas would get his happy ending he had to give him such a big out. He basically had to let the God of this Flare infested world save the day which I definitely didn’t see coming, so good on the whole surprise thing, but yeah kind of a cop out.

Regardless The Maze Runner series is definitely worth a read; it has great characterization, a strong story (with an awesome back story, even if it’s only told in pieces) and enough energy and suspense to entertain. In a book world that is currently overflowing in dystopian teenage sagas the Maze Runner trilogy is definitely a standout and one I highly recommend.