Discuss and rate the last thing you read

Hawki

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The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye (4/5)

Before you say anything, no, that's not a typo. Rather, it's proof that the zombie apocalypse doesn't stop people from making puns.

So, yeah. This is the first graphic novel of the Walking Dead comic series. Since the show follows the general beats of the comic, I won't waste time expositing on the setup, as it's practically identical, sometimes shots being transferred directly to the series. I will say that I think that the TV series is superior, at least in regards to its respective timeframe. Shane makes the descent to homicidal git far too quickly here, and as we're missing characters like T-Dog, Merle, and Daryl, the sections in Atlanta feel abridged. Which of course isn't the case, but the TV series makes things more fleshed out in my mind. Still, Lori is more pleasant here, though I never got the hate behind her TV counterpart.

Still, comparisons to the TV show aside, the comic is still solid. Good writing and good characters, and per the use of winter, good setting/mood as well. It makes good on its promise to explore the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.

Notes on an Exodus (4/5)

This is an essay by Richard Flannegan written a few years ago as he charted the journey of Syrian refugees through the Middle-east to Europe. Let's just say that it isn't pleasant. Not so much in regards to direct descriptions of violence, but rather its effects on people's lives. You have Syria itself, where people are caught between the Assad regime and groups such as Deash. You have these people getting in debt to people smugglers. You have the squalor of the camps in Lebanon. You have the death trap that's the Agean Sea. You have a lot of things that I challenge anyone to read this and not be affected by. It's the kind of book I want people who ask "why don't you stay in Syria?" or "why don't you go to Muslim countries?" to read. Because the answer to the first question is that many people would love to return, but not only is Syria a war-zone, but the people are caught between a death cult on one side, and a dictatorship that drops bombs indiscriminately on the other. And as for the question of Muslim countries, many do go to countries like Lebanon and Turkey, but at least in Lebanon, circumstances are so bad that sometimes, there's no recourse but to keep looking for shelter.

What got me most of all thought is the children that were interviewed, how often they describe having nightmares. Fear of just entering a building because they fear that a helicopter will drop bombs on it. Fear of seeing a Red Cross Plane because they associate it with bombs dropping from fighter jets. There's a copy of a picture one of the children drew, showing a helicopter dropping barrel bombs on a school, with dead bodies outside. When I was their age, it's the type of picture I might have drawn because war is "kewl." I had the luxury of not having to live through it. Stick figures, sure, but stick figures can say a lot when they're drawn by a child who's fled war and been left traumatized by it.

So, yeah. Gonna leave it at that. Just typing this has made me emotional. I get that there's no good solutions to the migrant/refugee issue in Europe and the Middle-east, but...yeah. I can only imagine what these people (and others) have gone through. And I can only hope that I never have to find out for myself.
 

Hawki

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World War I: A Very Peculiar History (3/5)

At less than 200 pages long, I was able to borrow it and read it on the train home from work. And as a read, it was...okay.

Thing is, this isn't really the kind of book you're going to go to get info on WWI. I mean, maybe if you have no familiarity with the subject, and even then, I'm not sure. When it came to stuff like the Western Front and Gallipoli, it was stuff I was already familiar with. And with the Southern and Eastern Fronts, while it touches on them, it doesn't go into any particular detail.

As a plus (sort of), the book has a lot of dark humour to the tactics (or lack of them) used in the conflict. We're all aware of the stereotypes of WWI ("lions lead by donkeys" as the saying goes), and while it's not that quite clear cut, the book nevertheless does dabble in it. Not enough to make the book a comedy, but more than to sell the book as 'hard' non-fiction.

So, yeah. Entertaining read, but nothing special.
 

the December King

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Hyperion Cantos By Dan Simmons, 1989

8/10

The first book, Hyperion, is an epic built around a religious pilgrimage taken by seven characters, all with their own agendas, and how they all arrive at the enigmatic Time Tombs of Hyperion- structures that defy science by existing backwards in time, at a time when the known universe and all of humanity are at a terrifying moment of change, and all of them stalked by the nigh indestructible and seemingly chaotic guardian of the Tombs- the demon entity known as the Shrike. What follows their arrival at the Time Tombs paves the way for changes across the known universe, and also within the inscrutable depths of the digital realms of the super-sentient AIs that seem to control all information...

