Book Review: War of the Worlds

“Haven’t you heard of the men from Mars?” said I. “The creatures from Mars?”

War of the Worlds, page 36

War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by H.G. Wells that tells the tale of a Martian invasion of Earth, when a supposed meteor lands in Surrey. The narrator discovers that the meteor is not in fact a meteor, but an artificial cylinder, containing alien life forms. It is not long before these Martians adapt to the environment of Earth and wreak unimaginable havoc.

War of the Worlds is quite possibly one of the most exciting 19th century books I’ve read.

It’s narrated by an anonymous first-person narrator, which, although my preference is for third-person narration, didn’t affect me in the slightest because the focus of this book is not on character development, but retelling the shocking events of an alien invasion.

The descriptions are vivid and imaginative, making the entire story more exciting and fun to read because it clashes so obviously with the stereotypical context and style of most literature I’ve read from this time.

Short chapters kept the pace moving, and there were plenty of action-packed scenes to keep the tension and drama throughout.

According to Wikipedia, ‘The novel has been variously interpreted as a commentary on evolutionary theory, British imperialism, and generally Victorian superstitions, fears and prejudices.’

I noticed this ‘evolutionary theory’ theme in the book, as there are clear references to scientific subjects such as natural selection and human biology, as well as raising the question ‘is there life on other planets?’ and if so, how do humans compete with alien life: will we be wiped out?

As clarification, I don’t believe in aliens – but that didn’t stop me from enjoying pondering on the questions War of the Worlds raises anyway.

It’s a short, exciting read and I strongly recommend it!

– Judith


Book Review: Skybreaker

Skybreaker is the sequel to Airborn in a series of young adult steampunk books, set in a world where the aeroplane has not yet been invented. You can read my review of Airborn here.

Taking off from (no pun intended) Airborn, Skybreaker follows the protagonists Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries, as they board the airship Sagarmartha in an attempt to find a mysterious ghost ship, lost in the air, and the treasure left buried inside it.

I think Skybreaker is a better book than Airborn for the following reasons.

The descriptions are clearer, the dialogue is a lot wittier, and the overall writing is better*. Furthermore, characters – both those newly introduced and those from Airborn – are developed and the relationships between these characters are more complex.

*I’m pleased to report that Matt Cruse did not feel any ‘tingles’ in this book!

This character development really helped to shape the protagonists – something lacking from Airborn – , so I knew them better and decide who I liked and who I disliked; I liked the character of Matt, but strongly disliked Kate.

Matt Cruse comes from a lower social status, but longs to better himself. He is hardworking, caring, and eager to be of assistance whenever he can. Albeit, he envies those with more money because with money comes opportunities and power, and he hopes that this will help him win the heart of Kate de Vries.

Kate de Vries is from a wealthy background and used to a comfortable life, with a passion for flying and travelling. However, she has a tendency to, whether intentional or not, look down on those lower than her – Matt included – and spend time with men of a higher social status. She is arrogant, and offended by the very notion that her flirtations with those in society who are rich might make Matt feel unable to “compete” because of his social class.

Skybreaker has a similar dramatic beginning to its predecessor, something I initially thought was a positive. Yet, as I continued to read the book, I noticed a lot of other glaring plot similarities, which at times felt like I was reading the same book, just with better writing:

Matt learns of a mysterious ship (an air balloon/ Sagarmatha) carrying a mysterious man (Benjamin Malloy/Theodore Grunel), who has a mysterious journal about a mysterious discovery (a new species of animal). Kate and Matt have a rocky friendship, Kate grows closer to a boy of a higher class (Bruce/Hal) and together the youths must seek out the mysterious discovery, protecting the secrets from a troupe of villains (Vikram Szpirglas /John Rath).

It’s a shame the plot of Skybreaker is so similar, and I hope this doesn’t become a trope of Oppel’s writing; in my review of Airborn, I specifically praised the book for being able to cover various different genres without falling into the trap of recycling stereotypical genre conventions.

However, despite this criticism, I did enjoy reading Skybreaker a lot more than the first book – I read it in just 2 days.

