Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Red Seas Under Red Skies is the second book in the Gentlemen Bastard series.  Scott Lynch is in the process of writing a seven book series set in a fantasy world, centered on a group of thieves.

I read the first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, last year before starting this blog.  It focuses on a young Locke Lamora who survives a plague outbreak and gets sold into an orphanage for thieves.  Locke falls in love with stealing and refuses to follow the rules. Eventually the leader of his orphanage sells him off to prevent him from messing up his thieving business.  This ends up being the best thing that ever happened to Locke; he gets a caring father who teaches him and trains him to master his innate skills.  He gets a family of brothers and a sister.  Scott Lynch writes two stories side by side, the history of Locke’s past and the present events of the Gentlemen Bastards.  In both stories, you’ll see how he has a habit of writing himself into a corner.  He finds the most insurmountable obstacles to throw in the path of the characters, and buries them with it.  You’ll find yourself believing there’s no way out (and sometimes it’s even true).

This propensity for Lynch to write his stories into corners is only part of what makes him a great writer.  He also is able to fully wrap his mind into his world and tell the story as if it were written to people in that world.  This may sound like strange praise, but many writers, including Brandon Sanderson and Tolkien, are unable to do this.  When you read The Hobbit the writing is clearly designed for the children of this world as a fable of another world.  On the other hand, The Lord of the Rings, is written like a historical tale of the world in which is takes place.  It’s hard enough to create an entire world, but it’s pure trickery to move your mind into that world and experience and express things as if you were really there.

My only complaint with this series is that Scott Lynch writes like a crude, cussing sailor.  Never is that more apparent than in Red Seas Under Red Skies, which is the story of Locke Lamora as a pirate on the high seas.  This book as some of the coolest characters I have ever read.  One of them is a middle aged female pirate and mom that prompted one reviewer to write:  “Real sea pirates could not be controlled by women, they were vicous rapits and murderers and I am sorry to say it was a man’s world. It is unrealistic wish fulfilment for you and your readers to have so many female pirates, especially if you want to be politically correct about it!

Let’s considered this misogynist response to the book for a moment.  The commentator makes a rather ignorant comment about history: “Real sea pirates could not be controlled by women.”  A two second google search would prove that statement false.  Madam Cheng is one of the 8 most infamous real life pirates and the History Channel composed a list of 5 famous female pirates.  For this commentator to so ignorantly attack the author, is just pure unresearched foolishness.

Scott Lynch chose to reply to this commentator.  Rather than reply that historically this man is ignorant, he embraced his writing and said that it is wish fulfillment, because all people deserve a character they can relate to:

H.L. Mencken once wrote that “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” I can’t think of anyone to whom that applies more than my own mom, and the mothers on my friends list, with the incredible demands on time and spirit they face in their efforts to raise their kids, preserve their families, and save their own identity/sanity into the bargain.

His full reply can be read here.  But be warned it’s full of language and spoilers.

This series has been described as Ocean’s Eleven meets fantasy.  It’s action packed, risk filled, con-artistry at its best.  I’m hooked.  I’ve read all three books that he’s released so far and will eagerly continue to consume them as they release.  (My review for book three will be hopefully be coming in about three weeks.)

Overall I give this book 5 stars.

Up next:  Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

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Review: Daniel Commentaries

A little over a year ago my wife and I started a Life Group at our church.  We wanted to do something different than the Life Groups and Bible Studies we’d been in before and so we developed a plan for how our Life Group would look.  There are several things that we identified as important for a good Life Group.  First, a dedication to Scripture, with which we’re just a bunch of people hanging out.  Second, a dedication to living life together, which is exactly what the church is called to.  We believe that a dedication to living live together results in accountability, that ever important virtue of growing in Godly morals and right living.  Focusing on Scripture helps us think rightly about the world and its issues, but accountability makes sure we are self evaluating and examining each other so that we might act rightly.  It keeps us from being judgemental and harsh, and keeps us loving and broken before God and each other.

With those points in mind, we structured our group to meet weekly for dinner and a study.  Eating food together is one of the fastest ways to build relationships and it gives us ample time to catch up on life before diving into the Word.

For the study, I’ve noticed over the years that most Christians don’t know how to study the Bible.  The know they need to read it, and so they make a commitment to try, but they often struggle to retain what they’ve read and apply the principles of holiness to their lives.  So we thought it would be best to do one study a month on how to study the Bible, and follow that up with two weeks of practical application of the lessons learned.  The fourth week of the rotation is dedicated solely to being a Life Group and living out life together.

As we began to get our Life Group off the ground and running, we asked them what book of the Bible they wanted to study, and since they noted that they wanted to know more about prayer, they unanimously chose Daniel.  That was a shock to me.  I immediately began pondering the sections in Daniel that I struggled to understand and feared for the future of our group, but I took their suggestion and ran with it.  I purchased two of the highest rated commentaries out there (Miller and Longman) and began digging into the word on my own and looking up what the commentaries said afterward.  As my study progressed, I felt a need for a third commentary and bought Davis.

