Saints by Gene Luen Yang – A Book Review

I recently wrote a review of Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers, and this book, Saints, is a companion piece.  In fact, it’s more than just a companion piece — it’s a conclusion.

In Boxers, there’s a moment where the main character, Bao, sees a young girl close to his own age.  He believes she looks like the devil.  Later on in the book, when they are both much older, Bao (seemingly) kills this girl in the city of Peking because she will not renounce her Christianity.

Saints is the story of that girl, from the time she is eight up until the age of fifteen.  She is simply called Four-Girl in the beginning by her family.  She is unwanted, unappreciated, and largely neglected.  It isn’t until she meets converts to Christianity that she begins to feel a sense of security.  Eventually, Four-Girl converts as well and chooses the name Vibiana.  However, throughout much of the book, and despite being visited frequently by Joan of Arc herself, Vibiana is not exactly the most devout of Christians.  She likes the food.  She likes the roof over her head.  She likes being recognized as a human being and not a waste of space.  It’s clear Jesus is not at the forefront of her mind.

When she hears of the Boxers headed to kill Christians, she is inspired to follow Joan of Arc’s lead and fight in the name of God.  But really … she just wants to fight.  After the life she’s endured, can you blame her?

She is eventually captured by Bao from Boxers, and at that moment you get to find out exactly what took place between them in that scene from the first book.

While Boxers is quite a bit longer, the ending of Saints struck me as far more poignant.  Admittedly, this could be because I consider myself a Christian as well.  Vibiana (Four-Girl) undergoes a tremendous change, one that I won’t spoil for you, but one that absolutely resonated.

As Boxers depicted Bao losing more and more of himself in his plight to save China, Saints offers a bittersweet story about Vibiana finding peace.  That tranquility, however does not arrive as one would expect.  Just the  opposite.

A noted Christian himself, I appreciated that Gene Luen Yang did not get too heavy-handed with Saints.  In fact, like with Boxers, he made a point to show the good and bad in everyone.  The Boxers consider themselves freedom fighters striving to preserve their culture, yet the Christian converts consider them monsters.  The Christians in the book believe themselves to be righteous, yet many of them are self-serving and overtly sinful.  However, in the end, Yang reminds us what it is to be truly selfless.  Some would say that’s being Christ-like.  Others would say it’s simply being compassionate.

Though the artwork is simply rendered, this is a powerful story about history, people, motive, and belief.

The epilogue of the book, by the way, shook me to my core.  Perfect.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

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Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings – A Book Review

You may remember that my wife and I very much enjoyed Killing Eve, which aired on BBC America.  As is my habit, I had to go check out the source material, which turned out to be a novel entitled Codename Villanelle.

Written by Luke Jennings, this fast-paced, brisk thriller served as the basis for the television show.  However, as you read the book, you’ll notice the show greatly enriched virtually every character.

Villanelle is still present–obviously.  So is Eve.  Konstantin and Niko, too.  Several other characters were adapted into new characters for the show, or outright jettisoned.

The show also used the same general plot.  Villanelle is an international assassin who comes from less than nothing.  Konstantin is her handler.  Eve is a UK agent obsessed with apprehending Villanelle.  Niko is still her husband.  However, Jennings keeps them fairly bare-bones.  Yes, he introduces some of their little idiosyncrasies.  Eve is still something of a social train-wreck.  Villanelle is still a sociopath.  Niko is still incredibly patient and helpful.  But, we seem to just skim the surface of these interesting attributes.  None of them have the charm nor the depth of their televised counterparts.

The novel is very plot driven.  Jennings is incredibly specific with locations, weaponry, procedures, and technology.  There is ample action that moves at a whiplash pace, but, again, the characters are somewhat flat.

I have to wonder if I’m being unfair to the book.  Killing Eve is clearly such a special show, is it unfair to judge the source material too harshly in this case?  Could Killing Eve’s charming, odd, wonderful characters have existed without Jennings groundwork?

Honestly, I don’t think I’m being unfair.  The book was an entertaining read, but it didn’t strike me as monumental.  Without the show, I don’t think it would have made much of an impression on me.  Keep in mind, though, I don’t read much suspense or espionage spy stories.

Frankly, there were times when I thought the book was a little sexually gratuitous.  Jennings makes a point to depict Villanelle as a sexual predator.  He absolutely objectifies her and her prey.  It largely felt unnecessary to me, because it is–again–dealt with at a very shallow level that makes it seem like it’s there only to shock the reader.

If you like quick reads full of detail, action, violence, and suspense, this is the book for you.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Dr. Nekros: Book Two Is Live and Available On the Kindle and Nook!

In this second book of the Dr. Nekros trilogy, you will learn the fate of Zetta Southerland, the origin of the demon Xaphan, how the Packard came to be haunted, and witness yet another confrontation between Dr. Nekros and the evil beings working to destroy every aspect of his life. Dr. Nekros: Book Two delivers nonstop action, fascinating characters, and an intricate plot that will leave you stunned.

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Dr Nekros Book Two Cover

The Beach by Alex Garland – A Book Review

Yes, it’s true, I’m reviewing a book that’s been on the market for over twenty years.  The truth is, I’ve grown to greatly appreciate Garland’s film directing and wanted to check out his written work.

The Beach, which you may remember was a film released back in 2000 which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, was based upon the book published just four years prior.

It features Richard, a young man who suffers from a seemingly permanent case of wanderlust.  He is constantly searching for the perfect destination–a place untouched by tourism, commercialism, or average people, really.  While in Bangkok, he happens across a man who gives him a map to just such a place.

The man cannot travel with Richard, and I won’t tell you why, but Richard does manage to befriend a French man and woman–a couple–to join him.  None are sure the map is real, but they chance it anyway.  After a courageous swim through the ocean itself … they find the beach.

The beach seems idyllic in the beginning.  There is a small group of people living in tandem with one another–all vested in the same interests.  Life is very good … until ill-timed tragedies strike.  The group could handle these adversities well, or they could … fall apart.  I’m sure can guess which occurs.

The Beach is a well-written book.  At almost 450 pages, it’s a long read, but it’s also a relatively fast one.  I would not describe it as a page-turner, but Richard’s psyche is particularly interesting and it’s fascinating to witness his development throughout the story.

The tale itself is rather complicated.  On one hand, the beach dwellers are in love with nature, independence, and a simple life.  They are perfectly happy to pull their weight, support one another, and waste the days away in paradise.  On the other hand, a certain selfishness resides in each of them, as does a touch of irresponsibility.  The beach is a total secret, one worth killing for, and everyone there has decided to turn their backs on their previous lives in order to enjoy their Eden.  It takes a bit of a misguided person to go to such an extreme, wouldn’t you say?

Garland executes perfect pacing in establishing Richard, logically delivering him to the beach, allowing us to see the beauty of the island, but then also in dissecting each character as catastrophe unfolds.

After all, when you think about it, if each one of these individuals was willing to turn their backs to their own flesh and blood, how much can they really depend upon one another when things go bad?

Some have compared it to Lord Of the Flies as well as Heart Of Darkness, and these are certainly appropriate comparisons.  I personally don’t feel it achieved that level of mastery, but it’s a solid read well worth your time.

As I said, Garland was a very good writer back then and has only gotten better.  His characters in The Beach are interesting from start to finish.  The story itself, while enjoyable, felt awfully derivative of the classics mentioned already.  I have to wonder if I’d feel differently had I read it back in 1996.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)