The Broken Empire Trilogy

I read this trilogy last year, but got so busy I couldn’t blog about it until now (Maundy Thursday).

Note: SPOILERS here!!!

BE MapThe Broken Empire trilogy is set in what would be Europe a thousand years after a nuclear holocaust. Prior to that, scientists and engineers (“Builders”) had previously discovered and exploited a way for man to “control his environment directly through the force of his desire, rather than through machinery” (Fexler Brews in Emperor of Thorns, 170), thereby altering “by just a fraction” (Fexler Brews in King of Thorns, 321) the orientation of what could be viewed as the wheel of the ship that is reality. Since then, this wheel has kept on turning albeit in the wrong orientation, resulting in various kinds of magic in the post-apocalyptic world, including the ability to control fire (“fire-sworn”), inhabit bodies (necromancers), soul-fly (“sky-sworn”), enter and influence dreams (“dream-sworn”), or see the future (“future-sworn”). Unfortunately, the more these magics are used, the thinner the barrier grows that separates life from death, and the collapse of this barrier is now imminent.  Fortunately, the Builders had also managed to create “data echoes” – virtual models of themselves – so that they could somehow survive the holocaust. One of these data echoes is Fexler Brews, who seeks to right their wrongs…

BOOK 1: The Prince of Thorns

PoT (2)Four years ago, Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, then only nine, witnesses from inside a thorn briar the murder of his mother and of his younger brother, William, by soldiers of his uncle, the Count of Renar. Vowing to kill the count, he frees a band of mercenaries who are prisoners of his father, King Oliden of Ancrath, and escapes with them. With the protection of Kashta the Nuban, wisest and deadliest of the mercenaries, and Sir Makin, whom Oliden ordered to bring Jorg back but who would turn to follow Jorg instead, Jorg becomes their chief, leading his band of Brothers with fearlessness and uncanny success.

Now 14, Jorg discovers that his father is about to proclaim his new queen’s child as the new heir to the throne, so he returns to his father’s palace with his Brothers. To prove his worth to his father, he agrees to kill the King of Gelleth, which he accomplishes by piecing together the accounts of the Builders, and detonating what (he didn’t know) was one of the nuclear bombs the Builders had left behind underneath the mountain on which the kingdom of Gelleth stood. In the process he befriends leucrota (mutants made so by exposure to radioactivity) and kills a couple of vampiric necromancers, the heart of one of which he eats, as a way to bolster the dying courage of his mercenary band. When he returns to Ancrath, he is murdered by his own father, but he comes back to life due to vampiric contamination. While dead, he is released from a powerful spell of compulsion placed upon him by his uncle’s sorcerer, Corion, which prevented him from even coming close to his uncle’s lands. The same spell also lent him sorcerous powers without his being aware of them. Jorg eventually kills Renar and his sorcerer, and crowns himself King of Renar.  His next goal: to become Emperor of the Broken Empire.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. Though the characterization in this trilogy is not impressive (only Jorg’s character is developed; everyone else’s is one-dimensional), the trilogy quickly startles and then polarizes its readers by beginning its tale with an amoral antihero killing the leader of a small town and participating in the rape of the leader’s girls. (Jorg does make it a point to say that he did try to talk to the leader, but the leader wouldn’t budge.) But the cause for such apparent mercilessness is slowly revealed as a confluence of the boy’s traumatic experience, genetic and environmental predisposition (his father was even crueler), and being bound by a spell by an even crueler sorcerer.  Sure, a murderer is a murderer, but in God’s economy, in which every human being is sinful, even killers can become heroes (cf. Moses, Joshua, David, Paul).

The character I liked most in this book is Kashta, whom Jorg describes thus: “I never knew a man more solid… Few among the brothers sought his counsel, men upon the road have little use for conscience, and although he never judged, the Nuban carried judgment with him” (195). Why did he have to die this early in the trilogy?

BOOK 2: The King of Thorns

KoTSoon after he becomes a king, Jorg meets the charismatic Prince Orrin of Arrow, who, like Jorg, wishes to lead the Broken Empire, but who, unlike Jorg, has more statesmanly goals, which is why smaller nations have been flocking to him. Orrin defeats the younger Jorg in one-on-one combat, but Orrin, who is everything that Jorg is not, lets Jorg live. Jorg then decides that to become Emperor, he has to get the support of his mother’s father, the Earl of Hansa, and brother, Lord Robert. On his way to his grandfather, Jorg has some interesting side-adventures that leave in him the powers of fire-magic and necromancy, insatiable powers that both try to consume him. At his grandfather’s castle, he encounters a “ghost”, actually a data echo, Fexler Brews, who gives him a lens (see the cover of Book 2),which enables him to view any part of the world through satellite and terrestrial surveillance systems, and a pistol. He also gets engaged to Lord Robert’s twelve-year-old niece, the fiery and independent-minded Miana.

Four years later, on Jorg and Miana’s wedding day, Prince Egan of Arrow (who had earlier killed his brother, Orrin) storms Castle Renar with thousands of Orrin’s men, but Jorg kills Egan using Fexler’s pistol, and unleashes the fire within him, burning Orrin’s men as well as his father’s sorcerer, Sageous, who, Fexler would reveal, was the one who put Jorg in the thorns, and who was the one who dream-ensorcelled Egan to commit fratricide. Jorg himself would survive the conflagration (but with a burnt face) because of the necromantic power within him, and the fire magic and necromancy within him would consume each other, leaving him with no trace of either magic. But though the Dead King may have lost his foothold inside Jorg when Jorg lost his necromantic powers, he has now become Jorg’s – and the Broken Empire’s – most formidable foe.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. Jorg is growing, and that is good.  Though Jorg still has no qualms killing in this book, there’s now a kind of empathy: “Once upon a time perhaps I might have thought two women running around on fire was a free show…But I had grown to understand this kind of pain” (236). The character I liked most in this book is Fexler, the so-called data echo. I’m doing research on persistent virtual online models of students, so it intrigues me how Fexler-the-virtual-model was created from all manner of data from Fexler-the-human, including “…unguarded moments captured in secret, phrases uttered in his sleep, exclamations cried out in coitus, chemical analysis of his waste, public presentations, private meditations, polygraphic evidence, DNA samples. Data.” (319) Cool!

