Book Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Because it’s Magical March this month, I decided to pick this book from my TBR. Many people had been urging me to read this book, after Novroz of Polychrome Interest first recommended the book to me and I was able to get a copy via Bookmooch.

Battle Royale: What it is about

This is the original Hunger Games. I mean that quite literally. This book is from 1999 and The Hunger Games from 2008, and the resemblance is more than a coincidence.

It’s 1997 and the Republic of Greater East Asia is a dictatorship. Japan, where this story takes place, is part of this republic. A school class of 15-year olds is kidnapped by government officials during a school trip and taken to an island where they will have to fight the Battle. Each year, 50 classes are selected to take part (each fight their battle separate from the other classes), and this is all done “for research purposes”. The class has to fight until there is only one survivor, the winner.

Battle Royale is a term that means a fight between people in an arena where everyone fights everyone until there is one survivor. Many against one, or one-on-one battle are all allowed as long as just one person remains.

The children are let out one by one and take a bag with a random weapon. Around their neck they have a steel collars that track their position and register their eventual death. Every few hours, a new part of the island is declared Forbidden and entering such a forbidden zone means the collar will explode. So, the area that the children can use becomes smaller as time goes by.

There are 42 children to start of with, and the reader follows in particular some of the “good” people, that don’t want to play the game and refuse to kill anyone, and the “bad” people, that have decided to play along and kill each and every one of their class mates. Worse, the most psychopathic of them all has the most dangerous weapon: a machine gun.

Slowly but surely, the number of children is reduced, and after each chapter in the book, the number of remaining children is given in bold letterface. Every 6 hours an announcement is made over invisible speakers about who died in the last few hours and what new zones will become forbidden.

There is some hope, as one or two clever children have plans to escape the system. But will they be able to stay away from the boy with the machine gun?

Battle Royale: What I thought

Yes, this book is a little more gruesome than the Hunger Games, where the descriptions of people’s deaths are less vividly described. Still, this is not a horror story full of guts hanging out. But there are a few moments that you’d rather not read about.

This book is too much like The Hunger Games to be a coincidence, but the latter is the better story. There is more variation in the individual battles in The Hunger Games. In Battle Royale it’s a lot of death-by-gun. However, it is good fun to follow the story of the pupils who have a plan to beat the system. The ending is also very good.

Of course, the fact that you read mostly about the “good” and the “bad” kids is a bit predictable, but on the other hand, you can’t have a story with 42 protagonists.

There is betrayal, secret loves, friendship, distrust and unscrupulous behaviour.

The idea of the story is brilliant. While a bit more bloody than The Hunger Games, this story is a lot more realistic. It was set in the current time and life wasn’t all that different form what it is now in Japan (except of course for the obvious, like the dictatorship and the Battle Royale itself).

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

I got this book: from Bookmooch

Number of pages: 624

First published: 1999

Genre: speculative fiction

Extra: I read this for the Magical March Challenge by Roof Beam Reader

Extra: Of course, if you haven’t read The Hunger Games, you could read that series instead, or as well.

Magical March Challenge

Book Review: The Other Life by Ellen Meister

The Other Life by Ellen Meister

Because it’s Magical March this month, I decided to pick this book from my TBR. It’s about a woman who can go through a portal to go to another life, a life that she would have had had if she’d  made different choices in her earlier life.

I love books about alternate realities but this book had a few problems, for me at least, to make me stop from loving it. It was a nice read, though.

The Other Life: What it is about

Quinn Braverman is married to Lewis and they have a 6-year old son, Isaac. Quinn has always known there is a portal in the basement of her house, from which she can visit another life, the one she didn’t choose. That other life is one in which she stayed with her boyfriend Eugene, living a fast life with famous people and definitely no children.

In her “real” life she’s happy, until she becomes pregnant with her second child and there are complications. Now she wants her mother, but her mother, a bi-polar sufferer, committed suicide years ago and never even knew Isaac. In the other life, her mother is still alive…

The baby she is expecting turns out to have a severe problem. The baby may not live through the pregnancy and if she does, she is likely to be disabled and will need a lot of care. Quinn and Lewis need to decide whether to stick with the pregnancy or not. At the same time, Quinn is reconsidering her other life, the more easy-going life in which her mother is still there. After some more visits to the other life, Quinn has to make a decision about which life she wants to lead.

The Other Life: What I thought

An nice and easy read, fluently written. The story of Quinn and Lewis finding out about the baby and worrying about what to do was interesting, but as the decision would be a no-brainer for me (from my comfy chair, not being in that situation), I couldn’t really feel close to them.

Quinn has a gay brother, Hayden, and he has some relationship problems and that was fun to read about too. Quinn herself was a woman with whom I did not identify and that was one of the problems I had with the book. She stayed a stranger for me, through the whole book, even when I knew quite intimate things about her.

Another problem was the portal. There is a extra portal later, when Quinn makes her decision, and it seems that for any big life choice she makes, a new portal is added with the alternative life that she didn’t choose. But that wasn’t technical enough for me: I could not believe in these portals.

This is mainly because of the “butterfly effect“, which says that even a very small change in the current situation can have a large impact in the long run. So, at any point in life there should be a portal to an alternate life, because even e.g., deciding to drink tea rather than coffee could have an effect on her life in the future (it probably won’t but it could). So for me, to say that you would (only) get an alternate life at main choice points in your life didn’t really make sense.

