Thursday, December 13, 2018

Sojourn by R. A. Salvatore

I had been looking forward to this book since I started the Dark Elf trilogy. The book when Drizzt finally leaves the Underdark and encounters the races on the surface above. The first and second book in the series are Homeland and Exile.

It was with much anticipation I started listening and for the first couple of hours I was not disappointed. But then after the first few encounters the book slows down and it is only until late in the book it picks up a little again only to not come to any kind of crescendo.

A tad disappointed, but still pleased to have found another favorite character in Drizzt. To be fair, one of the events early in the book did surprise and even shock me. Still now after a couple of weeks I recall and think about it. The story truly turned in a way I was not expecting. Maybe I'm just sensitive, though officially I'm tough as nails, honest.

I did enjoy the interweaving of several different groups of races and of groups of people. It made the world come alive to a certain extent. Also, for me, it gave promise of things to come on Drizzt's future journey through the world.

One thing that comes through, that I appreciate, is that it isn't easy for a dark elf to approach and initiate any kind of contact with other races. An obvious thing certainly, but it is depicted naturally, with fear and hesitation and even anger from the people he encounters. Not over the top, which would be easy and probably tempting to write.

In total I enjoyed the book and the whole Dark Elf series without a doubt. It wasn't quite up to what I was expecting, but I was entertained without pause throughout.

I don't have too high hopes for the next trilogy, The Icewind Dale trilogy, as it was written before the Dark Elf trilogy and I've read reviews telling of a somewhat different and undeveloped personality of Drizzt. In a way it sounds like going backwards in the story when it comes to the character of Drizzt, even though the storyline does continue in the Icewind Dale series.

I shouldn't judge it beforehand, I'll see what gives when I read that series. Until then I'm going to slip in a couple of other books in to recalculate the senses a bit.

Until then.

If you've read the Dark Elf series or any of the other books on Drizzt, what are your thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment. Would be great to hear your opinion on the series or the books in general.

Exile by R. A. Salvatore

Some weeks ago I got through this book, but haven't had the time to write a review until now.

The second book in the Dark Elf Trilogy tells the continued story of the dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden as he finds himself out on his own in the Underdark having left his home in Menzoberranzan and the evil ways of his family and kin behind.

With conflicting emotions and uncertainty as to how he should live his life, Drizzt makes his way through the Underdark. Beside him he has his faithful companion Guenhwyvar, a black magical panther he befriended in Homeland. Together they brave the wild darkness in search of a home.

Drizzt soon realizes that the time in solitude and isolation takes it toll and affects him in unexpected ways. He realizes he has to do something about it.

Unknowingly something also lurks nearby in the darkness in search of him.

This book was a enjoyable listen, mostly during my drives to work. I didn't know what to expect when I started, but was pleasantly surprised by the events that unfolded. Especially the friendships that are made and the colourful creatures and characters encountered.

I would perhaps wanted more powerful, intense and character changing events, but it was fine.
That said, fine is of course not what I look for in a book.

Being somewhat of a stepping stone to the next book, Sojourn, I was ok with this.

All in all a good book, a little bland and uneventful, but builds the story and character of Drizzt further, pushing me on to the next book in the series.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Homeland by R. A. Salvatore

Drizzt Do'Urden
I just finished listening to Homeland by R. A Salvatore. A first book in a series of three about the dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden. Drizzt is one of the most famous characters in the Forgotten Realms of the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.

The Forgotten Realms is home to famous places like Neverwinter and Baldurs Gate on the Sword Coast, perhaps you have heard of them before.

The story is centered around the third son Drizzt of the house of Do'Urden in the underground city of Menzoberranzan. The city is located about two miles under the surface of the world and situated in the upper parts of the dark world Underdark, a vile place where few earth-dwellers dare go. The city is a hard and evil environment where most things revolve around the family houses of the dark elves trying to get the upper hand on each other.

Right from the start it is clear that there is something different about Drizzt, having purple eyes for one and not shying away from the light held in front of him as a day old baby. This becomes more and more clear as he grows up in the sinister surroundings of his Do'Urden family and he finds himself not quite at home with the worshipping of the Spider Queen Loth for one and all the killing for another.

It is a quite dark story with a good character buildup which left me wanting more as I listened.
It took me a little while to get used to the different environment as opposed to other fantasy novels, but it grew on me more and more. In the end I cherished the story and didn't want it to end.

This is the first book in the three book series The Dark Elf Trilogy.
After that there are numerous books following Drizzt Do'Urden to dive into.

My main takeaway from the book is the character of Drizzt, I can understand why so many have come to like him over the years. I will no doubt keep listening to sequel books in this series.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Finally I've listened to "Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. It's been on my reading list for a long time and I have just not gotten around to it until now.