It took us nine months or so to make it through the twelve exciting chapters of Daniel, and I know I’ve been changed by my study of this powerful book, the discussions we had as a group, and from reading these three commentaries.  I have now read them cover to cover and will give them an individual review below.

Daniel: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture by Stephen R. Miller

What first interested me in Miller’s commentary was a one star review (it seems to have vanished from the internet since then) that read something along the lines:  Miller’s commentary focuses on historical facts and fails to provide thorough interpretations.

This one star review sold me on buying it.  A good commentary should tell you want the text means in context of the time it was written.  Many commentaries fail on this point, which leads them to make wildly inaccurate interpretations.  Miller digs in deep to the culture of the day, the setting of the people, and provides meaningful insights into the why’s and what’s of the events.  He doesn’t skimp as much on interpretations as that one star review led me to believe, and that’s fine as the time spent in the background gave him a solid framework for good interpretation and application.

He has a tendency to argue both sides of an issues, and if you’re not paying careful attention you can find yourself believing both sides of the issues for a few moments before it all clicks.  This is good as it allows you to see a well reasoned approach to both sides and what the weaknesses are as well.

For his in-depth presentation of history and factual analysis of events, I give Miller a 5 star review.

Daniel by Tremper Longman III

Longman did a great job introducing the book and its main theme: “despite the circumstances, God is in control.”  I started off with a great affinity for this book and its simple approach to the theme of Daniel, but I quickly began dreading reading this book.

The twelve chapters of Daniel are broken into two six part pieces.  The first six are stories of what happened to Israel, Daniel, and Babylon during Daniel’s life.  The second six are prophecies that were given to Daniel mostly toward the end of his life.  In the first piece of Daniel, Tremper has at least two chapters that end with an application section that is several pages long and has nothing to do with the story being discussed.  I was initially frustrated by this, but found nothing unbiblical in those applications (other than not belonging here), and so I continued to push on gleaning what I could.

As I got into the second section of Daniel, he quickly began making statements about how prophecy is done that directly flew in the face of what the text actually said.  He would say things like “numbers are especially used in a symbolic manner in apocalyptic.”  While he tried hard to support that view throughout the book, the simple fact is that Daniel, the prophet of this book and an expert on prophetic interpretation, did not hold that to be true (see Daniel 9:2).  Further, many scholars have pointed out how the numerics in Daniel’s prophecies do work out, and so we see Longman take his bias into the text and ignore what it actually says.  Longman also takes the prophecy in Daniel 9:1-27 and applies them backward to the previous 70 years, rather than forward as is clearly intended in the text.

The other big issue I found in this commentary is Longman’s dismissiveness of people’s differing opinions.  Where Miller would bring up someone’s view and do his best to show you it intact, Longman would say “So and so disagrees with this statement, but they’re wrong, let’s move on.”  Which means you either need to have the same resources he did when reading the book or have firm grasp of the various opinions on all the topics in Daniel.  But even if that is the case, you would then have the argument clearly presented to you and Longman’s half a sentence dedicated to saying it’s dumb, and be left thinking Longman is incapable of thinking the issue through since he can’t give reasons for his disapproval other than saying “I disagree.”  (Luckily for me, many of his statements like this were directed at Miller, and I could easily see the argument for real.)

All in all, I found this book annoying and quite off topic.  I did find good Biblical truths in it, but often times those truths came not from Longman, but from the Scripture he quoted.

I am forced to give this commentary a 1 star review.

The Message of Daniel by Dale Ralph Davis

This commentary is not designed to be an in-depth analysis of history and culture like the other two are.  Instead, Davis tries to write a book that could be read straight through and give you a whole and complete look at how your life should change as a result of reading Daniel.  And I think he does this very well.  He interweaves his book with tales from modern history that paint for you a more complete picture of what is going on, and he writes some great and powerful one liners.  Some great examples:

  • “Faith knows the power of God [3:17], guards the freedom of God [3:18a], and holds the truth of God [3:18b].”
  • “The Fourth Man can always find his people.”  (This is in reference to the fiery furnace, and I think it packs a powerful punch, especially up here in Seattle where we have the Twelfth Man…  the Fourth Man is so much more powerful!)
  • “Pay attention to what Belshazzar teaches you: having clear information does not guarantee the right response.  He knew all this but did not humble his heart.”
  • Talking about Daniel 6:1-28: “This section carries a two-pronged message for Israel’s exiles: see how gracious God is in giving you favour among your captors and even with kings, therefore, don’t despair; and see how costly it may prove to remain faithful when you are favoured, therefore, don’t make an idol out of human favour.

This commentary proves to be an application or devotional style commentary, which in general I’m usually wary of.  It takes a lot of work behind the scenes in proper grappling with the text to get those golden nuggets and present them rightly.  Often times a work like this doesn’t do all the behind the scenes work; what the present is the seemingly all the work they did.  It is obvious in Davis’ carefully written book, that he did take the time and effort to write this commentary in a way the properly addresses the text, and he gives life altering words to the importance of it.