BOOK 3: The Emperor of Thrones

EoTJorg, now 20, soon-to-be-father, and leader of six kingdoms plus Kennick, travels to Vyene, the former Imperial capital, to make a bid for Emperor at the Congression. Every seven years, the Congression is held at Vyene, where representatives of all the kingdoms of the Broken Empire cast their votes for an Emperor. What makes this Congression different from those in the past is the imminent threat of the Dead King and his army of zombies. While Jorg is traveling toward Vyene, the reader is shown several flashbacks filled with violence, such as the rape of young Jorg by a bishop, and how Jorg took his revenge; the torture of Jorg in a desert, saved only by remnants of fire magic, months of sword practice, and Fexler controlling the body of a mechanical scorpion; and Jorg’s saving the Caliph of Liba from nuclear destruction by an automaton controlled by Michael, another data echo, apparently higher in rank than Fexler.

At the Congression, for fear of the Dead King, whose zombie army is fast approaching, the delegates vote for Jorg as Emperor, since he is the only one who has the temerity to fight the Dead King. The Dead King finally appears in the body of a sky-sworn, while his zombie army kills many of the delegates and scatters the rest. It turns out that the Dead King is none other than William, Jorg’s younger brother, who now chides Jorg for not saving him. It appears that William, whose will (to be reunited with his brother) is apparently even stronger than Jorg’s, fought against death (i.e., annihilation) and won.  When he learned that his brother was intent on reuniting the Broken Empire, William then thought of raising the dead so that together they could “take the empire out past all boundaries, in this world and the next, and make it whole, entire, and ours” (386). Jorg eventually manages to kill the body which William used, but knowing that William isn’t really dead (i.e., annihilated) and can therefore come back, and fearing for his son and the world he will live in, he asks his Brothers to kill him so that he may go to his younger brother. When everyone refuses, it was Chella, William’s harbinger, who deals the fatal blow. In the epilogue, Jorg and William set their hands to push the “wheel” (see this post’s introductory paragraph) back to its original orientation, and Jorg’s data echo meets with his son, the young Emperor Will. It seems that Fexler’s ring got more information from Jorg than Jorg got from it, enough data for Fexler to create a model of Jorg to help him (Fexler) determine whether Jorg could be trusted to save the world.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 4 stars out of 5. I must admit that at first I didn’t like that Jorg died. But then again, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). My favorite character continues to be Fexler. In high fantasy, I’ve always been more interested in the acts of the master wizard – Gandalf, Dumbledore, Merlin – who aids the hero, rather than the hero himself (unless the wizard IS the hero), but since, in this trilogy, magic-wielding men (Corius, Sageous, Ferrakind) and women (Lady Blue, Skilfar, the Silent Sister) are like Sageous, whom Fexler describes as “nothing but a savage, straining truth through superstition,” it is Fexler who becomes in essence the master wizard, influencing and helping Jorg in the race against world annihilation.

MLEmperor of Thrones won the David Gemmel Legend Award (DGLA) for Best Fantasy Novel in 2014. I wish I could write fantasy like Mark Lawrence or Bandon Sanderson one day.



Divergent Trilogy

At the prodding of some family members, I went with them a couple of weeks ago to watch what would turn out to be the worst film I have viewed in a theater in recent memory… Insurgent. But Divergent was so promising, so I got a copy of the books before the Lenten holidays, and was duly rewarded. Like most cinematized novels, Insurgent turned out to be much better as a book than as a film.

T1Like the Hunger Games Trilogy, Divergent is set in post-apocalyptic North America, mostly in Chicago, in which each 16-year-old has to enter a serum-activated dream-like sequence, called a simulation, used to determine one’s aptitude and appropriate faction (sector of society) – Erudite (trait: intelligent; symbol: eye) for scientists, doctors, and teachers; Amity (trait: peace-loving; symbol: tree) for farmers and counselors; Candor (trait: honest; symbol: scales) for judges; Dauntless (trait: brave; symbol: fire) for Fence Guards, soldiers, and weapons makers; and Abnegation (trait: selfless; symbol: helping hands) for leaders of government. Each person may, during the annual Choosing Ceremony, opt to join a faction other than the one that he or she was born in. After choosing a faction, the person must undergo initiation, failure in which would render the person factionless, and consequently homeless. And then there are the Divergent, who, because of their multiple aptitudes, don’t fit neatly in one faction and mostly end up factionless. When the trilogy begins, the Erudite leader had begun to take steps to wrest control of the city from Abnegation, and find all the Divergent.

Note: Spoilers here!!!

BOOK 1: Divergent

DivWhen Beatrice Prior’s simulation reveals that she has equal aptitude for Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite, her test administrator Tori (Dauntless, Divergent) destroys her record, tells her that she is Divergent, and warns her not to tell anyone. During the Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice transfers to Dauntless, while her brother Caleb transfers to Erudite, to the shock of their father, Andrew (Abnegation, Erudite-born), but not their mother, Natalie (Abnegation, formerly Dauntless), who had earlier assured Beatrice of her love no matter what. During the three-stage initiation process, Beatrice takes the name Tris; befriends fellow initiates Christine (Erudite-born), Will (Candor-born), and a couple more; gets almost killed by Peter (Erudite-born), if not for the timely rescue of her instructor, Tobias Eaton, also known as Four (for having only four fears, one of which is his cruel father, Marcus), whom Tris falls in love with. Despite her being the shortest and thinnest of the Dauntless initiates, she tops her batch, particularly in the simulations, due to her being Divergent.

Ashley Judd as Natalie Wright-Prior
Ashley Judd as Natalie Wright-Prior

When the Dauntless leaders connive with the Erudite leader, Jeanine Matthews, to inject all the Dauntless with a serum through which she can compel them to exterminate Abnegation, Tris, Four, and Tori, who are unaffected by the serum, fight back and win. In the process: Natalie dies saving Tris; Tris kills Will (though done in self defense, she won’t be able to hold a gun steadily from then on); Tris is reunited with Andrew and Caleb and together with Marcus they go back to Dauntless headquarters to deactivate the software enabling Jeanine to control the Dauntless; Andrew dies protecting Tris; and Tris almost dies at the hands of Four, who was injected with a serum that reverses in his mind his friends and enemies, but who breaks out of the simulation when Tris yields her gun to Four, confusing the simulation. After this, Tris, Four, Caleb, and Marcus flee to Amity, where other Abnegation members have already sought refuge.

