WWW Wednesday – 2017/10/18

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

HellboyAnAssortmentOfHorrorsI’ve recently started going through Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, another prose collection edited by Christopher Golden, having finished a couple of stories in the collection so far. They were both quite good, the first told from the perspective of another agent on a case with Hellboy as they venture to an island of horrors in the South China Sea between Vietnam and the Philippines, looking for a kidnapped girl. The other takes place in New York City, where Hellboy deals with a strange phenomenon that is killing people, which he slowly learns perhaps shouldn’t be stopped.

StarWarsFromACertainPointofViewIt’s been slow goings with Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, which is my intention. I’ve only read two more stories since last week, each about different denizens of Tatooine; a Jawa and a Tusken raider respectively. Each offered a closer look into the lives of these seemingly planet-bound species that have become iconic to the series. I liked how the latter was only tenuously tied to the events of A New Hope, telling its own intriguing little story, while an unusual amount of weight was put onto the Jawa’s role in the former story.

Recently Finished

TheNightmareCollectiveI finished The Nightmare Collective over the weekend, an anthology of horror stories edited by PlayWithDeath.Com, which you can read my full review of here. As a whole the collection was surprisingly good. I’ve read/listened to a lot more short horror fiction than I normally do in the past year and have come to recognize a lot of common tropes and cliches that I don’t like. It was good to see a collection willing to take its time, be original, and keep the right details close the vest.

HellboyWeirdTalesVol2I also finished Hellboy: Weird Tales Vol. 2, a comic collecting various artists together that I’d been trying to get my hands on for a while now. I liked it a lot more than the first volume, which contained artists that used more cartoony art styles in the stories they told. I like the more dour art style the series is known for, and while I can certainly have a sense of humour about it, ultimately I can do without it. The artists in this collection did a better job of capturing a darker visual style.

Reading Next

ItDevours!Yesterday I received my copy of It Devours! the new Welcome to Night Vale novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. For those who don’t know, Welcome to Night Vale is a narrative podcast created by the two authors. I love the visual design of the book itself and can’t wait to get to reading it, though I’m determined to finish up other books before I get to it. It’ll certainly be my next big read though.

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Book Review – The Nightmare Collective, edited by PlayWithDeath.com

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Summary

The Nightmare Collective is a curated anthology of horror short stories that’s guaranteed to keep you up at night. With 12 terrifically spine chilling short stories, this anthology contains contributions from some of the best young horror writing talent out there, and was curated by the editors of the PlayWithDeath.com, the premier destination for online horror entertainment. If you’re searching for stories that will frighten you to your very core, look no further.

TheNightmareCollective

The Nightmare Collective is a horror anthology edited by PlayWithDeath.Com and published in April 2015. Admittedly, I first picked up this eBook on a whim. I’d been wanting to start reading more horror and had discovered that I could get some inexpensively on my tablet. I bought this book last October, but have been saving it to have at the ready for this year’s Halloween season. Anthology’s are often a gamble, but I wanted something I’d go into with no expectations or prior knowledge. The source itself is rather unassuming too. PlayWithDeath.Com as a site is rather modest in appearance and quantity of content, and hasn’t had any apparent activity in over two years.

The title and cover art are admittedly bland — which is by no means bad, but they evoke little more than “this is a book of horror stories” — but contained within was a surprisingly strong collection of stories. Although there were a couple that faltered, the core strength a lot of these stories had was unpredictability. I’ve said it before, but nothing puts me off more when reading a horror story than an ending that I can see coming early on, especially when it is clumsily telegraphed by the author. The two that were most guilty of this for me in this collection — “Manifest Tragedy” by Patrick Winters and “The Game” by John Teel — had some clumsy writing that took me out of the story as well, but they still managed to utilize some unique twists that helped redeem each story in some way.

It really was a delight to read stories where I was consciously puzzled and intrigued over what as going on, the writing having captured those feelings of obscurity and confusion without being utter nonsense or random. Some of these reached satisfying explanations by the end, of varying degrees, but even in these cases most of them made sure not to divulge too much of the how or why events had happened. The best remained strange and unclear at their conclusions, leaving a lot with the reader to mull over.