I gotta say that the first book was... awesome. I loved the characters and the fun ideas about where technology goes in the next 800 years or so, and the fact that, although the book references a lot of current or modern issues or subjects, it also peppers in constant references to ideas and concepts from our far past, as well as the times between then and now. Comparisons to Dune are not undeserved.

(Naturally, for those of you who are more scholarly than I, you may have noticed that the title also refers to an unfinished epic poem by John Keats. This is intentional, as the works of several other poets and thinkers are brought to stage in this tale.)

I went on to read the three remaining books in the Cantos, and though I did enjoy them more or less, it was the first (and arguably the second, Fall of Hyperion, though the scope of the second novel feels... compressed? to me, in hindsight) that I liked the most. The last two books (Endymion and Endymion Rising) were enjoyable enough, and still had some awesome ideas, but the main protagonist for these two books was almost constantly without any agency of his own, and though at first I was amused by this, it felt like he was never allowed to take control of his own destiny, and I was getting rather tired of the constant fawning over his seemingly infallible prophet/lover.

Apparently, Dan Simmons has also written some additional short stories in this universe. I will gladly read them, as soon as I can.
 

Hawki

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So, because of the site being down, don't have time to go in-depth, so:

-Star Trek: Titan: Synthesis (3/5)

It's...okay. Nice premise compounded by me not being overly invested in Star Trek, let alone the crew of the USS Titan

-Halo: Tales from Slipspace (3/5)

Average by virtue of the quality of 'tales' varying from the very good, to the good, to the okay, to "what the hell did I just read?"

But I enjoyed it.
 
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Currently trying to expand my interests at the moment, so with that in mind the last few books I have read are:

A Beginner's Guide to Cheesemaking - Bloody hell, it's a lot more complicated than I thought! The book is great, very detailed and written in a clear manner, but it takes a bit of getting used to as the author is American and frequently refers to items not commonly found in stores over here. I'm finding that I'm ordering a lot of stuff online, and although the processes involve a lot more precision than I am used to in the kitchen I'm having great fun with it. Would heartily recommend to anyone who fancies giving it a go!

Beekeeping: Practical Advice and Inspiration for Beginners - A charming little pocketbook crammed with information. Not really something I could do living where I do, but a friend has taken a loan of the book and is considering getting a hive for the bottom of her garden. Again, this book is clearly written and full of useful little nuggets of information, and as such is a cracking little 'coffee table' book.

and

The Bow Builder's Book - I have shelves and shelves of books on archaeology, and I bought this book expecting it to be a reference book, more like 'Bow building through the ages' or something like that, but it is actually a very comprehensive guide for practical bow building. It covers everything from simple bows such as the traditional English longbow right the way through to modern compound re-curve bows, and although it's not what I was expecting it to be it's certainly been interesting.
 

Asita

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Mistborn Trilogy - I'd heard good things about Brandon Sanderson for some time and I finally decided to give him a go. And I'm quite happy I did. In many ways, Mistborn was exactly what I've wanted to see in fantasy for some time now. There are no orcs, no elves, and the magic system is pretty tight. Mistborn was described to me as part heist novel, part heroic fantasy, and that rather neatly describes the first book, though the others fit different genres.

For all that the books set up grand goals, the books are surprisingly slow going. Much of a given novel consists of the characters planning, ruminating, and reacting to unforeseen complications. Another good part of it is dealing with their doubts, frustrations, and insecurities. And it does a wonderful job of that. I empathize strongly with Vin's distrust and difficulty adapting to a crew that actually seemed to trust each other, with the fact that the sense of hopelessness amongst the skaa after centuries of oppression and abuse is an enormous obstacle towards actually improving their lot in life, with Kelsier's cheerful charisma being itself an act of defiance, with how tired the characters get in the face of their perceived powerlessness.

If you're looking for a different kind of fantasy, consider Mistborn.

