Book Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The evils, intricacies, ironies and grim facts of the system are in stark contrast with the matter-of-factly manner in which it is delivered.


One would be forgiven for thinking this book was written by a full time author. It was only after reading that I checked and discovered the author was a comedian. Well, that should explain the humour aplenty in the book… 
Born a Crime tells the story of a mixed boy growing up under South African Apartheid. Although littered with plenty of funny quips and rib cracking statements, Born a Crime does not fail to give a vivid overview of the racial system that so dominated the entire South African system. 
The book is written from the POV of the author, who is the subject of the book. The writing is not static, neither is it progressive like normal prose. The prose jumps from different events and scenes, following a trend of linked themes, rather than chronicling events in a linear manner. 
The story is an apartheid eye opener. The evils, intricacies, ironies and grim facts of the system are in stark contrast with the matter-of-factly manner in which it is delivered. The end result is a hilariously chilling expose into the unbelievably tough upbringing of a young boy of mixed heritage in South Africa. 
As I commence my post-read mullings, I cannot help but wonder how it would have been for me, growing up in such circumstances. The ironic thing is that many Africans can draw parallels with Trevor Noah’s upbringing, even if only in the slightest of ways. One begins to realise that the African experience is quite similar even in places as distant from the other as Nigeria and South Africa. 
Highly recommended!

Book Review: A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time #14) by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan 

…readers can rest easy in the knowledge that the Wheel of Time still turns, and the Ages still come and pass, bringing memories that do not fail to fascinate and inspire with every read. 

It’s official! Wheel of Time is bae!! 
This is not going to be a review of only A Memory of Light, but rather a review of the series as a whole. Finishing the series feels so much like the end of a long, long journey. In truth, it’s been a long journey: spanning almost a whole year of reading (with the initial reading and subsequent rereading of the series), one paperback, many ebooks, a couple of audiobooks, hundreds of thousands of stone faced Aiel, a hundred or so other nations, peoples and cultures, memorable villains and protagonists, and about two years worth of plot progress. It really has been a long, long ride. 

The series is more than epic. The sheer scope of the the entire thing is staggering, mind blowing. It’s hard to imagine one man putting together something as vast as this. Kudos to the author! WoT should be a constant challenge to other fantasy writers. Despite its brilliance, it would be totally unfair to judge other epic fantasy series using WoT as a yardstick. Here, I’d simply say “other series have done well, but WoT surpasses them all”. Does this mean WoT is officially my best ever fantasy series? The answer is a resounding YES!

There are so many elements that make this series so different from others. One is the relative youth of the major players. Rand, Mat, Perrin, Elayne, Egwene, Galad, Gawyn, and Nynaeve all seem to be between the ages of 18 and 26 at the start of the series, with an average of about 22 years between them. The development of the characters is done in such a manner that it belies their youth. The characters actually develop very quickly; the length of the books, and volume of action and events give the illusion of a slow and steady development. 

Second, there a whole lot of cultural diversity. The different peoples have different clothing styles, modes of speech, variants of humour, as well as unique trends. Domani women are known to be skilled at the arts of seduction, the Tairens have a distinct way of speaking obvious even in the writing of the author, Cairhienin are short and skilled at political maneuvering, the Aiel have a strange, violent sense of humour… the list goes on. The best part is that you come to understand and appreciate these cultural differences like you come to appreciate various cultural elements in the real world, such as the Chinese general respect for old people, and American individualism. The details of each culture are not glossed over, but rather described in detail, until it is seen in every aspect of the respective subjects. 

A third feature of the series is the fact that although the author does not specifically outline it, all of the protagonists are flawed. Many readers make the mistake of assuming that WoT protagonists are too perfect, too skilled. My reread of the series has proven the opposite. Gawyn is plagued by a need to constantly prove himself to others, and is also untrusting. These two qualities prove to be his undoing in the long run. Galad, despite being an excellent duelist is exposed in his style of leadership. As a person preferring to lead from a distance by example, he fails to impact the bulk of those around him. Galad’s honourable and seemingly perfect nature are ironically the main factors behind his staunch pragmatic stance on nearly everything, a stance that gets him in trouble many times while also creating problems for those around him. Perrin’s weakness stems from an inability to accept who he has become. Egwene is proud, and overconfident. Nynaeve and Rand are similar, compassionate, yet volatile. The examples go on and on. 

A major theme throughout the book is a struggle of wills between three groups of extremely stong women. Generally, the book has some of the strongest female characters in the literary genre. Even the ones with less bite and grit are far more clever than most of the male characters. It makes for a fascinating and fresh read. 