My favourite example of this was “The Feral One” by Kyle Yadlosky, which started off as a more typical “creature in the night” type of story before jumping off the rails and spiraling down a path of dark history, regret, and unknown rituals. It had an effectively dreamlike quality as well, thanks to the filter of the protagonist’s insomnia and guilt. The story was captivating in its strangeness, with hazy factors at play that the reader is permitted only a peak at. I understood what was going on, but was denied enough of the whys and hows these things happened that it made the story particularly haunting. This, along with a couple other stories, will definitely stay with me.

If you’re looking for a good collection of horror stories to read for the Halloween season, or just enjoy horror in general, The Nightmare Collective should satisfy you. The book’s range of stories is fairly diverse in terms of setting, time period, and the horrors their characters face. They’re each of decent length for reading one or two in a sitting too, and most were written in a way that allows for better time to absorb the mindset of the characters and get a good sense of place in the story. I prefer this to other horror stories I have encountered that seem to be a little too fixated on convincing you of how scary its idea is.

WWW Wednesday – 2017/10/11

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

TheNightmareCollectiveI’m in the middle of a number of books now, The Nightmare Collective, a horror anthology edited by PlayWithDeath.com, being the one I’m giving the most attention to. As a $0.99 horror book on Kindle I honestly wasn’t expecting much, but I’m happy to report there have been some really good stories in here. A lot of them have great pacing and they’ve been good at avoiding predictability for the most part. The story “The Feral One” by Kyle Yodlosky struck a particular cord with me for how wonderfully bizarre it was.

StarWarsFromACertainPointofViewI also couldn’t resist starting Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, a new anthology from Del Rey featuring more than 40 authors for a collection of 40 stories to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Star Wars. Each story is told from the perspective of a background character in A New Hope. So far I’m really enjoying how they tie into moments and sequences in the film, which the book goes through chronologically. I’ve read three stories so far and I haven’t even gotten onto Tatooine yet.

TheNewPrinceOfPowerLastly I’m reading The Incredible Hercules: The New Prince of Power by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, et al, the follow-up book to the Hercules series I’ve been reading over the last year and a bit. There have been some nice chapters dealing with the aftermath of the finale book, though it all seems a little silly considering what I know gets restored in future stories. Nevertheless, a fun read thus far, seeing all the characters from across the last several volumes coming back, as well as continuing the story of Amadeus Cho.

Recently Finished

Guards!Guards!I finally finished Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett over the weekend — check out my review here — which took me disappointingly long compared to how quickly I was able to get through Neverwhere. Alas, I am a little behind schedule. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this book. The Discworld is a great fantasy world as a whole, but there is something about Ankh-Morpork itself as a city that is a lot of fun to dive in to. I love the ridiculous yet functional way everything is run through guilds, including legal thievery. I love the cast, who were the first I ever came to know of in this series, and it feels weird that I won’t be encountering them again for another eight books.

Reading Next

HellboyAnAssortmentOfHorrorsI’ve got a pretty set schedule for October still, so next on my list is Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, the new short story collection edited by Christopher Golden. I’m planning to start it shortly after I finish The Nightmare Collective, which should be any day now.

Book Review – Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

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Summary

Insurrection is in the air in Ankh-Morpork. The Haves and Have-Nots are about to fall out all over again. Captain Sam Vimes of the city’s ramshackle Night Watch is used to this. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. Well, to drink more. But this time, something is different – the Have-Nots have found the key to a dormant, lethal weapon that even they don’t fully understand, and they’re about to unleash a campaign of terror on the city. Time for Captain Vimes to sober up.

Guards!Guards!