There may be a few points I disagreed with him on, but I leave that to you to judge for yourself.  This book is easy to ready, theologically sounds, and carries several powerful messages for believers.

I heartily endorse this book with a full 5 stars.

 

Up Next: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

 

Review: Within the Sanctuary of Wings

SanctuaryWings-fullcover

Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the fifth and final book in the Lady Trent Memoirs.  Marie Brennan brings her personal knowledge of anthropology, archaeology, and folklore and shapes a wonderful, Elizabethan world full of dragons.

The action in this book takes a bit longer to develop than it did in books three and four.  This was a bit disappointing as reading through non action scenes at the beginning of a novel can be a bit dry and boring.  Once we move past those initial events, we get taken on an interesting journey (Lady Trent’s last) to the snow covered mountains at the edge of the country.  This particular border divides them and another country with which there is a “cold war” brewing.  Both sides have a vested interested in finding a way through the mountains, and Trent has proof of an unknown and ancient dragon species in those mountains.

This book sheds light on mysteries Marie Brennan started hinting at in the first book and slowly intensified throughout the series.  The reveal is engaging, and I don’t want to spoil it here, but it’s worth while.

Strangely I’m both glad and sad that this series is over.  The way these books were written as a memoir with constant direct statements of foreshadowing feels insulting to the reader.  Foreshadowing is a part of most great novels, but it should not be blatant.  When you tell the reader, this next statement is a foreshadow, you ruin the suspense.  On the other hand, Marie Brennan did develop an interesting world, and dealt with many issues in today’s culture.  It’s also nice to have a story with a female protagonist.  It’s often hard to find good fictional stories that center around women, which is odd since 50% of our world is made up of them

Overall, I give this book 4 stars.

Up next:  A three book review of commentaries on Daniel:

The Message of Daniel by Dale Ralph Davis

Daniel by Tremper Longman III

Daniel: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture by Stephen R. Miller

Review: Night

Night

Night is a must read story.  It is the true story of Elie Wiesel’s experience as a Jew in concentration camps in Germany during WWII.  It’s heart wrenching and real.  It begins before Elie and his family believed that anything was going to happen, moves through their doubts about clear warning signs, moves forward into the ghetto, the march to the cattle cars, the separating of prisoners at the camps, the slave labor and malnutrition, and ends in a place that leaves you feeling the weight of the evil of these events.

This story is masterfully written, you feel like you are there, your mind will race with images that now seem unimaginable, and in the end you’ll feel a small portion of the despair felt by so many at the end of WWII.  You see the anguish of a Jew who lost his faith in the pits of evil.

I should end the review here, that’s all you need to know to want to read this story; except I will warn you not to read the intro until after you’ve read the book, there are some spoilers in there that are best avoided.  However, I can’t end here.  It’s impossible to read this story without your mind reeling with thoughts of human nature, evil, and vileness of the events that took place.  I want to take a moment to share one of the things that impacted me.  There’s no spoilers here, but if you plan on reading the book in the next little while, I might suggest you hold off on reading further.  The thoughts below will make more sense and perhaps impact your heart more, if you’ve read the story.

When the story ends, there is an added chapter with the text of Elie’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.  It’s a great glimpse into the what Elie learned through this heart breaking story, and it is full of great insight into our hearts and the thoughts and actions we ought to be taking to protect the vulnerable and innocent around us.  Consider this quote:

“And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

What a gut punch.  Elie directly says that concentration camps happened via indifference; they happened via silence.  He also said “to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.”  Is he wrong?  Do you find yourself bucking against his words?

I can think of many situations today where Christians are indifferent.  They hear someone clamor with an issue in our culture or our world and their response is to ignore that issue and, often, point to another one.  Instead of getting fired up about things that Jesus hates, they sit on the sidelines in complete apathy.  This should not be!  Christians have the most reason to get fired up over injustice.  We know the God of justice, the God of love and compassion who desires that none should perish.  We know the weight of our sin and the surety of how much we deserve hell.  But we also know the great relief and joy of grace and the lifting of a due and just punishment.  That relief should push us to act.

Don’t be lukewarm in indifference.  Stand up for the victim, the abused, and the down trodden.  Stand in the way of those that would cast stones against them, protect them and show them what it truly means to know love and grace.  That’s the kind of good works Jesus called us to in Matthew 5.  That’s what Newsboys talked about in the song Shine:

Shine

Let it shine before all men

Let ’em see good works, and then

Let ’em glorify the Lord

The seriousness and weight of this book cannot be underestimated.  You’ll find your thoughts forever changed by the shear horror and evilness humanity presented in this book.  I can’t recommend it more.

Overall, I give this book 5 stars.

Up next:  In the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan

Side note:  If you want to see the worst music video I’ve ever seen, go check out the Newsboys music video for Shine here.