Just as well, there is the concept of dual personality. A lot of the characters, especially the main antagonists sport multiple personalities. In addition, there is the concept of fate and destiny, two of the most recurring themes in the series.

There is also a distinction in the way oaths are viewed in the series. As one of the few cultural universals in the books, oaths are incredibly binding, seen as near sacred, and taken with utmost seriousness. Many of the subplots deal with oaths and their effects on characters. 

Another major theme is the unique fighting system that employs the use of Sword-Forms. As a unique way of describing battle scenes, it paints quite vivid as well as distinct mental pictures. Apple Blossoms in the Wind, Wind Blows over the Wall and Hummingbird Kisses the Honeyrose might seem odd ways to describe moves in sword fights, but they definitely paint a brilliant picture once one gets used to them.

The world of WoT is a dream world. It lures unsuspecting readers in and doesn’t let go, until they fall in love and wish they could just exist there forever. Personally, I would give up a huge chunk of my life just to live the world of WoT. 

Unfortunately, AMoL did not end how I’d like, although the battle scenes were brilliant, and the Last Battle was just how I imagined it would be from when it became obvious there would be a Last Battle. Unfortunately, the main author is dead, so there is no hope of a sequel series. But then, readers can rest easy in the knowledge that the Wheel of Time still turns, and the Ages still come and pass, bringing memories that do not fail to fascinate and inspire with every read. 

Good news! A TV Adaptation is on the way. I just hope they don’t botch it.

Book Review: Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive #2) by Brandon Sanderson 

Words of Radiance, impossible as it seems, has managed to surpass the dizzying heights of Way of Kings

… a conglomeration of exquisite world-building, unpredictable characters and sweet, sweet magic. 

Words of Radiance, impossible as it seems, has managed to surpass the dizzying heights of Way of Kings. The characters are better developed, and the magic system is gradually melding with the plot. 

The build-up is just as lengthy as in Way of Kings, but the climax is far more intense. There are numerous plot twists, not at the middle, but at the very end of the book. 

The plot deals with a great number of themes: betrayals, hate, morality, and honor. The plot is incredibly complex, relying heavily on the multiple blurred protagonists and villains and a lot of myth and lore. 

The characters, despite their awesomeness, are greatly flawed. This is not a good vs evil book. The actions of the supposed protagonists lie somewhere between perceived good, and outright selfishness. This means the characters aren’t particularly G.R.R Martin-grey. They’re judged based on their perceptions of their own deeds. It makes for a seemingly character-driven plot line. 

The best part of the book is the magic. Quite simply, this is the best book of magic I’ve ever read. I can say confidently that the magic system of Stormlight Archive is the best I’ve ever seen in Fantasy Fiction. And it’s only going to get better! 

Book Review: Prince of Fools (The Red Queen’s War #1) by Mark Lawrence 

I’ve put off reading this for so long, I’m beginning to regret not having read it all this while. 

Mark Lawrence has always had hype on his side, and now I know why. He writes like no one else, and I mean that quite literally. His brand of storytelling is like no other. His writing is so unique that I think I could very easily identify a piece by him, even if it was penned under another name. 

Prince of Fools chronicles the adventures of an overly carefree prince and his development into a more mature character, all in a setting that greatly resembles that of Medieval Europe, much like Paul Kearney’s Monarchies of God. 

Jalan is a typical 10th-in-line-to-the-throne prince, who lives a life of excesses, safe in the knowledge that he will never be called upon to shoulder the burden of rulership. Inadvertently, he is thrust into the epicentre of a storm that threatens to pull his entire world apart, used as a pawn in a deadly game of death, destructive, otherworldly magic…. and finds out that life is not all about food, drink and women. 

The development of Prince Jal is an interesting one, made all the better with the expert handling of the character by the author. His relationship with the Norseman Snorri is equally intriguing. 

The writing, while direct and quite straightforward, features many moments of hilarious, ironic, sarcastic and altogether literal creativity. It makes for a fine balance between seriousness and humour, as bouts of deadly seriousness are often punctured by moments of back breaking humour and sarcasm. 

The traits of characters is quite brilliant. It’s not easy to write antiheroes. I’ve read quite a number of books about antiheroes, and I can say that Mark Lawrence ranks among the very best in the subgenre of Fantasy with antiheroes. 

It’s a finely developed world. While it’s obviously a chip off Medieval Europe with slight modifications, I’m very much comfortable with it. 