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett is the eighth novel in the comic fantasy Discworld series, and the first to feature the character Sam Vimes and the guards of the Night Watch of Ankh-Morpork. I have a particular relationship with this cast of characters, having first been introduced to the entire series through them in Men at Arms years ago, the 16th Discworld novel and second book to feature Captain Vimes and the Watch. This had an unfortunate effect on me coming into this one, however, because while I was excited to read about the characters again, I was also a little dismayed that because I’d read the sequel, which refers to the events of this book, any suspense or tension might be diffused. Fortunately, the book had more in store for me than I expected.

Many consider this novel to be one of the better in the series and I now stand among them. Pratchett does his best work when he’s telling a story first, rather than using the plotline as a vehicle for his humour, and this book definitely fits that category. Sam Vimes and the Watch have a rather dramatic arc over the course of the story, going from a pathetic ramshackle organization with no real authority or sense of will, to one that’s more assertive with a growing sense of duty. They still have a long way to go, but it was satisfying to see a ragtag group come together and be better than they thought possible. Much of this is thanks to their newest volunteer recruit Carrot Ironfoundersson, a large young man raised by dwarfs, whose dedication to being a paragon of the law spurs Sam to be a better Captain of the Watch and show diligence in the face of a looming crisis.

I’m particularly endeared to the cast of characters in this novel. Captain Vimes is a breath of fresh air from the typical stock protagonists I’d been finding in the series, starting pretty much at bottom but clearly made of a more fortified stuff that need only claw its way out of the gutter. While only a support character, Carrot is a wonderful foil for Vimes and the Watch itself too, which also allows for some especially funny moments thanks to his adamant adherence to an outdated book of laws and his general literal-mindedness. The rest bring a lot of character to the story as well, from the sketchy but oddly dependable Corporal Nobby, to the oafish Sergeant Colon, to the strong-will Lady Ramkin with her expertise on meagre swamp dragons.

With the Watch the novel plays a lot with the Film Noir/Crime genre, but the conflict they’re concerned with deals with monarchy, folklore, and the way societies function. The last of these includes the different ways people respond to a crisis, be it panicking, taking advantage of other people’s panic, or accepting the way things go, regardless if they’re good or bad, for the sake of convenience. The book uses familiar tropes of rightful heirs returning and dragon slaying, which many of the characters are consciously aware of, to explore this idea. A charade by a secret society to instate a puppet monarch after dispatching a dragon they summon completely backfires, making conditions in the city more oppressive than ever. The Discworld is one that follows tropes and conventions more closely than real life, thanks to the gods, but it seems they do not abide manipulation of circumstances. Meanwhile, in the background a rightful heir has indeed returned, with all the natural abilities befitting one in the archetypical role, though his interest in kingship appears nonexistent.

I always knew this story involved a large, “noble” dragon attacking the city, and while I thought I could see where the plot was going once the setup was underway in the early parts of the novel, I was pleased to see things take a dramatically different turn than I expected. Ankh-Morpork does indeed get a new monarch for a time, but it has nothing to do with bloke reduced to ash on his coronation day. I always love when Pratchett goes to less expected places, and the ways the mounting issues get resolved was satisfying without overextending the abilities of the characters or being too predictable.

Guards! Guards! is definitely one of the better books in the Discworld series, and definitely a good starting place since it is the first in a subseries about the City Watch. Pratchett’s comedic writing was once again very on point, which I feel is obligatory to state somewhere, but the book is very clever in how it deals with human nature, mostly tongue-in-cheek all the while. Knowing where the characters end up in the follow-up book did hurt things a little, as certain developments were not a surprise, but it did not diminish the quality of the story.

WWW Wednesday – 2017/10/04

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

Guards!Guards!Due to some current travel and misuse of reading time over the weekend I’m still about 100 pages shy of finishing Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett. Regardless, it is quickly becoming one of my favourite of the Discworld novels I’ve read thus far. I had already expected to really like it, but it has taken some unexpected turns that have made it even better. A figure I thought was only going to be a plot device became a key player in the plot and I love where it has gone thus far. I should have it finished soon, with a review up within the next week.

