Book Review: The Noble Warriors Trilogy (Seeker, Jango, Noman), by William Nicholson (2006-2007) (Teen Reads #1)
The Noble Warriors was William Nicholson’s second fantasy series. The Wind On Fire, comprised of The Wind Singer, Slaves of the Mastery, and Firesong, was his first, and it was successful enough that he wrote a second. The Noble Warriors was less popular, and unfortunately he’s yet to write another, but the two series stand as some of the most distinctive children’s fantasy of the 2000s. Having read them recently, I thought it made sense to review them as a whole.
Metal is a genre that’s always existed at my periphery. There’s a few bands I’ve been into at various points (Haste the Day, Deftones, Rage Against the Machine, and others), but it’s not something I listen to regularly. That’s not the case at all with Andrew O’Neill, as evidenced by their book, A History of Heavy Metal. O’Neill is an avowed metalhead, and the book shows the wide range of their taste, encompassing Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Slayer, and everything in between. It’s also very funny. O’Neill is a comedian first and foremost (the book originated as a show they’ve performed up and down the UK), and takes every opportunity they can to get a joke in there. The result is a musical history that’s passionate, comprehensive, and entertaining.
‘Everything the Communists told us about Communism was a lie. Unfortunately, everything they told us about capitalism was correct.’ – Russian joke from the 1990s
The country in which Victor Pelevin was born ceased to exist in 1991. For the best part of a century, the Soviet Union was a global superpower, but from 1988 it slid into a decline that culminated in its dissolution. At the time, Pelevin was 29, and it was only a year afterwards that his first novel, Omon Ra, was published. It was successful in the West as well as his home country, and was nominated for the Booker Prize.
Generation P – also known as Homo Zapiens or Babylon – was his third novel, published in 1999. It is about a graduate student named Babylen Tatarsky who decides to become an advertising executive after failing as a poet. His task is to create Russian versions of Western advertisements, adapting them for ‘the Russian mentality’. But once he begins, he senses that there is something more going on behind the scenes, and seeks to go deeper into the advertising industry to discover it.
The dark history of Ireland’s treatment of women runs through Sarah Maria Griffin’s Other Words for Smoke like a faultline, threatening to collapse it at any moment. The story concerns a pair of twins, Mae and Rossa, who are sent to stay with their Aunt Rita and her ward Bevan over the course of two summers. Mae quickly discovers that Aunt Rita is a witch, and is eager to learn more. She also falls in love with Bevan, but she doesn’t know that Bevan has contact with a dark, magical force called Sweet James.
Among Stephen King’s many titles, The Colorado Kid is something of a Marmite book. It’s only rated 3.39 on Goodreads, and in all the ranked lists of his work that I could find, it’s in the bottom half. At the time it was released, it was very popular, leading to a TV adaptation (Haven), but since then it’s not gained the reputation that others of his have. It’s not hard to see why, but at the same time it feels unfair, and I think it deserves a lot better.
On the 20th February 1974, science fiction author Philip K. Dick had an experience that would come to define the rest of his life. He was at his home, recovering from a wisdom tooth removal, when a young woman knocked on the door, delivering his medication. She wore a necklace with a fish-shaped design, and when he asked her what it was, she said ‘This is a sign used by the early Christians’. At that point, he saw a ‘pink beam’ that shone into his eyes, mesmerising him. After more hallucinations that lasted weeks, he came to believe he was receiving transmissions from a ‘transcendentally rational mind’, referring to it later as God, Zebra, and VALIS.
An acronym for ‘Vast Active Living Intelligence System’, VALIS was the title Dick gave to his 1981 novel, a fictionalised account of these experiences. He wrote it in part to help him understand what had happened to him, an effort which he continued in all his writings until his death in 1982.
One of my favourite films of all time is A.I. Artificial Intelligence, released in 2001 and directed by Stephen Spielberg. It’s about a robot boy named David, who is adopted by a couple wanting a child. He is programmed to love, and for a while he does, but when circumstances change he is forced to leave and fend for himself. Believing in the story of Pinocchio, he sets out to find the Blue Fairy, who he is convinced will make everything alright again.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s wonderful book Klara and the Sun reminded me a lot of this film. In the book, Klara is an Artificial Friend (or AF) who lives in a shop waiting to be picked by a child. She forms a connection with a girl named Josie, who takes her home to live with her. However, Josie is very ill, and Klara (who is solar-powered) believes that she can convince the Sun to heal her.
Lindsay Ellis is a YouTuber known for her meticulously researched videos on film criticism. I’ve kept up with her work for a long time, from her early days as part of Channel Awesome, to her breaking away and making videos for herself. Her videos are consistently informative and entertaining, in part due to her natural affability and wry sense of humour, and also because of her background in academic film studies and her tendency to dig deep into interesting topics.
Axiom’s End is her first novel. The story focuses on Cora Sabino, a college dropout in her twenties. Her father, Nils Ortega, abandoned her and the rest of their family to be a conspiracy theorist whistleblower. Before the start of the novel, he has released evidence of a cover-up that goes back decades: the government has been in contact with aliens that have landed on Earth. When a meteor crash-lands, she is targeted by the FBI and runs away, by a chance encounter becoming the spokesperson for one of the aliens, Ampersand, who arrived via another meteor some time ago.
Colombia is a country that lives in two worlds. Host to vast deserts, labyrinth rainforests, Caribbean beaches and awe-inspiring mountains, it’s one of the most biodiverse nations in the world. It’s hard to travel more than a few hours without the landscape completely changing, and its people are as open and as flourishing as the land around them. However, its history is dogged by a bloody violence, decades of unrest that still claws at the country’s back as it tries to move forward. When Escobar was killed in ’93, it didn’t instantly heal the wounds he had made. Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s fascinating novel The Sound of Things Falling pries open those wounds, and provides a case study of national trauma as chilling as it is beautiful.
Richard Ayoade is an actor, comedian, TV presenter, director, and writer. He is most well-known for playing Moss in The IT Crowd, directing the films Submarine and The Double, and being notoriously difficult to interview. In 2014, he wrote his first book, Ayoade on Ayoade: a Cinematic Odyssey, in which he actually interviews himself. In the book, a fictional version of Ayoade (a film obsessive) interviews another fictional version of Ayoade (an ‘auteur’ director). It’s a parody of film books that overanalyse their subjects, and it’s extremely funny.
The Grip of Film, his second book, was published in 2017. Instead of interviewing himself again, Ayoade this time hands the reins to a fictional alter-ego: Gordy LaSure. Gordy LaSure is a devotee of 80s and 90s action films, and treats them as high art, while dismissing classics such as Citizen Kane and The Godfather. He delusionally believes himself to be a film expert, and the book is a glossary of terms that in his view are vital to good film-making. It’s a parody of film books that give hackneyed and unhelpful advice on storytelling, and it’s also extremely funny.