Veronica Roth
Veronica Roth

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3 stars out of 5. Veronica Roth’s world-building is certainly better than Suzanne Collins’ (Hunger Games). Centuries ago, the government performed widespread genetic modification to eliminate crime, but this led to personality imbalances (e.g., some individuals were brave but didn’t think things through; some were intelligent but lacked compassion; some were selfless but rarely laughed), which led not to a decrease but to an increase in crime, which was blamed by the genetically pure (GP) on those whom they called the genetically damaged (GD), which led to the Purity War that killed half of America’s population. Further genetic modification could not restore the balance, so an experimental community was designed in which those who were similar in terms of their imbalances lived together in factions, but each faction contributed to society as a whole. But the factions themselves were not what was most important; the factions were designed to prolong peace so that genetically healed offspring – the Divergent – could be produced. By the time Beatrice comes of age, however, the faction system had begun to crumble and the Divergent were being hunted.

Younger Ashley Judd. Natalie Wright would have looked like this when, at 16, she volunteered to enter the experimental community from the outside world.
Younger Ashley Judd. Natalie Wright would have looked like this when, at 16, she volunteered to enter the experimental community from the outside world.

The character I like the most in Book 1 (and in the whole trilogy) is Tris’ mom, Natalie, who organized Abnegation to feed and provide for the factionless, and who dies to save her daughter. Unknown to any in the city (and to the readers of Book 1), at the age of 16 Natalie Wright volunteered to enter the city from the outside world to help avert a crisis brewing in Erudite. She went to Dauntless and was supposed to transfer to Erudite, but she and Andrew met, and because he had to leave Erudite (because he couldn’t stomach the growing cold ambition of the Erudite leader’s protégé, Jeanine), the pair transferred to Abnegation instead. There Natalie continued her mission silently (by keeping the factionless and, therefore, the Dauntless within, alive) while being a loving wife and mother. Wow, what a woman!

BOOK 2: Insurgent

InsAmity leader Johanna Reyes (whose face, unlike in the film, is marred by a thick scar running from her blind left eye down to her lips) tries to hide the four from Jeanine’s minions, but the soldiers find them and almost kill Peter, if not for Tris’ fast action. Fleeing, Tris, Four, and Caleb run into the factionless, who are led by Four’s mother, Evelyn Johnson (formerly Abnegation, Erudite-born). Evelyn had to leave Abnegation when she divorced her cruel husband, which Tobias, then only six, never forgave her for. Evelyn is preparing the factionless to topple Jeanine Matthews and Erudite. Tris and Four then go to Candor to meet with Dauntless members who have not defected to Erudite. Injected with the Candor truth serum, Four tells everyone of Jeanine’s treachery. Dauntless traitors then come firing at everyone, injecting them with another Jeanine-concocted mind-controlling serum. When two persons commit suicide due to the serum, and Jeanine promises more suicides unless all Divergent persons show themselves at Erudite, Tris surrenders to Jeanine. She is deeply hurt when she finds that Caleb had returned to Erudite and had been helping Jeanine develop a serum to control Divergents, killing so many of them in the process. Her serum fails to control Tris, however, and so she orders Tris’ execution, but Peter (who like Caleb had also defected to Erudite) saves her because he can’t live in her debt. He and Tobias bring her out of Erudite. The factionless led by Evelyn combine forces with the Dauntless loyals (led by Tori and Tobias) and storm Erudite; meanwhile Tris, Christine, Cara (Erudite) and Fernando (Erudite), help Marcus get an important video file stored in Jeanine’s lab. (It is short-lived Fernando who calls the team Insurgent.) Tori kills Jeanine, Evelyn claims the victory before Tori does and abolishes the factions, and Tris and Tobias manage to play the video on the giant Erudite monitors. In the video, a woman named Edith Prior explains that the factions were an experiment designed to produce the Divergent, who are to rescue the world outside once they have reached a critical mass.

Naomi Watts as Evelyn Johnson-Eaton
Naomi Watts as Evelyn Johnson-Eaton

RATING AND COMMENTS: While I would grudgingly give the film half a star, I would give the book 3 stars out of 5. There’s more action here than in Books 1 or 3, and it has the best ending – the defeat of the antagonist, the abolition of the factions, and the mystery of the world outside. Too bad the film bungles it by introducing that weird box that “only the strongest Divergent can open” (ugh!), and by portraying Evelyn as a bitch who kills Jeanine in cold blood, which of course never happens in the book (grrr!).

BOOK 3: Allegiant

AllJohanna and Cara lead the Allegiant, a rebel group that believes in returning to the original purpose of the community, as articulated by Edith Prior. Johanna stays behind to lead the Allegiant in the city, while Cara leads the Allegiant team, which includes Tris and Four, that will go outside. Before they leave, Tris gets Four to rescue Caleb, who was to be executed for treason, and she brings Caleb with them, despite her anger at him for his betrayal. They eventually come to the Bureau of Genetic Welfare (but not before Tori is killed by Dauntless Fence Guards), where they were told of the massive genetic modification that happened centuries ago and the Purity War that resulted from it. Since the end of that war, the Bureau had been working toward “genetic healing,” and Chicago was their most successful experiment in that the city’s inhabitants managed to live in relative peace for a sufficiently long time to produce Divergents. However, war is now brewing between Evelyn’s factionless and Marcus/Johanna’s Allegiant (yes, Marcus was able to convince Johanna to let him co-lead the Allegiant), and so the Bureau’s Council decides to “reset” the memories of the city’s inhabitants, something which it had already done before, using an aerosol memory serum. When the Allegiants hear of this, they split into two subteams: Tobias and Christine are to return to Chicago to inoculate key persons; while Cara, Tris, and Caleb are to steal the serum and release it on the Council instead. When Tobias gives his mother the choice to give up the war or else lose him, she decides to get her son back, and cedes control over the city to Johanna (but not Marcus), thus averting civil war and healing Tobias’ wounded soul. The team in the Bureau also succeeds in resetting the memories of the Council members, but Tris dies SR1bsaving Caleb in the process. (This is my only consolation for multi-awarded Saoirse Ronan not being cast as Beatrice Prior – I would have hated to see her die). Two years later, Johanna serves as representative of new Chicago to the world outside, and people can freely join the city or leave it. Tobias serves as Johanna’s assistant, and his mother returns to stay with him for a while after two years of life outside the city.