ThroughTheLookingGlassI started reading the final volume of the Guardians of the Galaxy run I’ve been going through, Through the Looking Glass, but was disappointed to find that once again half of the issues in the book tied into an event. I’ll be damned if I read chapter 2 and 7 of a story without filling in the holes, so I put the book down to pick up the event comic and read it at a later date. It’s a shame Marvel never let this series stand on its own much at all.

Recently Finished

It’s been a slow week, unfortunately, so nothing finished for this week. I’m hopeful this will be a lull in an otherwise busy month.

Reading Next

ItDevours!Since I haven’t dug into any horror just yet, here’s the third book I have planned for reading this month: It Devours! by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor, which will be released on October 17. I’m a big fan of Welcome to Night Vale and loved the first novel, so I’m really excited to see what strange and intriguing places this book goes to.

Book Review – Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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Summary

Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: neverwhere.

Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a 1996 urban fantasy novel, and the companion novelization of a BBC television series of the same name, also written by Gaiman. This was a book I purchased amongst a stack of others by the author, already being a big fan of his work. As a result, however, I actually knew very little about it. I didn’t even know it was a TV series until I started this review, though clearly the book has overshadowed it. It was a rather unique experience for me to go into a popular book by a beloved author while having virtually no idea what to expect.

The tale is an odyssey in the most classical sense. Richard Mayhew, our hapless hero, saves a young woman’s life one night after a day of things not going his way, shirking a dinner obligation with his fiancée in the process. His good deed does not go unpunished however, as his involvement with this woman — Lady Door, who can magically open any door or create doorways — leads to him metaphysically falling into her world of the London Below, making him all but invisible to and forgotten by the London he calls home. Such as it is, Richard’s story is one of a desire to return home, and to do that he must navigate this strange world and assist Door in solving the mystery of her family’s murder.

London Below has many strange and intriguing places, capturing the imagination in both fanciful and horrific ways, depending on where Richard’s journey takes him. The geography of the place itself felt nebulous and hard to place in my mind, which feels both intentional and accidental. The reason for the latter is a lot of the different locales are situated in or around actual London landmarks and stations of the London Underground, which I feel at a loss for since I have never been there. I get a sense I’m missing out on something other readers are not, but all the same I do like this greater sense of obscurity to the Below that it creates, which aids the feeling that this is not a different world entirely, but one hidden in plain sight, behind locked doors, and between the cracks.

Even social hierarchies, as well as powerful figures and their relationships are only hinted at. We meet a few of these people as they assist with the characters on their journey, but the true depth of their power and influence is only glimpsed at. Along with these denizens we have strange and eldritch presences, a threat to all who reside in the Below. I like that while there is a fairy-tale quality to the whimsical characters and this hidden, more magical world, there are horrors lurking in the gaps and dark places of this dank and dreary city too. Whenever they’re brought up it is matter-of-fact. No explanation as to how or why, simply that they are there and one must be careful.

While Richard as a hapless and good-intentioned protagonist feels a lot like a stock character, I enjoyed the arc that he, by all accounts, is forced to go through. He matures in a lot of ways, changing distinctly from who he was at the start, and earns the ability to make a big decision for himself in a satisfying way, especially considering how much his fate is at the mercy of others in the beginning and throughout the course of the story. My favourite part of his arc was his figurative Descent to the Underworld, where briefly the veneer of fantasy is removed and a more grim reality that this novel otherwise plays with takes centre stage.

I liked the entire ensemble as well, whether it be ambiguous yet charismatic Marquis de Carabas, the stoic and fearsome Hunter, or the tenacious Door, each was compelling and complex in their own ways. I especially loved Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, however, the pursuant pair that first wounded Door and menace the group on their journey. They were both deliciously evil in characterization and legitimately threatening, making them a lot of fun as antagonists. Though I will not spoil who it is, I thought the penultimate villain was great too. Things were kept nice and simple, ultimately, but with great implications and consequences.

Neverwhere is a great novel, and while a number of other works by Gaiman still hold the top spots in my esteem, I like it a lot more than I expected I would. The more I think about the ending, particularly, the more satisfied I am by it, both in the way the characters come to it and the obscurity that remains. Knowing that a sequel is apparently in the works excites me, though I wonder if it will be connected by more than just a shared world. I highly recommend the novel, to fans of fantasy or otherwise.