The storyline is great. No POVs, direct and precise, just about enough magic, more than one antagonist, and lots of action. I expect more twists in book two, The Liar’s Key. 

Book Review: On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe 

Reading this book made me reflect on a lot of things about Nigeria: the diversity, the peoples, the hardships and the choices and sufferings of said peoples. 

The story is about the lives of four different African women, forced to trade their bodies for a better life far away from their own country, in Belgium. The sudden death of one of the women finds the other women in shock, and in the spur of the moment, they find themselves exchanging previously untold secrets and chilling, grim tales of the experiences that culminated in them becoming flesh traders in a foreign land. 

Each of the women has experiences that are both unique in their grimness and horrifying in nature. Each of these experiences closely mirrors the realities of early 21st century Nigeria. The prevailing societal vices of the day, as well as a number of the more horrifying atrocities committed by people on a daily basis, and how they affect the lives of five women is the epicentre of the story. 

The story is an expository into how lives are shaped by specific experiences. In the story, all of the four women experience sexual abuse of varying degrees. Coupled with the hardship in the country, and the pressures of religion, society and culture, the women are forced to make a choice… whether to persevere with no end in sight to their sufferings, or to trade their female dignity for European baubles. 

The story is told in the form of a flashback. The effect is an increased depth in the intensity of the experiences shared in the story, and the drawing of the attention of readers to a number of common underlying factors in each experience. 

The characters are revealed with all the attention and intricacy of a highly skilled artist: A gradual unravelling of the nature, and then the experiences that shape each character. The result is a tale that is incredibly accurate in its portrayal of lower-class Nigerian society. Each character is portrayed in all the gory glory of abuses suffered, dashed hopes, false prophecies, and all of the vices that infest human society. 

A must read! 

Book Review: Crystal Storm (Falling Kingdoms #5)

Continuing from the previous book’s cliffhanger, the reins of power in Mytica are now in the possession of the darkly seductive, power-hungry Amara of the Kraeshian Empire. Lucia has gone to seek help in the sanctuary. The King of Blood manages to survive death. The love between Magnus and Cleo undergoes a trial by fire, as their desires and choices interweave with the lives of their friends, and enemies… 

Morgan Rhodes can write. He’s not just written a great story, he’s painted a most brilliant picture of human behaviour. Each character is not only well developed but equally consistent. This unique blend has created a vivid world where fairytales and the real world exist side by side. 

There’s similarities between the plot structures of Morgan Rhodes and Brian Staveley. Both authors organise their storylines to follow a particular layout. The story first starts out small, with only a small fraction of the total plot, then it begins to branch out and expand, each thread built on another. It’s like watching the rippling surface of a body of water. 

The best thing about this series is the characters. They’re just too good. They’re just as greedy, emotional, hateful, loving, murderous, resourceful and intelligent as real world humans. It’s a show of and an excellent portrayal of human character. 

How the author has managed to create vivid realism with mysterious, otherworldly intrigues and elements is quite beyond me. It’s a perfect blend of Grimdark, and traditional fantasy. Game of Thrones and Throne of Glass meet. Martin weds Maas. It’s the perfect literary combo. 

Sadly it’s another cliff hanger…

Book Review: Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo 

​One could not end 2016 any better than this… 

Imagine Now You See Me 2 on a scale twice as big, then you begin to get an inkling of the magnitude of the heist pulled off by Kaz Brekker and his unique crew in Crooked Kingdom. It’s an even bigger heist than the one they managed to pull off in Six of Crows. 

The sheer magnitude of the heist, coupled with how it plays out occupies about 2/3 of the book, meaning there’s little or no build-up. What passes for the build-up is a whirlwind of events that set the stage for the final storm! 

I greatly loved the pacing of the book. It moved along quickly from scene to scene with seamless ease. Most books aren’t written at this kind of pace. It’s not just fast, it adjusts its pace accordingly, switching speed, upping pace and then slowing down, all at exactly the right time. It’s incredible. There’s little or no buildup. No lengthy, ponderous stretch of writing that leads up to the main action. 

Another amazing thing about the book is how the author manages to pack so much action in a few hundred pages. There’s enough action and thrill in this book to fill two books, another author might have decided to extend the series by an extra book. 

The characters are fantastic. Kaz displays the full extent of his unique scheming abilities. Inej, Nina, Matthias, Wylan and Jesper are just as excellent in displaying their various talents. 

It’s a great series, with everything done just right!