Edited: Thanks Hawki
 

the December King

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Thresher by Michael Cole, 2018

7/10

It's Jaws, but ramped up to 11. What sold me on this was some of the details of where the eponymous villain comes from, and that there is a little more to the politics behind the scenes (but not much). I would always recommend Jaws in a case like this, of course, but feel that this is a fine homage. Enjoyable!

The Hyde Effect by Steve Vance, 2000

8/10

Enjoyable, if somewhat predictable werewolf story, where science and the supernatural, sort of, collide. Felt a bit like the Strain (book 1) at parts, but not quite as gloomy- somehow it had me feeling more of an 80's slasher vibe. Easily visualized and developed characters, and full of violence- the monster here is as brutal as they come. Some questionable logic as to the setups, of course, but as with a lot of supernatural horror, a little suspension of disbelief (I'd also love a sequel with some further explorations of the protagonists as a sort of supernatural watchdog(heh) team, as well as elaboration of the gore-soaked conclusion of the story), and it makes for a good read.
 

Hawki

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Asita said:
Mistborn was described to me as part heist novel, part heroic fantasy, and that rather neatly describes the first book, and can broadly be said to reflect the greater narrative structure of the trilogy.
Much as I love Mistborn, I'm kinda surprised as to the notion of it describing the first trilogy.

Does it describe the first book? Absolutely. However, I'd say the first trilogy is interesting in part because each book has a different tone, namely:

Book 1: Heist/adventure. Mostly light-hearted.

Book 2: Political intrigue. Gets darker.

Book 3: Epic fantasy. Darkest in tone.
 

Asita

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Hawki said:
Asita said:
Mistborn was described to me as part heist novel, part heroic fantasy, and that rather neatly describes the first book, and can broadly be said to reflect the greater narrative structure of the trilogy.
Much as I love Mistborn, I'm kinda surprised as to the notion of it describing the first trilogy.

Does it describe the first book? Absolutely. However, I'd say the first trilogy is interesting in part because each book has a different tone, namely:

Book 1: Heist/adventure. Mostly light-hearted.

Book 2: Political intrigue. Gets darker.

Book 3: Epic fantasy. Darkest in tone.
Thinking on it more, you're right, I chose my phrasing poorly.
 

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and I am really torn on it. Rothfuss writes really good prose and has that ability to make you want to read on, no matter what's happening on the page. On the other hand, the main character, Kvothe, who recounts the events of his early life to a chronicler, is such a blatant Mary Sue that I alternate between sighing loudly and putting away the book because I can't stomach it. Kvothe is very intelligent (like, really super intelligent, like, learns everything superfast and rarely makes mistakes) and is also really gifted at everything he does. This is a man that is introduced to the reader as being somewhere in his mid-20's, yet has already racked up enough legends about himself (all true, he assures Chronicler) that he surpasses what most Fantasy characters do in their entire lives, and has managed to retire from his life of adventure.

The book is about him telling the reader about how very quickly he learned to master magic and how very exceptional he was to be admitted to the Academy at a very tender age. I fully expect the author to start fellating his own protagonist in any given chapter, because it seems to be all that the book is about. Which is a shame, because Rothfuss actual writing is much better then the story it tells. So if you want (or at least can stomach) a story about a Mary Sue talking about how great it is to be Mary Sue and the exciting life of Mary Sue, I can readily recommend The Name of the Wind. If you'd prefer something with a little more meat to its story, find something else.
 

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The Dreaming Jewels (1950) by Theodore Sturgeon.

It's like a Terry Gilliam movie - wild, rampant, darkly humorous and imaginative - but with a slightly more conventional ending than you'd expect. It's about a kid who runs away from his horribly abusive parents and joins a traveling carnival of freaks run by "Maneater". Fun stuff. I'm pretty sure HBO's Carnivale and Batman's Killer Croc came from here.
 