WWW Wednesday – 2017/09/27

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

Guards!Guards!At the moment I’m about a third through Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, the eighth Discworld novel and the first to feature Sam Vimes and the Night Watch. I like it a lot so far. We get a closer look at the inner-workings of municipal institutions and guilds in Ankh-Morpork than we’ve gotten thus far, which further explains how the Night Watch has been dwindled to a meaningless cluster of rag-tag guards, rather than any sort of actual law enforcement service. It’s humorous as usual, but looks like it will also have a lot of heart too. I’ve read the follow-up to this story, so I’m excited to see how the Watch will start to rise above their meager status.

Recently Finished

NeverwhereOver the weekend I finished reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, a review of which is forthcoming. While it’s not one of my favourite books by Gaiman, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. I cannot help but find myself engrossed by his writing style and the personality he injects into all of his characters. I particularly liked the blend of magical realism with stark reality, turning the world of “those who fell through the cracks” into a literal yet surreal place hidden under London, whilst not abandoning some of the dreary reality of those who find themselves at such a place in the world.

GuardiansOfTheGalaxyOriginalSinI also read Original Sin by Brian Michael Bendis and Ed McGuinness, the fifth volume in the run of Guardians of the Galaxy books I’ve been reading. Half of the book revealed events that took place before this run began, so I knew little of the context that would have allowed me to appreciate it. It was enjoyable nevertheless. The latter half continued where the last book left off, specifically concerning Venom’s symbiote reacting strangely to being away from Earth. I wish there was a little more to it, but I really liked what they revealed about where the symbiote originally came from and its true purpose.

Reading Next

HellboyAnAssortmentOfHorrorsOctober is just around the corner, and while I haven’t finished my planned reading quite yet, my line-up of spookier books is becoming more set. One such that I have planned is Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, a Hellboy short story collection edited by Christopher Golden. This book actually just released at the end of August, so I’m especially looking forward to digging into something so new.

Movie Review – It (2017)

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Summary

Seven young outcasts in Derry, Maine, are about to face their worst nightmare — an ancient, shape-shifting evil that emerges from the sewer every 27 years to prey on the town’s children. Banding together over the course of one horrifying summer, the friends must overcome their own personal fears to battle the murderous, bloodthirsty clown known as Pennywise.

ItPoster

It is a 2017 supernatural horror film directed by Andy Muschietti, adapting the well-known Stephen King novel of the same name. While It could be an intimidating tome to even an avid reader, the book was also adapted back in 1990 into a miniseries starring Tim Curry as the titular creature, which cemented the story further into popular culture. The 2017 film is the first time I’ve actually experienced any version of the story for myself, yet going in I had a firm understanding of it through osmosis. It’s a tale that’s hung around the periphery of my life ever since I noticed the massive hardcover on my dad’s bookshelf when I was a child.

Though the novel shifts perspective between the characters’ adulthood and childhood, this film focuses solely on the group’s experiences as children, in this version set in the year 1989. I was pleased to find that a film dominated by a cast of pre-adolescent actors had such solid, even strong, performances throughout. I was particularly fond of Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Eddie (Jack Dylan Glazer), and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) for the way they were written and performed, though I enjoyed all of the characters in their own ways. They’re a resilient group of kids, while still coming across as very vulnerable, whether from the bullying of their peers or Pennywise itself. Some of the best parts of the movie are when they’re just being kids together, trying to enjoy their summer despite the terror lurking beneath them. They’re realistically raw and even vulgar, as one would expect from unsupervised preteens, which I liked. It felt in keeping with the way King writes his characters and dialogue.

