Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Teen review: Star Wars Legends

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis
by James Luceno
379 Pages
Science Fiction/Fantasy
Part of the Star Wars: Legends continuity

Reviewed by Michael Zhang, grade 12

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis is a science fiction and fantasy novel set in the Star Wars: Legends continuity of novels and books. Fleshing out the backstory and life of one of the most pivotal characters in the Star Wars canon, Darth Plagueis is an essential read for any die-hard Star Wars fan.

Darth Plagueis is set during and before the Prequel Trilogy of the Star Wars movies. Fans familiar with the lore of Star Wars will know beforehand that the book tracks the rise and fall of Darth Plagueis, a legendary Sith Lord to whom Emperor Palpatine alludes in Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith. In the movie, Palpatine tempts Anakin Skywalker with Plagueis’s mythical ability to use the Force to control life itself, and in this novel we get to learn for ourselves what truly is the scope of Plagueis’ powers. The book follows Darth Plagueis 35 years before Episode I with the end of Plagueis’s own Sith training, up until his inevitable death, to which Palpatine refers in Episode III. It faithfully details the rise to power of Plagueis, as well as the recruitment of his apprentice, the future Emperor.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book, since part of what annoyed me about the Prequel Trilogy of Star Wars movies is due to the pure inevitability of everything; the audience had already known what would happen due to the Original Trilogy, at least to a certain degree. While that still exists in Darth Plagueis, it’s surprisingly not a problem. James Luceno deftly wields what should be an encumbering universe, drawing from rich source material and utilizing vivid prose. Plagues and Palpatine are well drawn and vicious characters, and the ability to see the events of the movies from the eyes of the villains, rather than the heroes, was an interesting twist, and one that kept me glued to the words. I also enjoyed many of the storytelling techniques, including an interesting use of in medias res.

I also absolutely adore the cover, as it’s mysterious, dark, shady, and arcane, all in one. It leaves an impression on the reader as one of mystery and intrigue, and it did really well at accentuating the individual characters of Plagueis and Palpatine.

I’d rate Darth Plagueis 5/5 stars. It’s perfect, everything you’d want from a Star Wars novel. It has the rich prose, the integration with the preexisting lore, compelling characters, mysticism and Force Powers, and you get to watch the rise and fall of a legendary character from Star Wars history. For me personally, it also did surprisingly good work at redeeming some of the mishaps from the prequels, movies that I personally did not enjoy.

Editor's note: Ah, there's nothing like the scorn of a Star Wars purist! Please note that Burbank Public Library also offers this as an audio book, which could be an interesting experience, depending on whether they found a narrator as ominous as James Earl Jones!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Teen review: Nobel Prize winner

Memories of My Melancholy Whores
by Gabriel García Márquez
Classic fiction
Not part of a series
Reading level: Mature

Reviewed by d.r.z., grade 11

Memories Of My Melancholy Whores tells a story of a journalist who, for his 90th birthday, wants to complete his desire of sleeping with a young, virgin prostitute. (Freaky, right?) In the occurrence he ends up falling in love with the young girl, or the idea of her, that is. He shares the story of his past love life and how it has effected him.

The cover art was beautiful, with a Spanish theme to it that fits Márquez’s work and not just for the fact that he’s a Columbian writer! I’d rate this book a 3.5. While the plot may seem unsettling, Márquez delivers it in a beautiful writing voice. He tells the story of a sad man worn out by time, and shows us this reflective side of the main character. You are able to sympathize with him, despite all his flaws. He feels as if falling in love with the young girl is a way for him to make up for the past and get a final chance to redeem himself before he dies. The character’s mindset is just very cynical, in a way. He doesn’t see himself in a positive light, he admits that he’s ugly and mediocre.

The book has a overall sorrowful theme to which I feel that everyone could relate. We don’t have to be completely obsessed with the past, but we will have a part of our life to which we will look back and wish it had been different. One of the best quotes I came across in the book was,
“The adolescents of my generation, greedy for life, forgot in body and soul about their hopes for the future until reality taught them that tomorrow was not what they had dreamed, and they discovered nostalgia.”
This actually really hit me, especially for a person getting closer to becoming an adult. It made me aware that sometimes we try to live in the teenage moment and shadow the reality of life after college, and we start to yearn for a time in which we didn’t have to worry about such a thing.

Overall it was a good book, but I wasn’t necessarily a fan of how the story wrapped up. I’d recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t mind reading a gloomy book that could be partly unsettling at times.

Editor's note: Since there have been half a dozen different versions of this book, I'm not sure to which book cover she is referring--this may not be it.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Teen review: Steampunk series

by Scott Westerfeld
448 Pages
Book 1 of the Leviathan Trilogy
Grade recommendation: 6th-9th grades

Reviewed by Kira T., Grade 9

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan is a biopunk/steampunk novel of alternate history set in Europe during World War I. In Westerfield’s compelling adaptation of the massive war, Clanker countries (in which society relies on steam-driven machinery) are pitted against Darwinist countries (in which fabricated animals are used for transportation, labor, and weaponry). The novel follows Deryn (or Dylan) Sharp, a courageous girl who dresses as a man to pursue her dreams of becoming a midshipman in the British air force, and Prince Aleksander (Alek), an intelligent boy forced to flee his homeland of Austria-Hungary after the assassination of his parents. The two young protagonists are brought together through an incident involving the massive Darwinist air-beast, the Leviathan, and their groups are forced to overcome their differences for the sake of their survival and their respective missions.

What made the book a favorite read for me was Westerfeld’s fascinating inventions from both the Clanker and Darwinist countries. Whether I was reading about Cyclops Stormwalkers (two-legged machines specializing in combat) or Hydrogen Sniffers (dog-like creatures bred to sniff hydrogen leaks on airships), I was always captivated by the critical role each creature and machine later played in the outcome of the story. 

Another favorite aspect of the book is its historic and scientific allusions. Dr. Nora Darwin Barrow, for example, was the actual granddaughter of Charles Darwin, and her pet, Tazza, a thylacine, was a real animal who would have been alive during the time of the story, although that beast had been hunted to extinction by 1936. The references laced throughout the novel encourage the reader to look deeper into the events that inspired the book. This helps to keep the reader engaged and connected to the story.

I give this novel a 4.5/5. The characters are lovable, the plot remains consistent and captivating, and Westerfeld’s intriguing creatures and machines made this book hard to put down. The only criticism I have of the novel is the half-developed romantic relationship between Deryn and Alek. I feel that it didn't add enough to the growth of either character and was even a bit of a distraction from the compelling plot. However, even with the unnecessary addition of an out-of-place, awkward relationship between the otherwise brilliantly written characters, Leviathan still stands as one of my favorite books.

Editor's note: The other books in the series are Behemoth and Goliath; Burbank Public Library offers all three, as well as The Manual of Aeronautics: An Illustrated Guide to the Leviathan Series. (It's really cool--check it out!)