RATING AND COMMENTS: Like the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, the third book in the Divergent trilogy is also the weakest. Though this book provides a lot of historical background such as how the factions came to be, the purpose of the aptitude test that every 16-year-old had to take (which was for the Bureau to spot Divergents), and even the genealogies of Beatrice and Tobias, and shows how discrimination can exist anywhere – in Chicago, the GD discriminate against the GP (i.e., the Divergent), whereas in the outside world, the GD are the ones discriminated against – the book remains as boring as the man who headed the Bureau, whose family name was not even mentioned in the book, and whom I didn’t bother to name in the summary above. But there’s a character I liked in Book 3 – Caleb, who, despite the Erudite aversion for selfless acts, volunteers to ingest the death serum to get to the memory serum in order to atone for what he eventually learned to understand and accept was his betrayal of his family and humanity in Book 2. Tris agrees to this setup originally, but probably couldn’t handle the guilt in the end, and so manages to switch places with Caleb.

I give the book 2.5 stars. But Summit Entertainment, being the producer of Twilight, is splitting the third book into two films! Money, money, money. No way am I watching those two films.

Thanks to Veronica Roth for a good yarn. I’m glad to have rested my mind. 🙂 Tomorrow, I will reflect on and blog about a more serious book, N. T. Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus.

UPDATE (March 9, 2016): Since I haven’t watched a movie in a while, I ended up watching Allegiant earlier this evening here in Nuvali. The film departs significantly from the book, and so, as is usually the case when a film does that, this one is even worse than the book, which is already worse than the 2 earlier installments. 😦

My Top 5 Happiest Happenings in 2014

View of the sky from my balcony, December 31, 2014
View of the sky from my balcony, December 31, 2014

The 31st of December.

As in 2012, 2011, and 2010, I revisit the top 5 happiest things that happened to me in 2014, as a way of thanking God for all good things. Will you join me, my friend?



Memorializing the first presentation of DLSU's NLCC process at the CEAP Convention in Davao (September)
Memorializing the first public presentation of DLSU’s NLCC process at the CEAP Convention in Davao (September)

1. Spearheading curricular and pedagogical innovation and working with a wide variety of talented individuals

As Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, I enjoyed spearheading university-wide innovations in curricula (e.g., the New Lasallian Core Curriculum (NLCC)) and pedagogies (e.g., the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL)). This necessitated my forming and working with various committees of top-notch DLSU professors from diverse disciplines and talented academic support staff, as well as delivering presentations to hundreds of people at university town hall meetings and national conventions. What surprised me was that despite the extremely hard work that all these activities — innovating, working with different people, and delivering presentations — entail, I found all of them…quite enjoyable!

2. Learning new things

I have never learned so many new and diverse things in my adult life. This year, for instance, I underwent training in Bangkok and Manila as an AUN QA Assessor, and soon after conducted my first program assessment at the Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City. I also resumed studying Spanish after a hiatus of more than a decade. And as overall chair of the New Lasallian Core Curriculum initiative, I also had to read up on practically all the twelve (!) interdisciplinary (!) courses that make up the NLCC. For example, I had to read so many books on theology and Christianity (such as those below), which, given the goal of the NLCC — which is to develop in students love for God, humanity, country and the environment, and the virtues and competencies needed to practice this love in the 21st century — play a crucial role throughout the core curriculum:

RethinkingChallenge of JesusJesus and VEGlobalization and CSTContextual theologyPagkamakataoVR1BOATBible and UniSP in CPKungPope Francis

3. Time alone by myself, either watching a show (e.g., at the Saigon Opera House after an AUN-QA assessment) or film,

With the cast of the fantastic "A O" show at the Saigon Opera House (December)
With the cast of the fantastic “A O” show at the Saigon Opera House (December)

or strolling barefoot on a beach (e.g., in Boracay after a workshop presentation),

Unwinding at the beach after a presentation of the NLCC process to diocesan leaders (April)

or reading books, including the fantasy trilogies of Joe Abercrombie (fantastic!) and Rowena Cory Daniels, during long weekends. (I hope to post a review of these before the third trimester starts.)

Abercrombie Trilogy  Daniels Trilogy

4. Fun-time spent with the family or with friends and co-workers (including co-workers in ministry) away from the workplace…

Birthday lunch with Dad, Mom, Pastor Jun, and Sister Janet at my favorite Japanese resto (Feb)
Birthday lunch with Dad, Mom, Pastor Jun, and Sister Janet at my favorite Japanese resto (February)
With Divine, Gwen, and Bing at Camaya Cove (April)
With Divine, Gwen, and Bing at Camaya Cove (April)
With FORMDEV faci alums (April)
With FORMDEV faci alums (April)
With VCA Myrna, ERIO Director Alvin, former COB Dean Boo, and AUN-QA Trainer KC from NUS, at a seafood resto in Bangkok (May)
With Myrna (Vice Chancellor for Academics), Alvin (External Relations Director), Boo (former Business Dean), and Kay Chuan (AUN-QA Assessor and Trainer), at a seafood resto in Bangkok (May)
With the NLCC Course Design Committee (CDC) members at Balay Indang, Cavite (June)
With the very talented members of the NLCC Course Design Committees (CDCs) at Balay Indang, Cavite (June)
With my titas (nieces of my paternal grandmother) and their children) (September)
With my titas (nieces of my paternal grandmother) and their children (September). We love you, Tita Bobby!
With my local church's small-group leaders (November)
With my local church’s small-group leaders (November)
With FORMDEV facis at the retreat center in Batulao (December)
With FORMDEV facis at the retreat center in Batulao (December)
Christmas with the family (December)
Christmas with the family (December)
And with the extended family (cousins and their children, December)
And with the extended family (cousins and their children, December)
My prayer post during Day 1 of the last FORMDEV recollection (December)
My prayer post during Day 1 of the last FORMDEV recollection (December)

5. Last but not the least, time spent alone with God (e.g., Christmas eve). At church I have throughout the year taught on the spiritual discipline of spending quiet time alone with God daily, which includes daily prayer as well as daily reading of the Word of God. Though not perfect, my practice of this discipline was much better this year than in the last, and I believe will get better and better, by God’s grace. As a result, I have come to understand God’s love more, which in turn has resulted in my loving God more, which in turn has resulted in my loving others more!