ItLosersClub

I liked the presentation and characterization of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) itself a lot. It’s an eldritch, unknowable being, yet there’s a clear personality to it. It’s relentlessly threatening, but also silly in a creepy way that doesn’t diminish this. It’s more than just a monster, it’s an adversary. I’ve actually found myself at odds with some other critics, who I’ve noticed criticize its tendency to allow the kids to escape. As I saw it, there was a prominent cat-and-mouse quality to the way Pennywise pursued them that justified this behaviour. I couple this with the fact that it is an entity that thrives from instilling fear in its victims. What better way to saturate your victim with this feeling than terrorizing them over a longer period. The movie is a little jump-scare heavy, another criticism I’ve heard, and while I bemoan its overuse in other cases, I found it worked here as a knock-on effect for the audience. It never succeeded in making me scared, but I did find it thrilling.

That’s the main criticism I have for this film. I didn’t feel consistently creeped out, scared, or a sense of dread. There are only a couple of instances where things really got effectively horrific for me, and one case where one of the kids — Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) — had a fear manifest that really struck a cord with me. It’s a weird situation where I enjoyed what I was seeing as Horror content, but most of the time was not scared by it, which would have only made the film all the better. My hope is that a sense of dread can come into it for chapter 2 — a non-surprise that is alluded to as the credits begin to roll. While I buy into the jump-scare tactics used to terrorize children, I hope there is more to the way Pennywise antagonizes them as adults. Whenever I try to imagine one of the encounters with it in this film, swapping one of the kids for an adult, it doesn’t really work for me.

ItPennywise

All that being said, I still think It is a very good film and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in horror movies. From what I understand it deviates in a number of ways from the novel, but it still tells a satisfying story about children coming to grips with their fears and confronting an unknowable horror. They’re an archetypical group, but written in a way that works for the story being told. The film did not personally scare me much, but I suspect that will not be the case for a lot of other people, which should be considered as well. At the end of the day, I’m just happy to see a good horror movie doing as well as it is.

WWW Wednesday – 2017/09/20

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

NeverwhereOver the weekend I started reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, about a hapless hero named Richard Mayhew who helps an injured girl on the street named Door, which gets him wrapped up in a previously unseen world of strange and magical beings that exist under and around London. I’ve yet to experience the full breadth and depth of this world, but Richard has started to learn that his good deed has not gone unpunished, forcing him to dive headfirst into this world to turn his life back around. I love Gaiman’s writing as per usual, but at 75 pages in I feel I should be more drawn in than I am so far. I plan to finish it this week, at any rate, so I’ll be spending a lot of time with it regardless.

Recently Finished

TheAeneidI finally capped off reading the Aeneid by Virgil, which you can read a full review of here. I still love and appreciate this sort of literature, but I have been reminded that reading stuff like this is a more laborious love than other literature for me. It perhaps didn’t help that this was my least favourite after the Odyssey and the Iliad. There were many great moments, but I never really felt a strong connection to Aeneas himself in the same way that I did with Achilles or Odysseus. Though it will be a while before I move on to this, the next epic poem I want to read is, fittingly, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

Reading Next

TheNightmareCollectiveAs I said last week, I’ve outlined some books I want to get through during the remainder of September and throughout October. I still plan to read Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett before the month is out. Hopefully I can actually accomplish that. As for October, one book looming on the horizon is an anthology of horror short stories called The Nightmare Collective, curated by the editors of PlayWithDeath.com. It’s a Kindle book I’ve had for a while that I’ve been saving for this upcoming season.

Book Review – The Aeneid by Virgil

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Summary

Fleeing the ashes of Troy, Aeneas, Achilles’s mighty foe in the Iliad, begins an incredible journey to fulfill his destiny. His voyage will take him through stormy seas, entangle him in a tragic love affair, and lure him into the world of the dead itself – all the way tormented by the vengeful Juno, Queen of the Gods. Ultimately, he reaches the promised land of Italy where, after bloody battles and with high hopes, he founds the Roman people. An unsparing portrait of a man caught between love, duty, and fate, the Aeneid redefines passion, nobility, and courage for our times.

