4 out of 5 stars
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The second instalment in the Princess Rouran Adventures written by Shawe Ruckus, Princess Rouran and the Book of the Living follows the Keyholders as they race against the clock to find the Book of the Living. Edith, her niece Moli, James, and Kiza are pulled from the normal world—as normal as it gets in pandemic mode, anyhow—to stop one of the most famous historical villains: Adolf Hitler. In Ancient Egypt, they must complete riddles and face off against prehistoric dinosaurs and metal creatures, using their wits and gifted tools to complete their quest. A sentient AI hellbent on destruction plagues their journey, poking at their weaknesses and tormenting them with visions of a hellish future. Will they be able to fulfil their destiny before time runs out?
Irreverent dark humour is the bread and butter of Princess Rouran and the Book of the Living. The narrative comprises pithy statements, sometimes shifting so abruptly because of the nature of the plot. As a side note, racism, xenophobia, torture, profanity and other dark, disturbing components are present, and in large supply, too. There is a tricky balance between feeling empathy for the protagonists and victims of the villains’ schemes and not taking it too seriously, just as how the book didn’t take itself too seriously.
The central characters are bilingual, so foreign words are a regular occurrence in this novel. These include Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese, and more. It makes for an interesting read, but nearly all of these words are explained, so understanding is never really an issue. This sort of branches off from the history, random titbits, and virtual deluge of cultural references found within.
On the topic of the main characters, Pandorai, the resident evil, sentient, antagonistic AI, stood out like a beacon. It embodies the traits that make artificial intelligence boogeymen in fiction, donning a skeletal human mien with a madman’s psyche. While not exactly likeable—the penchant for genocide and a concerning attitude problem guaranteeing this an impossibility—Pandorai was certainly memorable, and I admit to stifling a laugh, or many, at its very out-of-pocket jokes and general taunting.
I did spot some errors in the writing, which weren’t too bad but numbered significantly. Their presence led me to believe that while the book might have been professionally edited, it was not done thoroughly.
Princess Rouran and the Book of the Living gets a rating of four out of five stars. It was near perfect, save for the errors I found within the relatively short book. Its witty delivery, the balance of multiple thematic elements, spotlighting of real-world issues, and how it put together a ragtag bunch with a lot of potential rank it up there as one of the best science fiction and fantasy books I’ve read in a while.
The audience for this book is wide and varied. There are a few conditions, though. The first is that a strictly mature age group is required. Second, much of the content is downright offensive, so individuals who are easily triggered should not read it. People who fancy elements like time travel, artificially intelligent villains, fast-paced action, dark humour, and the like will be sure to love this book. Readers looking for a light read should also pick it up. While the first book isn’t crucial to the events of the second, I do think readers will be better off reading it and then moving on to this one for more background and context.
Princess Rouran and the Book of the Living
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