Gateway by Sharon Shinn

Rating: 6 out of 10

Sharon Shinn is the author of one of my favorite series of books, Samaria, and she has also been coming out with more YA-oriented novels.  Gateway is her most recent one, and is a little different from any of her other books.

Daiyu was adopted from China when she was a baby, and currently resides in the American city of St. Louis, Missouri. She lives a good life with her parents, who like to renovate fixer-uppers. At a fair in the city one day, Daiyu meets a strange old woman who gives her a necklace. As soon as Daiyu passes under the famous arch, she is transported to a different world.

Disoriented and convinced she is only dreaming, Daiyu finds out that she has been transported to Shenglang, this alternate universe, for a special mission. She is to learn the etiquette and niceties of this world in order to be a spy and save the people of Shenglang from a powerful man with an evil agenda.

Gateway has all the elements of a YA fantasy; female heroine, journey to a new world, secret missions, danger and adventure, and a little bit of fluffy romance thrown in on the side. I’m a big fan of Sharon Shinn but I wasn’t wow-ed by this one. It fell a little flat for me; I was very interested in the plot, but none of the characters were real, they all seemed a little like cardboard cut outs.

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On Books

The good book news first:

Book From Heaven (Tian Shu) is an artistic installment by Chinese artist Xu Bing four years in the making.

From idlethink

Out of the three or four thousand Chinese characters used in these volumes and scrolls, not a single one of them is a real Chinese character.

They are made up of recognizable radicals and typical atomic components of Chinese characters, but Xu laboured to ensure that while they all retain the unmistakable look of Chinese script, they are all, so to speak, nonsense. They do not exist in any dictionary, and do not mean anything. Chinese speakers and non-Chinese speakers alike approach the books with the same sense of wonder at their beauty, and the same sense of incomprehension at their content — though, for Chinese readers, the frustrated impulse to read might detract somewhat from their aesthetic enjoyment of the art piece. I’ve heard that some Chinese readers have spent days attempting to locate a character they can read — to no avail. It’s a piece of art whose meaning is to be found in its meaninglessness.

More here.

The bad book news next:

If you haven’t already heard: an archivist’s and historian’s nightmare has transpired in the city of Cologne.

A treasure trove of 65,000 original documents dating from the year 922, including a clutch of Karl Marx manuscripts, letters by Hegel, the personal papers of West Germany’s first Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and an unbroken series of Cologne’s carefully preserved town council meetings dating back to 1376, was destroyed in minutes when the archive building collapsed some days ago.

…Archives are destroyed quickly in war and conquering: when a new power seeks an erasure of the old, in the upheaval of battle and destruction, in bombings and air raids. Or else they are destroyed slowly by time: crumbling, fading, disintegrating — the gradual, inevitable entropy of all living things, including memory. But in Cologne, and in other tragedies of this sort, so much vanished in so little time, and in such an absurd, absurdly preventable manner (some think that the Cologne building, state-of-the-art and less than 40 years old, collapsed only because a train line was being built right underneath it) that my reaction is more one of bewilderment than anything else. A kind of chasm has opened up in German history now, and time will tell how deeply the loss will be felt.

Quoted from. Original article

Genghis: Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden

Rating: 6 out of 10
Summary: He came from over the horizon, a single Mongol warrior surrounded by his brothers, sons, and fellow tribesmen. With each battle his legend grew and the ranks of his horsemen swelled, as did his ambition. For centuries, primitive tribes had warred with one another. Now, under Genghis Khan, they have united as one nation, setting their sights on a common enemy: the great, slumbering walled empire of the Chin.

A man who lived for battle and blood, Genghis leads his warriors across the Gobi Desert and into a realm his people had never seen before—with gleaming cities, soaring walls, and canals. Laying siege to one fortress after another, Genghis called upon his cunning and imagination to crush each enemy in a different way, to overcome moats, barriers, deceptions, and superior firepower—until his army faced the ultimate test of all.

In the city of Yenking—modern-day Beijing—the Chin will make their final stand, setting a trap for the Mongol raiders, confident behind their towering walls. But Genghis will strike with breathtaking audacity, never ceasing until the Emperor himself is forced to kneel.

My Thoughts: Second novel in the Genghis series by Conn Iggulden. Here is my review on the first novel. I have to say the second definitely wasn’t as good as the first. It was slower, kind of lumbering–it even lost my attention near the end. Even with this, the good parts were really good–Iggulden’s battle scenes appear in my head like movies.

The biggest problem I had with this novel was that the climax seemed to have happened and wrapped up about 3/4ths of the way through the book. That last quarter really dragged. I got bored. I wanted to read other things.

I was a little disappointed by the lack of character development and relationship development. That was really well done in the first novel, and we could see so well how Genghis grew and changed, how he was influenced by his mother, his brothers, and his wife. Especially in the second novel, his family really fell out of the picture. I’ve read some research about how his first wife, Borte, was one of his strongest political advisors (I may be incorrect) and in this novel, she basically wasn’t around for majority of what happened. A lot of my favorite characters from the first book just kind of disappeared.

The action was great, and it moved along well enough until, again, up to the weirdly placed climax.

I don’t know if Iggulden is going to write a third in the series, but I hope he does.

Genghis: Birth of an Empire by Conn Iggulden

Rating: 7 out of 10
Summary: He was born Temujin, the son of a khan, raised in a clan of hunters migrating across the rugged steppe. Temujin’s young life was shaped by a series of brutal acts: the betrayal of his father by a neighboring tribe and the abandonment of his entire family, cruelly left to die on the harsh plain. But Temujin endured—and from that moment on, he was driven by a singular fury: to survive in the face of death, to kill before being killed, and to conquer enemies who could come without warning from beyond the horizon.

Through a series of courageous raids against the Tartars, Temujin’s legend grew. And so did the challenges he faced—from the machinations of a Chinese ambassador to the brutal abduction of his young wife, Borte. Blessed with ferocious courage, it was the young warrior’s ability to learn, to imagine, and to judge the hearts of others that propelled him to greater and greater power. Until Temujin was chasing a vision: to unite many tribes into one, to make the earth tremble under the hoofbeats of a thousand warhorses, to subject unknown nations and even empires to his will.

Commentary: I actually really enjoyed this novel. Good points: Great adventure and description of the setting and all the action. I learned a lot about traditional Mongolian life and culture. The characters were lively and all different.

I did some research on Genghis Khan after reading this novel (just wikipedia) and it seems it was pretty historically accurate. This man led a fascinating life–amazing. Makes me wish I were Mongolian. Interesting thing: Iggulden also wrote the recent bestseller, The Dangerous Book for Boys.

I’m not a huge fan of Iggulden’s style of writing–very sparse… which can be good sometimes, but just didn’t work for me here. I’m eagerly awaiting to read the next in the series.

Additional interesting note: New movie to see release in the U.S. on June 6th: Mongol. Looks alright from the trailer. http://www.mongolmovie.com/