TheAeneid

It always feels a bit awkward when I decide to review something like Virgil’s Aeneid, considered a master work of literature millennia before I was born. This isn’t just a review of an epic poem from the dawn of the Roman Empire, however, but one of a specific modern translation as well. As with the copies of the Iliad and the Odyssey I’ve read over the past few years, this edition was translated by Robert Fagles with a lengthy introduction written by Bernard Knox. That all being said, I’ve realized that the work’s age does not invalidate my personal experience reading it, nor does my assessment put a dent in what is deservedly a celebrated piece of literature.

As anticipated, Knox’s introduction does a great job of giving context for the story. He begins by providing a lot of background on the history of Rome as it relates to this piece, before going into Virgil and his other works prior to writing the Aeneid. From there he breaks down information about the epic poem itself, outlining the entire narrative in a detailed summary. He zeroes in on specific aspects of the story in their own sections too, which grant further insight, especially on the impact the poem had on the future. If, for whatever reason, you want to go into this work blind I wouldn’t recommend reading this first, as it does tell you a highly summarized version of all important events in the story. I see reading this as important for more than just its story, however, and frankly I would have had much greater trouble comprehending or appreciating some parts of it without this primer.

Having read other ancient works translated by other people before, I’ve always found Fagles’s translations a lot more accessible to read. Still, it’s quite something to dive headfirst into an epic poem after being so used to reading novels and comic books. There’s no denying how much denser a work like this is. There is a rhythm and flow to the way the story is told that is exceptionally different from standard prose. I often found myself zoning out, reading the words but retaining nothing. I couldn’t come at the text the same way I usually read. To combat this, I found that reading each word in my head with emphasis — as if reciting internally — helped with retaining things significantly. This did require a lot more focus while reading, however, making picking up the book more of a chore than I’d have liked.

The Aeneid, by design, carries on the tradition of Homer, and for myself stood as the third book in a trilogy of important epic poems to read, following the Iliad and the Odyssey. Aeneas himself was a character in the Iliad, his future importance hinted at in that text. The Aeneid resonates with aspects of Homer’s epics in a compelling way while standing decently well on its own. Aeneas has an odyssey for the first half as he tries to make his way to Italy, meeting storms, monsters, and peril along the way. Once he’s there it’s not long before he’s faced with yet another all-out war before he can properly settle the Trojans in their destined home. I found it to be an interesting reverse order of Homer’s works. Something I wasn’t a huge fan of was the parallels Virgil attempts to draw between Helen and Lavinia. The former was at the very least complacent with being taken to Troy. Lavinia on the other hand appeared to have no agency whatsoever, yet there are lines that blame her for the war between the Trojans and the Latins. It may have only meant that marriage with her was the fixation of their conflict, but it sounded dodgy to me.

There’s much talk of future glory for the Trojans for founding the Roman people, as the poem stresses, but I couldn’t help feeling sympathy for our fiercely dutiful hero Aeneas. He seems entrapped by Fate, a slave to what it wants from him. At numerous points he tries to settle his people elsewhere, but is forced to move on, lest he (presumably) face divine retribution. Even if these plans do save him and his people from the wrath of Juno by means of destiny, it still feels like he’s nothing more than a pawn. As part of a narrative he isn’t even given much of a chance to be a character either. His leadership, dedication, and strength are so emphasized that there isn’t much personality to him when compared to the likes of Achilles or Odysseus. I’m sure this had a lot to do with the propagandistic aspects of the poem, as his establishment of order is meant to reflect upon Emperor Augustus, but it makes for a flat character.

I’m happy I read the Aeneid. While it is my least favourite of this trio of epics set around the fall of Troy, but it’s a lasting piece of literature for a reason. Though challenging, the language is beautiful and evocative, and it’s always a little sublime to read a tale that the eyes of innumerable people in different places and times have as well. If you’re wanting to read classic literature like this, I highly recommend the team of Fagles and Knox, the former’s translations being immensely enjoyable and readable, while the latter’s introductions provide a wealth of information to help you on your way. These deluxe editions also include pronunciation guides in the back, a glossary of characters for quick reference, as well as notes on the translation that can help clarify things further.