Hawki

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Gethsemani said:
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and I am really torn on it. Rothfuss writes really good prose and has that ability to make you want to read on, no matter what's happening on the page. On the other hand, the main character, Kvothe, who recounts the events of his early life to a chronicler, is such a blatant Mary Sue that I alternate between sighing loudly and putting away the book because I can't stomach it. Kvothe is very intelligent (like, really super intelligent, like, learns everything superfast and rarely makes mistakes) and is also really gifted at everything he does. This is a man that is introduced to the reader as being somewhere in his mid-20's, yet has already racked up enough legends about himself (all true, he assures Chronicler) that he surpasses what most Fantasy characters do in their entire lives, and has managed to retire from his life of adventure.

The book is about him telling the reader about how very quickly he learned to master magic and how very exceptional he was to be admitted to the Academy at a very tender age. I fully expect the author to start fellating his own protagonist in any given chapter, because it seems to be all that the book is about. Which is a shame, because Rothfuss actual writing is much better then the story it tells. So if you want (or at least can stomach) a story about a Mary Sue talking about how great it is to be Mary Sue and the exciting life of Mary Sue, I can readily recommend The Name of the Wind. If you'd prefer something with a little more meat to its story, find something else.
I'm really torn.

On the one hand, I agree with everything you said about Kvothe.

On the other, it's "Gary Stu," not "Mary Sue." :p
 

Johnny Novgorod

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Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) by Truman Capote.

Written in the key of a distant, melancholy memory, Breakfast at Tiffany's is about a writer (unnamed, though it might as well be Capote) and his friendship with his quirky neighbor Holly Golightly, Texas trash turned into a chic, caf? society girl in the Upper East Side. She's in pursuit of a vague ideal of personal happiness she offhandedly summarizes as having "breakfast in Tiffany's".

Written in the late 50s but set in the early 40s, Holly is atypically ahead of her time as a self-styled girl about town with a compulsion to fight off her inner angst ("red means" she calls it, as opposed to the blues) by any means necessary. Capote only offers glimpses of the person behind the persona and keeps Holly at a tantalizing arm's length. She's a fascinating characters - scheming and equally scattershot, driven yet easily distracted, with an extroverted personality that is at odds with her fiercely guarded privacy.

Holly's one of a kind yet you get the feeling Capote is describing someone he knows rather than making her up. Like I said, the whole story has a distintict air of fond recollection. And I like Capote's style, which has a candid sense of intimacy and a journalist's skilled blend of directness and discretion. He's completely in control and the ride's a breeze. This is the good stuff.

One Was Johnny: A Counting Book (1962) by Maurice Sendak.

It's a fucking counting book.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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The Suicide Club (1878) by Robert Louis Stevenson.

It's a cycle of three short stories, originally serialized in 1878, about a secret society in London that welcomes suicidal members to lethal games of chance. Each story has a different protagonist but all unravel in the same fashion: Prince Florizel of Bohemia and his loyal sidekick Colonel Geraldine come to some kind of confrontation with the scheming President of the Club.

Florizel and Geraldine are your typical Victorian buddy duo, walking arm in arm and "ejaculating" whenever they talk. Their genial relationship and the dynamic with their elusive nemesis is highly evocative of that of Holmes, Watson and Moriarty, who were a good decade from being penned by Doyle. The similarities are superficial though, and I found the characters to be a bit lacking in personality, more the product of convention than imagination.

The stories make good use of suspense and have a couple of nifty twists involving returning characters. My favorite stories are the first and last, though overall I liked the way the cycle was plotted, with the second story's grim ending setting up the third and final chapter nicely. I'd say compared to the slow boil of each story the endings tend to feel abrupt, a little too reliant on happenstance, and with an unsatisfying penchant for switching points of view at their most interesting. Not Stevenson's finest but solid detective fiction if you have the toothache.
 

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The Diamond as Big as the Ritz (1922) by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Collected in Fitz's Tales of the Jazz Age as one of its "fantasies", like The Curious Case of Benjaming Button, the story's "designed for the author's own amusement". It shows.

