Tuesday 23 February 2010

Standard of Honor by Jack Whyte (Book Review)

From the back cover:

“As the Second Crusade crashes into ruin with the defeat of the Christian armies by the Muslim Sultan, Saladin, a Scots Templar knight, Alexander Sinclair, is taken captive by one of Saladin’s captains. Sinclair learns from his captor that Saladin is determined to be merciless in exterminating the Templar knights, believing them to be the single greatest threat to Islam, and he begins to fear for his brothers in arms.

“Meanwhile, Sinclair’s youngest cousin, AndrĂ©, a fugitive in France, is offered a chance to redeem himself of false charges, provided that he and his father, a former master-at-arms, agree to join the Third Crusade in the army of the new King, Richard the Lionheart. But the new king, whose duplicitous ways and fierce temper lead to a shocking and vicious betrayal of one of his own best men, proves to be a far bigger threat to the St. Clair family than anything they will face in the war.”

The Standard of Honor is the second book in a trilogy about the Templar Knights, following “Knights of the Black and White” which introduced the beginnings of their Order, the reasons behind the founding of them. This book deals with the inner workings of the organization and how man perceives the aspect of honor.

Jack Whyte has prepared this entertaining book with well researched detail on the Third Crusade and the Order of the Temple. I loved Mr. Whyte’s full descriptions of the political intrigue of the time combined with the battles and skirmishes including excellent explanations on certain methods of warfare and weapons. He took the time to explain the political intrigue between the factions of the orthodox and catholic sections of Christianity, and Saladin along with the Muslims.

The scope of the story was quite large with the development of plot between the two cousins: Alex Sinclair’s fate in the desert after the Battle of Hattin and Andre St. Clair’s training in the Brotherhood of the Sion within the Order of the Temple; and the various battles in Cyprus and Sicily, and the different relationships between family, king, country, Order and Brotherhood.

Other reviews have mentioned an abrupt ending to the story; however, I found 50 pages before the end was reached that Mr. Whyte had begun to wind the story down. The ending came at an appropriate placement with the characters with closure of the questions presented before.

If you want an adventure story with detailed historical events then this book will do the job in an excellent fashion.

I am looking forward to reading the third book in this trilogy, Order in Chaos, which is certain to entertain in true Jack Whyte style.

Standard of Honor was a book that I purchased.

Book format: Paperback, 871 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Author website: Jack Whyte
Published: August 2007





Thursday 18 February 2010

Bench of the Week (35) - Lake Agnes in Spring

This bench is at Lake Agnes (Banff National Park near Lake Louise) in early spring. An earlier post on this bench and others at Lake Agnes taken in summer can be found here.

RuneE of Visual Norway has an informal meme of Bench of the Week. Please visit his blog for other participants.

Photo Credit: karenwithak CC=nc-nd-flickr. Click to enlarge.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Is It Time For A Vacation Yet?

[1-Kinney Lake]

This photo is of Kinney Lake in Mt Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia taken near the Berg Lake Trail at approximately the 7 km mark. The upper portion of the Berg Lake Trail is the Snowbird Pass Trail, a place I would dearly love to go to but am currently unfit for such an undertaking.

Now that mid-February has arrived it is time to start thinking of locations for summer vacations, and my thoughts immediately transcend to the Rockies...of where I might like to go for a week or two.

[2-Mt. Norquay and Bow River]

Of course, there is always the town of Banff nestled just inside the Rocky Mountains with many local sights to visit with mimimal exercise required. An easier hike is the trail up to what used to be the old fire tower on Tunnel Mountain.

Contemplation is half the fun.

Photo Credits: [1]-Alaskan Dude CC=flickr; [2]-Satoru Kikuchi CC=flickr. Click to enlarge.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Mutiny on the Bounty by John Boyne (Book Review)

December 23, 1787, Portsmouth.

A 14-year-old boy, John Jacob Turnstile, has got into trouble with the police on one too many occasions and is on his way to prison when an offer is put to him – a ship has been refitted over the last few months and is about to set sail with an important mission. The boy who was expected to serve as the captain's personal valet has been injured and a replacement must be found immediately. The deal is struck and he finds himself onboard, meeting the captain, just as the ship sets sail. The ship is HMS Bounty, the captain is William Bligh, and their destination is Tahiti.