But the book was fun enough to read if I didn’t think too hard about the alternate lives and the decision she has to make regarding her baby.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

I got this book: won it in a game on Shelfari

Number of pages: 312

First published: 2011

Genre: contemporary fiction

Extra: I read this for the Magical March Challenge by Roof Beam Reader

Extra: Another book about alternate life (but more about re-doing part of your life) is The Summer House by Jude Deveraux

Magical March Challenge

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternThere’s been quite a hype about this book and when I won it in a giveaway by Capricious Reader I was really excited. More so even when a beautiful hardback copy arrived on my doorstep. The book was such a pleasure to look at and to hold, it’s magic!

And what was inside, was very good too. Oh no: I’m going to add to the hype! This was a fantastic book. I loved it all the way through.

The Night Circus: What it is about

It’s the late 1800s. Prospero the Enchanter is an illusionist with a secret: his magic is real. When it turns out his daughter Celia has magic skills too, he sets up a challenge with an old rival of his: his rival may find and train whatever person he likes, to enter into a competition with Celia, and he is convinced that Celia will win.

Enter Marco, a boy from an orphanage, who is being trained by a mysterious man in a grey suit, to become Celia’s competitor. Neither he nor Celia understand the rules of the game, but they both become involved with the Night Circus, that opens at nightfall and closes at dawn.

The circus consists of a large number of tents, each with its own show. Celia has her illusionist show while Marco is only sometimes at the circus, he works in London, doing the accounts.

Celia and Marco fall in love but they are also competitors. How can they solve this insolvable problem?

The Night Circus: What I thought

I already said it: I loved this book. The time, Dickens’ era in which futures were told by mysterious ladies and the death were contacted via a medium. The setting, a circus so special that people could lose themselves in it.

I also enjoyed the parade of characters: two sets of twins, a mysterious man in a grey suit, a clock designer from Germany or a Japanese contortionist. They all had something intriguing about them. They were slightly cardboard, we could have learned a bit more about them, but it didn’t matter really, since all were pawns in the challenge of Celia and Marco.

The language in which the book is written is also appealing. Slightly old-fashioned but no tormentingly long sentences like you might find in Dickens or Wilkie Collins’ work.

The story is sometimes a little vague, not all is explained and that adds to the atmosphere of magic.

My main point of complaint comes from outside the book: because some people in my part of the blogging world had not finished the book or given it a so-so rating (you know who you are and actually, you have all the right in the world to stop reading or give a so-so rating but that’s beside the point), I was expecting to also want to give up after some time. But I kept liking the book, and liking it more and I wondered when this point would come that I wouldn’t like it anymore: It didn’t happen – I liked all of it. I should have skipped the negative reviews so I would have had a better reading experience.

As it was, I’d say this is one fine book that will be counted among my favorite books for this year. Stop reading the reviews, read the book!

Rating: 5/5

I got this book: from a giveaway by Capricious Reader

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 402

First published: 2011

Genre: fantasy (magic)

Book Review: The End of Mr. Y. by Scarlett Thomas

The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

JoV of Bibliojunkie announced a read-a-long of this book. While it wasn’t on my wish list, I had seen it in the shops and was tempted by its cover, which in my eyes is really beautiful.

I had no idea what the book was about, though. I must have read the back cover in the shop, but in general I tend to forget what that says really quickly, even if I end up buying the book.

So, it was a surprise. Not always a good one, but overall, I enjoyed this story.

The End of Mr. Y.: What it is about

Ariel Manto is a PhD student at an English university. She has read almost everything by a nineteenth century writer called Thomas Lumas. Her supervisor shared her love for Lumas’ books, but disappeared a year ago without a trace.

One day, Ariel finds a rare book by Lumas in a bookshop, the only one she hasn’t read yet. IT’s called The End of Mr. Y. It’s said to be cursed, with everyone who reads it suffering the same (unknown) fate as the writer.

After reading it, she ends up in the Troposphere, a mysterious place in which she can enter the thoughts of other human beings and animals. Is this real, or did her fantasy make it all up? In the end, she has to decide whether she wants to destroy the Troposphere, as it is a dangerous, but addictive place.

The End of Mr. Y.: What I thought

I like stories taking place in a university setting, as I spent many years at university as a student, researcher, and teacher myself.

The book’s beginning was a quiet story about a penniless PhD student who finds a book. Which was all well. But then she starts to travel to the Troposhere and I found this really odd. Although Ariel knows it’s not safe, she goes there several times. So I got really annoyed with her. I didn’t like her too much anyway, and now she was doing things that I didn’t want her to do!

But then after a while I accepted that this was the story and started to like it a lot more. The solution of why certain scientific discoveries have been made was interesting, very clever.

Spoiler: In white text. Select the text below to make it appear.

I really liked these ides: All scientific “findings” are simply the fruit of the imagination of the scientist in question. If he had not thought of it, it would not be like that. E.g., relativity only exists because Einstein made it so. And most interestingly: the fact that light can be both a wave or a particle depending what you expect to see – since people haven’t decided what light is, they see what they want to see.

There was a lot of scientific discussion, a bit too much for me. Luckily, I have an interest in popular science and most of what was discussed wasn’t new to me. I can imagine that some people might find this slow to read and hard to understand.

In the end, I did enjoy reading the book and when I closed it I was satisfied that I’d read a good book. But I was very different from what I expected (a literary fiction story, possibly a with some humorous elements).
Rating: 4/5 stars

I got this book: from my library

I read this in: Dutch, the original language is English

Number of pages: 384

First published: 2006

Genre: fantasy, literary fiction

Extras: This is my second book for the R.I.P. Challenge ; Have a look at Jo’s review of this book.


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