The story's essentially a fairy tale, eased into the realm of the fantastic by the presence of names from Greek mythology: the protagonist is a poor kid from Hades, Mississippi who goes off to St. Midas college (near Boston) and befriends the son of a modern-day Croesus, who owns a diamond literally as big as the Ritz. Probably bigger too. Friends with a kid named Washington (descendant of George), John T. Unger is spirited away to a remote valley in the Catskills where a magnificent mansion stands in secret as its own country, ready to quench every imaginable form of hedonism.

Fitzgerald has a lot of fun coming up with and describing in detail the many ridiculously sumptuous luxuries that bedeck the mansion, some of which border on sci-fi, such as the the many folding walls and ramps that automatically herd the morbidly rich occupants of the house through the rituals of the day. He has just as much fun coming up with the Washingtons' backstory and the ramifications of their evil indulgences, which resonate ever so sinister against their indifference towards human life.

The ending is a bit of a cop out and feels born out of complacent morality, although I suppose it goes with the verosimilitude of a fairy tale. I quite like Scott's farces. I'm ready for more.
 

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The Walking Dead: Volumes 2-8

This isn't really a full review, more just an introspective on this period of the comics. While I did review volume 1 indiviually, I borrowed volumes 2-8 in a single loan, and read through 2-5 in one sitting, and 6-8 in the next. I don't know if that's the reason why I like the 6-8 volumes more than 2-5, but that's certainly the case.

First, let's get something out of the way - the TV series is better. Least in these respective time periods. I've heard all kinds of stories about TWD declining in later seasons (having watched up to season 5, I can believe that), but most agree it started out strong, and in that regard, the TV series is better. There's certainly individual characters I like more in the comics (e.g. Andrea and Lori), but there's also characters that I like a lot less (e.g. Carol and the Governor). But that aside, let's get to how I feel about the comics.

2-5 are...okay. But they're far too grim. That might have you saying "Hawki, it's a zombie apocalypse in a series where a relavant theme is the idea of what happens to people when civilization is stripped away, haven't you read Lord of the Flies?" To which I say "yes, I have read Lord of the Flies, and do understand that that's a theme, but even Lord of the Flies didn't go overboard in intercourse, nudity, and all-round unpleasantness. LotF is sparing in its horror. Volumes 2-5 is unrelenting, to the point it comes obnoxious. Like how Game of Thrones went overboard in nudity and all that before realizing that you can only do so much of a thing before its shock value declines. Similarly, at this point in time, it's hard to care about the characters - partly because they're so many, partly because of a like of likability. I commented for Volume 1 how Shane loses it far too quickly. Here, it seems like it was a sign of things to come.

Oh, and did I mention the Governor? Y'know, that guy that appeared in the TV series who was an excellent villain? How in the TV series you got the sense that he was a good person at some point, and arguably still was, but forced himself to do horrible things for the greater good? Y'know, the kind of character you wanted to be redeemed before you saw just how far he'd gone down the wrong path? Y'know, the type of villain that has shades of grey? Well, fuck that noise, because in the comics, any charade of that ends in a few pages time when Rick and co. reach Woodbury, where we go from "welcome to Woodbury" to "I'm evil, and I'm going to cut off you hand and rape Michone, and have cage matches, because fuck it, I'm evil." Again, schlock and shock value. Raping Michone should be terrible (and is), but the equivalent in the TV series, without actual rape, was far more disconcerting. Implied horror can be far more effective than shock horror. But no, the Governor's evil. Because I guess he always was.

So, let's get to Volumes 6-8, to where things start to pick up...or not, because it could be just different impressions from two reading sessions. But for whatever reason, I liked these volumes a lot more. I think that can come down to a few things - firstly, by this point, we're dealing with a smaller cast of characters, so it's easier to get to know them, and be engaged with them. If nothing else, the comics have indeed established that no-one is safe in this world, so when you're left with likable characters in said world, one tends to care about them more. Second of all, it moves away from the shock tactics of previous volumes to something a bit more nuanced. Nuanced, in the sense that the Governor leads an assault against the prison (which isn't that nuanced), but is more of an indicative commentary on "savagery is the true nature of Man," that humans can't work together even in the apocalypse (similar to Romero's Walking Dead series), rather than "people are sadistic assholes who torture and rape for shits and giggles." Both are arguably saying the same thing, but one of those methods is far more effective than the other.