This wonderful adventure story is told in first person narrative by John Jacob Turnstile, a 14 year old boy, who picked the pocket of a gentleman browsing books in the market and soon finds himself facing a twelve month jail sentence. The gentleman offers Turnstile a choice of becoming a valet for the captain of a ship soon to sail rather than going to jail for a year.

The story follows Turnstile’s days on board the ship with his critical eye to everyone ‘above’ his rank, his insolent comments that border on insubordination, but a joy to the reader. While enduring his tough life on board the ship, Turnstile goes through a savage rite of passage on the Equator at the hands of the other seamen. Despite his previous life as a child prostitute and pickpocket under Mr. Lewis, who seems to be patterned after Fagen, he earns the trust and respect of Captain Bligh.

This book deals frankly with the sexual frustrations of sailors at sea, something the earlier versions of Mutiny on the Bounty and other sea faring tales have withheld. It is these frustrations which are at the heart of the mutiny by the sailors: why Fletcher Christian (portrayed as a pompous dandy) and eighteen others took the ship by force to return to Tahiti after enjoying the delights of the native women.

The descriptions of sailing the seas are expertly written along with the characterizations of those on board the Bounty. In this version, Captain Bligh is portrayed as a progressive commander unlike others who held a stricter standard of discipline, withholding flogging unless necessary and an expert chart and map-maker of his day. This latter skill is evident when he guides a 23-foot launch holding nineteen starving men (including Turnstile) through 48 days to the Dutch settlement at Timor.

Mr. Boyne has a smooth, enticing writing style that flows while providing excellent attention to detail to entertain the reader with new characterizations of the well known characters of this true tale. From the first page to the last the reader is captivated along for an adventure on the high seas. I found this book difficult to put down and read it over two days.

JOHN BOYNE was born in Ireland in 1971 and is the author of seven novels. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas has sold over 5 million copies worldwide and won two Irish Book Awards. It was also shortlisted for the British Book Award and has recently been made into a Miramax feature film. Boyne's novels are published in over 40 languages. He lives in Dublin.

Book format: Paperback, 496 pages
Publisher: Anchor Canada, division of Random House Canada
Author website: John Boyne





Sunday 7 February 2010

Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (Book Review)

John Finch, detective, is assigned to a double murder that the gray caps are particularly interested in. one human and one gray cap are found dead in an empty apartment in the City of Ambergris. Finch’s superior, a gray cap, Heretic, is pushing him to find immediate answers to the case.

The story is filled with underground mushroom inhabitants in a mysterious setting. The gray caps are mushroom people who have disbanded the government, taken over the country by martial law. They provide the human inhabitants with food laced with drugs, keep them in interment camps and use torture to keep them under control.

This is a hardboiled detective story in a fantasy setting with a multitude of different elements: mystery, crime, political, intrigue, horror and romance.

Initially I had difficulty settling in to read this book due to the clipped writing style, and by mid-point had almost set it down permanently not to continue reading. Perhaps the confusion stems from not reading the first two books in this trilogy. Once I reached halfway into the book the plot became understandable and some of the plot twists made sense. The story became interesting after that and I was able to keep focused once time travel was introduced, although this aspect had a brief explanation where I thought there should have been more. Two-thirds in there is an anti-climax ending which provided too much information and spoiled the ending for me. I did complete the book because I wanted to learn what happened to Finch’s long time partner and friend, Wyte, who suffered a deadly fungal growth, and Finch’s cat, Feral. There are interesting aspects to this story, like the memory bulbs, and Heretic's nasty creature accomplice: the skery.

A special thank you to Matt Staggs for providing the review copy.

---San Francisco Chronicle’s best SF/Fantasy list
---Washington Post’s Best Books of the Year
---Barnes & Noble Review’s Best Books of 2009
---An IndieBound Featured Book of January 2010.
---Wall Street Journal’s “literary profiling” 2009 recommended holiday reading list

Book format: paperback, 320 pages
Publisher: Underland Press
Author website: Jeff VanderMeer

Available: November 1, 2009


Chapters Indigo

Thursday 4 February 2010

Reflecting on summer days

Although I have posted this photo before, I have been thinking of summer this past week after enduring some nasty frigid weather via a drafty window. This looks a perfect place to sit a spell and contemplate nature at temperatures a bit more to my liking.

Photo Credit: Herbert Lake on the Icefields Parkway by appaloosa CC=nc-nd-flickr. Click to enlarge.