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin are both former US Navy SEALs who served in the Iraq War. Willink led the Task Unit Bruiser and Babin was one of the commanders leading one of the two platoons of that unit.

The book is about leadership skills that are crucial for success out on the battlefield. These skills can also be applied with proven success in businesses or any other scene where leadership skills are required. Each chapter is one story from their deployment to Iraq, explaining a particular leadership skill, then afterwards another story from the business world where Leif and Jocko could help the company out. The alternating between stories makes the book an easy listen.

The narration is good, clear and to the point. The stories, especially the ones from Iraq were riveting, sucking me in and I listened with great interest. There is just something about the stark, cold simplicity and complexity of warfare, especially when told by US SEAL team members.

In short, some of the skills and lessons they explain are:
(My interpretation, errors may be present, read the book for the true story.)

Extreme Ownership - As a leader you should always take ownership of everything around you.
For instance, if you brief your subordinates about a job and then when they perform it they fail and just don't follow your instructions correctly. It might be natural to blame them for not performing the task as instructed. But in accordance with Extreme Ownership its your fault, you didn't explain the task good enough or checked if all of the members understood the task they were given.

Prioritize and Execute - Its easy to get overwhelmed when there are a lot of things to do and new information comes in and even new events are thrown at you at the same time. A normal instinct is to start doing several or even all things at once. This leadership skill is about relaxing, calming down and look at the situation. Then prioritize which task is most important and execute on that. Then when that is done, move on to the next.

Simple - Anything in life has inherent layers of complexities. Simplifying as much as possible is important for achieving success. For example if you as a leader hold a presentation for a group of people and you feel you did a really good job with the presentation and everything went smoothly. You got all the information into the presentation and managed to keep to the timetable.
None of that matters if the people you presented the information to don't get it or don't understand what you presented. Then you haven't kept things simple and in reality you would still have failed with the presentation.

I thought the book was really good, I like these types of life lessons and learning from experienced people with great knowledge. Compounding knowledge like this will make a huge difference in the long run.

It's a good, easy, exciting listen, I can highly recommend it.

As a side note Chris Kyle, the US Navy SEAL sniper who is depicted in the movie American Sniper, was under Leif Babin's direct command which was under Jocko Willink's command in Ramadi, Iraq.

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin have a business called Echelon Front where they help other companies with leadership, team building and strategy amongst other things.

Jocko also has his own podcast, Jocko Podcast.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Innocent Mage and the Awakened Mage by Karen Mills

Just listened through the two pleasant books The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage from the
Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series written by the Australian author Karen Miller.

Its a story about a Kingdom magically sheltered from the corrupted world outside and a prophecy on the verge of coming to pass. A rough young fisherman by the name of Asher leaves his home village of Restharven and heads for the royal city of Dorana to make his fortune. He soon finds himself reluctantly drawn into the intricacy and danger of politics, royalty and magics.

I found the story while sorting through audiobooks on YouTube looking for something to break me away from podcasts and informational audiobooks for a while. I've always had a soft spot for fantasy and was aiming for something off the mainstream of that genre, so these suited me fine I thought.

The books are about twenty one and twenty four hours long respectively, in paper form over six and seven hundred pages, so you are in for a long treat if the story is to your liking.

Now you might be wondering why I bring up how long the books are, well there's a reason. Although I like the books and especially some of the characters, fabulously portrayed by the narrator Kirby Heyborne in the audiobooks, the story feels long-winded and drawn out. A lot is revolved around dialogue and the drama surrounding it, which in itself is good, no fault there. The problem is that most scenes does not directly move the story forward or impact it in a significant way. Looking back after reading half of  the first book I noticed that not much had really happened.

The great thing about the book though is that it really shines when it comes to dialogue and the colourful characters. For instance the main character which has a fisherman's background always curses or blurts out lines in relation to the ocean or his fishing heritage."Sink me bloody sideways!" and the likes. The characters also call to the highly revered late magician Barl as a deity: "Barl save me!". Now and again it made me smile while I listened, small details that makes the listen so much better. It is easy to get invested in the characters. Sometimes though, they are, some of them, a bit childish and immature. Making decisions a ten year old would have enough sense to avoid or them being stubborn to a fault.

Also some scenes are played out from different characters viewpoints which is interesting and entertaining. Another character can for instance be referred to as "the worm" instead of its correct name or rank because of personal preferences of the beholder. The description or interpretation of what happens is also flavoured, it made the story come alive even more and it was a pleasant surprise.

All in all I found the books entertaining and had a hard time pausing the audiobook to do something else. If you want a on the edge gripping and heartfelt and devastating book, this isn't the one. But if you enjoy good characters, nice dialogue, good voice acting and aren't too rushed to have the story progress rapidly, these might be books for you.

Let me know what you think of the review in the comments below and if you like what I write, please follow me on twitter for future reviews of books I will read or listen to.