What also helps is that we finally get a breather, in that Volume 7 is mostly dedicated to Rick and co. taking time out. Lori gives birth, Glenn and Maggie get married, crops they've planted in the prison are growing, etc. Of course, even if I hadn't seen the TV series beyond season 3 I would have known the shit would hit the fan soon, but it's a breather that really helps. Breather that ends in the next volume because the Governor and co. turn up, and this time, breach the fence. Bad stuff happens. Like, really bad stuff. Like, characters dying bad stuff (said characters I now care about). So bad that this even includes Judith being killed in the firefight. That's...dark. Effectively dark. It's the type of dark that works because the comic acknowledges that this is a horrific moment in both its artwork, and how the characters react to the moment. That's not to say it isn't unpleasant seeing other characters die as well, but...yeah. There's certain medias that have children dying just for shock value (hello Modern Warfare 3), but here, it works. It's uncomfortable, but in a good way.

So, yeah. Don't know when/if I'll get to subsequent volumes. Certainly not in the immediate future, as I'm currently reading 'Artemis' by Andy Weir. But, that's my take on the series. Starts strong with Vol. 1, has a period of shlock from Vol 2-5, gets better in 6-8. Go figure.
 

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Finished Star Wars: Dark Disciple today. It's certainly been a very quick and easy read - only took me a couple of days on my commute - but I can't say it's been a wholly good one. The Disney Star Wars canon continues to produce material that doesn't quite do it for me. In Dark Disciple, I mostly felt like characters I thought I felt I knew (Quinlan Vos, Asajj Ventress, Dooku, Windu) were all but strangers. I appreciate that these versions of these characters were drawn from the Clone Wars show but they just didn't feel like they matched up to what I remember of them in any way.

It was disconcerting mainly. I do want to enjoy the Disney canon but it constantly defies me. So far, from everything I've tried from it only The Last Jedi, Rogue One and Timothy Zahn's new Thrawn book have worked for me, whereas Dark Disciple joins the pile of media that is ok, but not really for me. I wonder at what point I should give up and just stick with the old EU.

3/5 - Average.
 

the December King

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Hawki said:
Gethsemani said:
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and I am really torn on it. Rothfuss writes really good prose and has that ability to make you want to read on, no matter what's happening on the page. On the other hand, the main character, Kvothe, who recounts the events of his early life to a chronicler, is such a blatant Mary Sue that I alternate between sighing loudly and putting away the book because I can't stomach it. Kvothe is very intelligent (like, really super intelligent, like, learns everything superfast and rarely makes mistakes) and is also really gifted at everything he does. This is a man that is introduced to the reader as being somewhere in his mid-20's, yet has already racked up enough legends about himself (all true, he assures Chronicler) that he surpasses what most Fantasy characters do in their entire lives, and has managed to retire from his life of adventure.

The book is about him telling the reader about how very quickly he learned to master magic and how very exceptional he was to be admitted to the Academy at a very tender age. I fully expect the author to start fellating his own protagonist in any given chapter, because it seems to be all that the book is about. Which is a shame, because Rothfuss actual writing is much better then the story it tells. So if you want (or at least can stomach) a story about a Mary Sue talking about how great it is to be Mary Sue and the exciting life of Mary Sue, I can readily recommend The Name of the Wind. If you'd prefer something with a little more meat to its story, find something else.
I'm really torn.

On the one hand, I agree with everything you said about Kvothe.

On the other, it's "Gary Stu," not "Mary Sue." :p
Totally feel the same way. Such elegant prose... but such an infallible protag? Frustrating. The second book in the KingKiller chronicles is not much better, in my opinion. Gethsemani, I'd love to hear what you thought of it, if you decide to read it (Hawki, I assume you already have? If so, what did you think of it?).
 

Hawki

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the December King said:
The second book in the KingKiller chronicles is not much better, in my opinion. Gethsemani, I'd love to hear what you thought of it, if you decide to read it (Hawki, I assume you already have? If so, what did you think of it?).
Only read the first book I'm afraid.