I thank the Almighty for an exhilarating 2014. May many of the things the Lord has begun in our lives in 2014 start to bear fruit in 2015. Amen!

New Year Fireworks Display (View from my Balcony, January 1, 2015)
View of Manila’s New Year fireworks display, January 1, 2015. (For DLSU people: can you see the tip of the DLSU Christmas tree near the bottom right corner of the photo?)

Edge of Tomorrow – It Has To Be Blunt

Live Die Repeat

Transformation and Emily Blunt work together to make Edge of Tomorrow my favorite movie of the year.

EB SideWith the luminous Emily Blunt playing the role of Rita Vrataski, the heroic “Angel of Verdun” (so called for her killing more than a hundred aliens at the Battle of Verdun), I was quite ready to be hooked. But I’m also a sucker for transformation, so when Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) changes, through time loops and Rita’s inspiring friendship, from a high-ranking but spineless army spokesman to a simple soldier intent at destroying the invading horde of aliens called Mimics, even if the only way to do so was to die, I was so hooked that I had to watch the movie again *and* buy the book on which the film was based: Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 light novel, All You Need is Kill.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

The film and novel versions are both memorable. In the following aspects, I find the movie better than the novel:

  1. edge-of-tomorrow-cage-ritaThe protagonist’s transformation is more dramatic in the film version. The film begins with a Bill Cage who is the epitome of cowardice hiding behind charisma and military rank. It ends with a Cage who is on a suicide mission to destroy the “Omega” (i.e., the queen-brain of the alien horde). In the novel, Keiji Kiriya simply begins as a new recruit who, after 163 time loops, turns into a war veteran.
  2. The happy ending. Who doesn’t love a happy ending? In the film, Bill is killed by an “Alpha” (a boss) but manages to kill the Omega (the Big Boss). The result: a “bonus” time loop in which Rita and everyone else, including Bill, but excluding the Omega and her colony, is alive. A very happy ending. (Alas, Rita would die in the novel.)
  3. EOT Rita and AlienBetter looking aliens. In the novel, an alien looks “like the bloated corpse of a drowned frog” (p. 18), which reminds me of when I had to dissect a toad in high school, blech. In the film, they look like the fearsome multi-tentacled metallic sentinels of The Matrix. (For this same reason, I predict that when Ender’s Game’s sequel, Speaker for the Dead, is eventually filmed, the Pequeninos or “piggies” (the only sentient alien species discovered since the xenocide of the Formics) would be made to look less piggy-like and more like, say, the Ewoks of Star Wars.)
  4. EB VioletGreat actors. Rita’s character in the novel is certainly memorable, but Rita’s being played by gorgeous and talented Emily Blunt, who just happens to be the 2009 BAFTA British Artist of the Year, is what makes me want to watch the movie again and again. Tom Cruise’s Cage isn’t bad at all; in fact it is a welcome respite from the flatness of the unkillable Ethan Hunt.
  5. When Cage gets a blood transfusion and loses his reset ability, he finally becomes “mortal “again. This is when the film soars.

But I find the novel better than the film in the following ways:

  1. AYNiK 2Interesting characters. Rita Vrataski might be a war machine but she is utterly feminine. Like any good soldier, she is tough but neither emotionless nor emotional. She is beautiful, but to her what does that have to do with killing the alien horde? Alas, only Cage and Rita’s characters are given some depth in the film (and even then, their characters are not as well formed as, say, that of Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity, also directed by Doug Liman). In the novel, several supporting characters also end up as memorable if not endearing: the nerdy Shasta Raylle, top MIT graduate, who developed Rita’s battle-axe; war veteran Ferrell Bartolomé, Keiji’s platoon leader, who inspires Keiji’s respect; and the well-endowed Rachel Kisaragi, who cooks for the Japanese soldiers of the United Defense Force (UDF).
  2. All_You_Need_Is_KillBackground story. The novel explains where the alien Mimics came from, why they came to be called Mimics, and what exactly happens when the Mimic that the film calls the “Alpha” (but which the author simply suggests we think of as “the server of a network”) is killed: “the signal emitted by Mimics that had lost their server traveled back in time to warn them of the imminent danger they faced” (p. 168).
  3. Younger characters. Keiji is around 18 (he joins the UDF immediately upon finishing high school, and has done only six months of training when the novel begins), while Rita is a year or two older than Keiji (she joined the UDF when she was 16, soon after her parents were killed by Mimics). While I have no problems with older characters, younger characters – Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon – are usually the ones who have the idealism, reckless boldness, and stamina to fight against oppressors, and guided by the wisdom of elder characters, the young ones do win.
  4. AYNiK 6Though not clear in the film, it is quite clear in the novel that the tachyon particles emitted when a Mimic server dies are received back in time by all the Mimics in the network (as well as the human who kills a server while in electrical contact with it), so the entire Mimic network is able to plan ahead in the same way that the human who enters the time loop does. Therefore, whereas in the movie, the final battle occurs in the Omega’s lair, in the novel it occurs when the Mimics catch the humans, Keiji and Rita included, by surprise. The other implication of this is that the only way humanity could win in the novel was for Keiji (or Rita) to break out of the time loop. Therefore, Keiji and Rita had to fight each other to the death to break out of the loop, and only one of them could survive.

Kudos to Emily Blunt and the rest of the cast and crew of Edge of Tomorrow, to Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and to all the Rita Vrataskis out there!

EB Iso pushup


Night Angel Trilogy

I love long holidays! Over the long All Saints/Souls weekend, I was able to read Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy.

The saga is set in the continent of Midcyru, mainly in the two kingdoms of Cenaria, where the Sa’Kagé underworld exerts more power than its king, and of Khalidor, ruled by an unbroken line of “Godkings,” the strongest wielders of the Vir, i.e., the magic that wytches (also called meisters and Vürdmeisters) use, said to be more powerful than the Talent used by mages.

Seven centuries ago, Jorsin Alkestes, Midcyru’s first High King, created with the help of Ezra the Mage objects of great magical power, including the swords Curoch (Sword of Power, which could immensely amplify the power of its wielder) and Iures (Staff of Law, which could undo even the most complicated weaves of magic). Ezra also discovered the black ka’kari, an ancient and sentient metallic object, the soul of whose magic will later be revealed to be love. It enables its wielder to “see” whether a person’s heart/mind is filled with evil, especially murder. It also gives its wielder immortality. It can be shaped into any form (think Green Lantern), and through it its wielder can become invisible and see in the dark, among many other special abilities.