Will I read the other books in this series? Quite possibly.

– Judith


Book Review: The Tommyknockers & Desperation

I read The Tommyknockers a while back and, initially, wasn’t going to write a book review of it. It was only until I read Desperation that I noticed some similarities between the two novels and I wanted to tackle both books in a dual review.

The plot of The Tommyknockers is as follows:

Bobbi Anderson, a writer living in the town of Haven, becomes obsessed with digging up something she’s found buried in the woods near her home. With the help of her friend, Jim Gardener, she uncovers an alien spaceship. Increasing exposure to the ship and the “Tommyknockers” begins to have malignant and detrimental effects on the residents of not just Bobbi, but the entire town.

Desperation is a story about several people who, while traveling along the desolated Highway 50 in Nevada, get abducted by Collie Entragian, the deputy of the mining town Desperation. It becomes clear to the captives that Entragian has been possessed by an evil being named Tak, who has control over the surrounding desert wildlife and must change hosts to keep itself alive.

When I was first writing notes on The Tommyknockers, I jotted down the phrase “weird sci fi”.

This is a science-fiction novel, which isn’t really my “go to” genre and I’ve only ever read horrors and thrillers by King. I was initially unsure about the premise of an alien spaceship and an alien invasion – it seemed too cheesy for the usual levels of realism King conveys through his novels.

Speaking of science, a theme clearly underpinned in The Tommyknockers is the debate surrounding the use of nuclear power. Jim Gardener is firmly against nuclear power, whereas other minor characters are more easily swayed on the matter. I assume that at the time, nuclear power was a provoking topic of discussion. Thus, I think the illnesses, physical mutations and deteriorating mental capacity brought about by exposure to the Tommyknockers could be paralleled with the feared side effects of exposure to radiation.

However, despite my lack of zeal for science and science-fiction, I quickly began to overlook the inclusion of supernatural powers, alien life-forms and alien technology because it still had the essence of a King novel; the ability to generate suspense and well-executed thrills.

The idea of Haven’s hive mentality worked really well within the book because of King’s good characterisation. I felt like I knew most of the characters in the town, which then added to the eeriness created by the residents increasingly being taken over by the Tommyknockers – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) springs to mind.

In a similar way, Desperation is a story that contains multiple characters brought together through violent circumstances and learn of the possession Tak has over the land. There are some fun references to Tak as a Tommyknocker, or being described as It, while the characters are trying to work out what exactly Tak is. Subsequently, an assortment of the characters become pawns of Tak, communicating with him and following his orders as part of a de facto cult. This again, is a similar idea to the hive mentality of The Tommyknockers – an idea I still think is fascinating.

Despite this, I didn’t feel Tak’s possessions was executed as well, and I was almost disappointed that Collie Entragian wasn’t really the main antagonist (apologies for this minor spoiler) – just one of many. The premise of a scary killer posing as a policeman to pick innocent victims off a highway sounds brilliant for a horror, and I was sad this wasn’t the direction Desperation took.

Having said that, I really enjoyed the theme of religion King highlighted. My only other experience of religion in King’s writing is the warped pseudo-Christian beliefs expressed by Carrie’s mother in Carrie.

In Desperation, David – who is by far, the best and most fleshed out character in the book – is a young boy who has recently become a Christian, to the surprise of his parents. He is fascinated by the Bible, displays a remarkable faith in God and regularly prays. His time in Desperation becomes a test of his faith – increasingly so due to the horrors he witnesses and the near demonic presence of Tak. King handled the character of David and his religious beliefs with care and respect, as well as the opposing views of other characters, without condemnation of either side, which I admire.

Death – violent and cruel death – is another prevalent theme in both Desperation and The Tommyknockers; King certainly spares no expenses when it comes to the inclusion of gore – especially in Desperation. At some scenes, I screwed my face up in anguish!

Overall, I enjoyed both Stephen King novels – I think I preferred The Tommyknockers to Desperation, mainly because Desperation didn’t do what I thought it was going to.

– Judith