Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book Review- Rock of Ages by Walter Jon Williams

This review is of the book Rock of Ages by Walter Jon Williams.

Drake Maijstral is an Allowed Burglar, one of those lucky thieves who is viewed as an artist, because he only steals the most valuable objects and does so with some serious style. He’s a celebrity with quite a reputation, the envy of every other Allowed Burglar around. And, he’s sorely in need of a vacation. But now that he’s trying to take one, and on Earth no less, no one believes he’s honestly not planning on stealing anything. And when priceless objects keep disappearing from the places he’s staying, fingers automatically begin pointing at him. He starts getting challenged to duels, but Maijstral takes it with good grace up until something happens that finally pushes him over the edge: someone has stolen his father’s coffin.

That was my summary. Here's the summary I got from

As the top-ranked Allowed Burglar of the Human Constellation, Drake Maijstral finds that his celebrity status leads him to four challenges to duel, three proposals of marriage, and the theft of his father's coffin. Only his cleverness and ingenuity enable him to uncover a conspiracy to destroy his reputation.

The concept of Allowed Burglary is an interesting one, especially considering how burglary has changed as time goes on. The simple filching of possessions and money, to the (frighteningly) common identity theft problems of today makes one wonder how we could make the jump from considering theft a crime to an art form. I would actually be extremely interested in seeing Williams write a brief history on how Earth so changed. I know that, according to the speculated future Williams has created, a lot of Earth’s changes are due to relations with aliens, particularly the Khosali. Of course, an encompassing history from 1995 (when this book was published) and the year the book takes place would have a lot to cover: how Elvis became a god of a certain religion, how Earth became a global community with hereditary political and religious titles, and how humankind adopted and adapted to Khosali customs. Considering the Khosali are very doglike, it’s a good thing humans didn’t degenerate to buttsniffing, although ear and wrist-sniffing are common. 

I actually read this book in paper form. I don’t know how easy it really would be to listen to in audio form. While for the most part, it was easy to read, I do have a couple complaints regarding some of the terms. First of all, the main character’s name threw me for a loop. He’s rarely called Drake and is primarily referred to by his last name, Maijstral. The “ij” combination is such a strange, rare combination that I was about sixty pages into the book before I realized I was mispronouncing it. I had initially read his name a “Majistral”. Once I realized what I’d done, I attempted to pronounce it correctly in my head as I read, but it was too odd a sound combination for me. It sounded wrong because I had spent so much time calling him by a name that was easier to pronounce.
There were other instances of hard-to-pronounce names. This is one of those crimes that pulls the reader out of the world of the book, pausing the action while the brain struggles to make sense out of a name. Fortunately, these were not main character names and were uncommon occurrences, but they still interrupted the flow of reading. A few examples are: Przemysl, Huyghe, Drawmiikh, and Krpntsz.

My thoughts
I wasn’t surprised to discover that this was book three of a series, although it actually functioned decently as a standalone novel. It was a self-contained story with characters that obviously had a past. I didn’t feel the need to go back and read earlier novels of the series to get that history. It didn’t really work against me that I didn’t know if the characters’ past interactions were only made up and not documented or if they were detailed in other books. I didn’t feel like I was missing out.
As a novelty, this book was actually enjoyable. Speed bumps were plentiful but not enough to make me stop reading early. The book is intended to be farcical, but I didn’t get many laughs from it. The ones I did get were pretty decent though. I just don’t know that I would go so far as to consider the book a comedy. Lighthearted, yes, but not a true comedy.

Would I recommend it? Not particularly. The book was fun, but I found myself yearning for it to be finished.

You can find more info on the book on the author's website.

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