Ezra was also able to create six artificial ka’kari, and gave all seven to Jorsin, who in turn gave the six artificial ones to his Six Champions (e.g., the white ka’kari, whose power was glamour or compulsion, was given to Trace Arvagulania), and the black to Acaelus Thorne, to Ezra’s consternation. The truth however is that the black ka’kari chose Acaelus. Powerful mages, meisters, and kings have been looking for Curoch, Iures, and the six ka’kari through the centuries, but no one knows about the black ka’kari let alone its being the power behind the Night Angel, a powerful being who serves Justice, Vengeance and Mercy.

Note: SPOILERS here!!!

BOOK 1: The Way of Shadows

Eleven-year-old Azoth wants to get out of his guild of orphaned adolescent thieves, and away from its wicked leader-in-waiting, Rat, so Azoth begs Durzo Blint, the Sa’Kagé’s finest wetboy (i.e., Talent-wielding assassin), to apprentice him. Durzo gives him a test first: kill Rat. Azoth couldn’t quite get the moral conviction to carry out the assassination but when Rat rapes Azoth’s best friend Jarl and rapes and then horribly disfigures their eight-year-old best friend Doll Girl, Azoth kills Rat. Thus begins a decade of training under Durzo and under the new identity, Baronet Kylar Stern. In his new life, Kylar befriends Count Rimbold Drake (a former Sa’Kagé leader) and his wife, who, as believers in the one God, show Kylar unconditional love; Momma K., the Sa’Kagé’s Mistress of Prostitution (later to be revealed as the Shinga/chief of the Sa’Kagé), who trains him in politics and social graces; and Duke Gyre’s son, Logan, who would later become king of Cenaria. Kylar also ensures that Doll Girl likewise gets a new life as the scar-faced but otherwise beautiful commoner, Elene Cromwyll. During this period, the black ka’kari leaves Durzo Blint and chooses Kylar as its new master, enabling the latter to tap his inert Talent, which unknown to him was the greatest in this century. During the same period, Rat resurfaces as Roth Ursuul who, together with Vürdmeister Neph Dada, oversees the murder of the Cenarian king and nobles, and the takeover of Cenaria by Khalidor. In the end, Klyar battles Roth and both of them die, but Kylar returns to life and inherits Durzo’s sword, Retribution, which, in reality, is Iures.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3 stars out of 5. Though there is nothing new here (not even the world or the magic system), Brent Weeks is nevertheless able to create a good yarn that kept me reading through the night. It actually reminds me of the Godspeaker Trilogy, which I read during the long All Saints/Souls weekend two years ago, though I prefer the Night Angel trilogy, probably because it is written from a male point of view. In Book 1, I like Kylar’s character development the most, especially the process of his learning to submit to moral virtue, particularly brotherly love, which in his early years he learns from Doll Girl/Elene, whom he would eventually marry. I also like Durzo’s character, who, after seven centuries of wielding the black ka’kari and Iures (yes, Durzo is Acaelus), has grown tired of and cynical about justice and love. He dies at the hand of his apprentice, but because he saved Kylar, whom he loved like a son, he, too, is brought back to life to enjoy it one last time.

Book 2: Shadow’s Edge

Kylar takes Elene and Uly (Durzo and Momma K.’s daughter) out of Cenaria into Caernarvon, where he tries to leave behind the life of an assassin. There he sells his sword, Retribution, and purchases for Elene what no one knows is the most potent pair of magical marriage rings surviving, capable of creating a bond that enables one spouse to feel what the other is feeling (and that gives the partner who fastens the earrings the power of compulsion over the other). Meanwhile, the Khalidoran Godking places a deep and powerful weave of compulsion on the beautiful but deadly Vi Sovari, apprentice of Cenaria’s second best wetboy, and she kills her only friend, Jarl, who also happens to be Kylar’s best friend, when he visits Kylar to tell him that Logan is alive but imprisoned in the Hole. Vi also takes with her Uly and, unwittingly, the marriage rings while Kylar and Elene were out. Vi meets Sister Ariel, who takes Uly to the Chantry (a training place for female mages) and tells Vi to see Sister Drusilla in Cenaria, who could probably remove the Godking’s compulsive weave. Kylar frees Logan, who rallies the Sa’kagé and few remaining nobles to fight against the army of the Godking, while Kylar is forced to work with Vi to kill the Godking himself, believing that Vi’s compulsion is gone. It isn’t gone, however, so Vi betrays and kills Kylar, whom she discovers she loves. To break the Godking’s control over her will and to destroy him, she fastens on her and Kylar’s ears the marriage rings, thereby transferring her obedience from the Godking to Kylar. Kylar awakes, finishes the Godking off, and, devastated by his loss of Elene by his being wedded to Vi, leaves Vi forlorn.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3 stars out of 5. Vi’s character is an interesting contrast against Elene’s, whose innocence were both shattered in the slums of Cenaria. While Vi oozes with sexuality, Elene exudes the kind of female goodness that calls men to settle down. While Vi learned to use her body to survive and kill, Elene learned to forgive and love even more.

Book 3: Beyond the Shadows

Vi goes to the Chantry to heal her broken spirit. There she meets Elene who, despite the pain of knowing that Vi wedded Kylar, decides to forgive her. Thus Vi’s healing begins through Elene’s friendship.  Kylar goes to the Chantry, too, to see Elene and they marry in private. (In public, it is to Vi that Kylar is married as signified by the rings that are permanently on their ears). But Kylar’s sword is stolen and so he has to leave. Pregnant with Kylar’s son, Elene also leaves the Chantry shortly after. Kylar soon finds the sword with Durzo’s help, and kills the Vürdmeister Neph Dada, but not before the latter enables the Khalidoran goddess, Khali, to enter into Elene, of all people. Khali then unleashes millions of undead krul. Kylar tries to kill Khali but could not because of Khali’s power of compulsion feeding on Kylar’s love for Elene. Vi eventually succeeds in compelling Kylar to kill Khali/Elene through the power of the marriage rings. Khali, who in reality is the spirit of Trace Arvagulania, tries to leave Elene’s body but is trapped by Elene’s love, and so they die together. To destroy the millions of undead krul released by Khali, Kylar, Durzo, and Vi are joined by Dorian (the current century’s most powerful mage-cum-Vürdmeister), who in turn calls on Ezra the Mage himself. Their powers, combined with those of Curoch and Iarus and the black ka’kari, destroy the krul once and for all. In the epilogue, during Elene’s queenly funeral ordered by Logan, the new High King, Vi realizes that Dorian the Mad (who apparently lost his mind after the great battle) had transferred Elene’s baby into the womb of Logan’s wife, Jenine, who now bears two sons – her and Dorian’s, as well as Kylar and Elene’s. Which of the two is the so-called Child of the Prophecy now?

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3 stars out of 5. I hated that Dorian who, as a mage and a Godking, had the singular ability to wield both Talent and Vir, started out good (he wanted to reform Khalidor) but ended up unable to withstand the corrupting influence of the Vir. The climax/conclusion is rather boring, but in fairness to Brent Weeks, this is true of most epic fantasy climaxes, including (from best to worst:) Jim Butcher’s six-part Codex Alera (my average rating: 4/5), Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy (3.5/5), Karen Miller’s Godspeaker Trilogy (3.3/5), and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy (2.7/5). Of the modern epic fantasy series that I’ve read, only the concluding volumes of Elizabeth Haydon’s Symphony of Ages (Books 1-3, my average rating: 4.7/5) and David Farland’s Runelords (Books 1-4, my average rating: 4.6/5) were worth five stars. (Someday I hope to write epic fantasy like David Farland, but one with Christian undertones.) Nevetheless the Night Angel was a good read.

The Hunger Games: Book vs. Film

This is my first time to blog about a film, and the reason I’m doing this is that I’d like to analyze in the future other film adaptations of my favorite fantasy book series (e.g., LOTR, the Chronicles of Narnia, A Song of Ice and Fire).

In an earlier post, I gave the Hunger Games book 3 stars out of 5. I’m also giving the Hunger Games film the same rating for the following reasons.

First would be the top 3 things I appreciate about the film, which are:

  • The film manages to portray the violence in the book without being too gory (cf. Battle Royale).
  • The film contrasts very well the poverty and oppression in the districts on one hand and the sickening extravagance and apathy in the Capitol on the other.
  • The film manages to keep the action flowing; there doesn’t seem to be any dull moments.

However, here are the top 3 things I believe this film could have done better (or hope that the film adaptations of the other two books would do):

  • The film could have been more careful about the details. I understand that many details need to be omitted; otherwise, we’d have a miniseries. For example, I understand that Peeta’s leg did not have to be amputated in the film; the author herself seems to have forgotten this detail in the later books anyway. However, the film could have paid more careful attention to Buttercup (see the excerpt here to know more about the cat), who, in the end, would be Prim’s gift to Katniss. The film could also have used the dialogue below (from Chapter 22, in the cave), which would then make clear the steadfastness of Peeta’s character as well as his love for Katniss:

“Peeta,” I say lightly. “You said at the interview you’d had a crush on me forever. When did forever start?”

“Oh, let’s see. I guess the first day of school. We were five. You had on a red plaid dress and your hair…it was in two braids instead of one. My father pointed you out when we were waiting to line up,” Peeta says.

“Your father? Why?” I ask.

“He said, ‘See that little girl? I wanted to marry her mother, but she ran off with a coal miner,’” Peeta says.

“What? You’re making that up!” I exclaim.

“No, true story,” Peeta says. “And I said, ‘A coal miner? Why did she want a coal miner if she could’ve had you?’ And he said, ‘Because when he sings…even the birds stop to listen.’”

“That’s true. They do. I mean, they did,” I say. I’m stunned and surprisingly moved, thinking of the baker telling this to Peeta. It strikes me that my own reluctance to sing, my own dismissal of music might not really be that I think it’s a waste of time. It might be because it reminds me too much of my father.

“So that day, in music assembly, the teacher asked who knew the valley song. Your hand shot right up in the air. She stood you up on a stool and had you sing it for us. And I swear, every bird outside the windows fell silent,” Peeta says.

“Oh, please,” I say, laughing.

“No, it happened. And right when your song ended, I knew—just like your mother—I was a goner,” Peeta says. “Then for the next eleven years, I tried to work up the nerve to talk to you.”

  • Though I respect Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as actors (both were in award-winning films before), their characters in the film do not seem to mesh quite well. I hope that the scripts of the future film adaptations will remedy this.

  • As I wrote in my review of the trilogy, several important characters remained one-dimensional throughout the trilogy: Habermitch, Gale, President Snow, President Coin. Hopefully, this will be addressed in the film versions of Books 2 and 3.

The Hunger Games Trilogy

I love book series (e.g., Bandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera). So although I don’t usually read YA novels, when a student lent me his copy of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy a couple of trimesters ago, I couldn’t resist at least reading the first page. And I got hooked by… Buttercup the cat. 🙂

“Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and he’s a bornmouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me. Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.” (Chapter 1, The Hunger Games)

The trilogy is set in post-apocalyptic North America, where a wealthy Capitol is served by 12 Districts. Each year, to continue to instill fear throughout the nation, the Capitol hosts a reality-TV event called the Hunger Games, in which two 12- to 18-year-old “tributes” are chosen by lot from each district to fight each other to the death until only a single tribute remains. The Gamemakers choose a different location (e.g., an island) each year to serve as the arena for the games and then design all kinds of dangers (e.g., earthquakes, tidal waves, flesh-eating plants, carnivorous insects, wolf-like “muttations” that seem to include body parts of dead tributes) to add further gore to the game show. Viewers can “sponsor” any tribute and send gifts (e.g., food or medicine) to the tribute that are vital to his/her survival anywhere in the arena.

Note: Spoilers here.

BOOK 1: The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen is a tough 16-year-old who hunts and forages outside the electrified fence enclosing her district to keep her mother and younger sister,  Prim, alive. When her sister is selected at random to be one of District 12’s two tributes to the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss immediately  volunteers to take Prim’s place. The other tribute is Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, whose only talent useful for survival in the Games is the gift of gab. On the way to the Capitol, the pair’s drunken mentor, Haymitch (the only victor from District 12, who uses alcohol to cope with his nightmarish victory in the 50th Games and the subsequent murder of his family by, he suspects, President Snow), and stylist, Cinna (who designs a costume for Katniss that makes her look like a spellbinding conflagration) determine that the two should be marketed as partners, if not lovers, to attract sponsors. However, two unexpected things happen. First, Katniss finds herself responding to Peeta’s displays of genuine affection, for it turns out that Katniss was Peeta’s childhood crush, to the joy of the viewers, but to the consternation of her long-time hunting partner, Gale, who seems to have begun to see her as more than a friend. Second, Katniss, by: (a) stopping in the Game to solemnly spread flowers over the dead body of fellow tribute and ally, Rue; and (b) outwitting the Gamemakers by threatening that she and Peeta would swallow nightlock, a lethal berry, unless the Gamemakers reinstate their rule that would allow both of them to win (there would be no victors should they both die), unwittingly becomes the face of the rebellion against Snow’s oppressive regime, with the mockingjay on her pin serving as the rebellion’s unofficial symbol.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3 stars out of 5. I like Peeta’s character best, particularly his inherent goodness and steady devotion, though what caught my attention and caused me to read the book with greater enthusiasm than I would normally give a YA novel was Prim’s devoted cat, Buttercup. Because I love cats (and dogs), it was Buttercup whom I enjoyed visualizing the most. And though I don’t like reality TV shows, and dislike the extreme violence of the annual Hunger Games, especially since the tributes are so young, I find impressive how the author effectively uses the idea of combining Roman gladiatorial games and reality TV to frame her story of transformation (Katniss’), steadfastness (Peeta’s, Cinna’s), and revolution (of the districts against totalitarian rule and the poverty that it brings). (Some people have suggested, though, that Ms. Collins might have gotten the idea from Battle Royale, a 1999 Japanese novel, which the author denies.)

BOOK 2: Catching Fire

Katniss and Peeta begin touring the districts as part of their duties as victors. Their first visit was to District 11, home of Rue, where the people salute Katniss, confirming her as the unofficial symbol of the rebellion against President Snow’s tyranny. Seeing this on national TV, Snow therefore forces Katniss and Peeta to play in the Hunger Games’ Quarter Quell, which occurs every 25 years, and in which the Capitol is allowed to introduce new twists, such as forcing two surviving victors from each district to be their district’s tributes. Katniss outwits the Gamemakers again, however, by firing an electrically charged arrow against the arena’s force field, thereby destroying it. Commotion results, and she finds herself being transported to the rebel base, District 13, which until then was only rumored to exist, while Peeta is captured by Snow. When she wakes up, she learns that due to her rebellious act, District 12 was bombed. Fortunately, Gale was able to get Katniss’ mom and younger sister out in time, but Peeta’s entire family was wiped out.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 2.5 stars out of 5. Though Katniss is now more decidedly mature in her thinking and her character therefore less flat than in the first book, the novelty of the gladiatorial reality TV has, at least for me, worn off, despite the new dangers designed by the Gamemakers and the fact that this time all the tributes are former victors. The rebellion that is rapidly gaining momentum could have been developed more carefully as the reader is exposed to a world that is larger than that portrayed in the first book, but one wonders, among others, why nobody seems to know of any nations outside of Panem, despite the high degree of technological sophistication that the world seems to have attained. I suppose most of the book’s YA readers would appreciate the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle, which this volume definitely ratchets up, but for adult readers, this love triangle simply cannot compensate for the lack of sophistication in the trilogy’s world building or in the characterization of those in supporting roles. This disappointment coupled with a rather heavy workload caused me not to open the third book, Mockingjay, until a couple of days ago.

BOOK 3: Mockingjay

Katniss wakes up in District 13, where she is pressured by President Coin, leader of the resistance, to become the “Mockingjay,” i.e., the official symbol of the Districts’ rebellion. Wearing a mockingjay-inspired suit, the Mockingjay now visits various districts and engages in skirmishes, all of which are expertly filmed and broadcast to all of Panem. Meanwhile, Gale learns to apply his skills in designing hunting traps to the design of bombs; and though Peeta is rescued from the Capitol, his memories have been “hijacked” so that some of them cause him to hate Katniss and want to kill her. Swearing to kill Snow, Katniss goes to the Capitol with many other rebel soldiers, including Gale and Peeta, who has learned to differentiate false memories from real. Upon reaching the President’s mansion, however, a pre-climactic bomb explosion occurs, killing Prim and burning Katniss and Peeta. When Katniss wakes up after receiving extensive skin grafts, she finds Snow sick and under house arrest. He manages to convince Katniss that it wasn’t him but Coin who dropped the bomb that killed Prim and many other civilians, mostly children, in the President’s mansion. When Katniss is chosen to execute Snow, she shoots her arrow at and kills Coin instead. Pandemonium ensues during which Snow dies also. Katniss is tried by a new government for the murder of President Coin, found not guilty (due, apparently, to temporary insanity), and sent home to District 12. Peeta follows her but not Gale. In the epilogue, Katniss watches her and Peeta’s two kids in what appears to be nation with a brighter future.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 2.5 stars out of 5. I decided a couple of nights ago to finally read this book, thereby finishing the trilogy and my review in time for the Hunger Games movie, which opens today. I tried to keep an open mind after having been disappointed by the second book; alas, this book somewhat disappointed me as well. The whole part where Katniss was in District 13, preparing for the final showdown between her and President Snow (which would never take place despite the story appearing to build up to it), was rather boring despite her rebellious mini-escapades and the side stories of other victors-turned-rebels. President Coin is as one-dimensional as President Snow, and it turns out that Habermitch and Gale remain as flat as they were in the first book. The character I like the most in this final volume is Prim’s, whose gifts of empathy, wisdom, and emotional strength are unfortunately eclipsed in the story by Katniss’ physical prowess and self-sacrifice; unfortunately, the author sacrifices Prim, too, so that in the end Katniss will have no one else but Peeta (her mom decides to work full time at the Capitol nursing people).

Despite the caricaturish supporting characters and the underdeveloped story world, the Hunger Games trilogy is noteworthy for its engaging plot and heroes. Now to watch the movie 🙂 which I hope will focus more on the goodness and self-sacrifice of characters like Peeta, Cinna, and of course, Katniss, and less on the violence and gore, though some might say that goodness shines more brightly amidst wickedness.

Thanks to Greg Argulla for lending me the books!