Reader’s thoughts: endings

A question I pondered a few times is: what is a good ending? Eventually, I realized that there are several factors, and that is even for the outcome. “…and they lived happily ever after” might sound like a good ending, but it will help none if it’s reached in a way that makes it feel out of place.

Satisfaction

One of the factors is surely satisfaction. I believe that many people stick with a story to see the bad guy defeated and the problems that arose solved. How the story is told is great part and I would say that the more you can hate the antagonist, the more satisfaction you get from finally seeing him meet the deserved end.

Realism

Satisfaction is good, but the bad guy’s defeat is just a part of it. How the story ends is about more than just that. What went on through the story should be reflected by the ending – it would be weird if a land decimated by wars would suddenly turn into “everything is all nice” with his death, forgetting the destruction. Rebuilding takes time and the outcome should probably reflect that if the damage done was massive.

Cost

This goes with what I mentioned above. It’s pretty much inevitable that characters will die on their way to defeating the antagonist, but even those need to have some sense. I believe that death of each characters should have some point to drive the story forward – to make or break someone. The cost of victory should be related to the power of enemy being fought. Too easy victory will make it look like the problem was inflated, but too high cost could be problem as well.

This also opens opportunities for selfless acts of heroes, going as far as the ultimate sacrifice. In a post I made in 11/2017, I mentioned Kyle Reese from Terminator movie as my favorite example. I might even get back to this topic at some point and make a post more about what I think in this regard.

Balance of power

During a struggle, let alone war, factions with different aims will appear and influence those around. When a faction meets its end, they leave an empty spot that someone will, sooner or later, try to fill. Struggles to take hold of this power vacuum can be base for sequels, but leaving obvious loose ends unresolved will only result in disappointment, more so if the end hints that there will be no sequel but leaves unanswered questions.


So, in conclusion, what matters for the ending (and affects my review and rating) is how much sense the ending makes. If the ending is sad but makes complete sense and the story was done really well, the rating will be high.

If the story leaves several loose ends, more so if they are left to be unresolved, even the happiest ending in the world will not save me from taking % off, no matter how much I might wish for the main characters to live happily forever.

Book review: The blood debt

I followed reading the final book in the trilogy the day after reading the second book. Compared to the second one, the PoV shifts are not that numerous or sudden, but that is great part due to the story converging in two places: around Wulfric and around Rodulf.

Rodulf keeps his scheming and takes it to the next level, resulting to multitude of atrocious acts. Adalhaid is finishing her studies with plan to leave the city as soon as she finishes what Aethelman could not, knowing that she’d not be safe remaining around if she succeeded (and would probably not live long if she failed). She has some obstacles in the way, partially due to the headmistress having some aversion to Northlanders.

In the meantime, Wulfric returns from his journey overseas only to end up tangled in a messy webs of politics and traitors. And as it tends to be, he just can’t kill those, no matter how reasonable his suspicions are, without a proof his enemies are not willing to give.

He is lured away from the city on a quest to find a blade worthy of a hero, realizing it’s a trap but having no choice. He gets some insight and understanding on the way and just as he returns, the story seems to be getting to the finale… which it would be, if not for the narrative, as I mentioned in my review of the second book. It is here when it shows as trouble. When you know that some characters will survive, it kills the surprise.

I also though some characters maybe deserved a bit better end (no spoiler to who) and that the ending, shifted several years later, is quite anticlimactic. One would expect that after dealing with an uprising led by traitor, a monarch aiming for peace would do all in his power to have all the schemers, and especially the head, searched and dealt with at any cost, yet it is not the case here.

The good part was in the head Intelligencier (that’s how the inquisitor-like sect is called) who shows compassion for the sake of his family, realizing that despite what many would think not all magic is bad.


Read date: 11.-12.4.2018
Published: 2.10.2017
Goodreads / Amazon rating: 4,25 / 4,2
My rating: 80%
Length: 376 pages (kindle edition).

My final verdict for the book, and the whole series, is that it was great read that sucked me in, but could be much better if not for the spoiler-ish narration.

Also, I guess this will lead to me writing blog posts about some topics I wanted to cover: my thoughts about PoV/narration and my thoughts about what is (or not) good or satisfactory ending.

Book review: Jorundyr’s path

As I mentioned at the end of my review of “Wolf of the North“, I was tempted to get into the sequel right away, but for reasons delayed that. The story was captivating, so I blazed through the second book in two days, but it had its issues.


Given how the first book ended, with Wulfric at the run (both away from Leondorf and towards his revenge), Aethelman with is own goal, Rodulf scheming more and Adalhaid with her own choices to make, there were many sub-stories to follow.

That itself would not be an issue, but how the PoV shifts were handled was troublesome, often changing several times in a single chapter, something that might confuse some readers. Worst, these plot parts were happening at different places, detached enough that just following one character for a while would be enough – there was no hint that they happened at the same time to require these abrupt shifts (except when they converged, of course). Personally I’d guess they were supposed to build suspense but I did not feel it that way.

The book also showed why I don’t like books told in this kind of retrospective with shifts to the narrator retelling the story much later, for one reason: it is easy way to spoilers, which was the case in this book. As enjoyable as it was, since maybe half of the second book, it turned from “how it will end?” to “how it’ll get there”, which is quite a pity.


Read date: 9.-10.4.2018
Published: 30.5.2017
Goodreads / Amazon rating: 4,15 / 4,3
My rating: 80% (with mixed feelings, 70% of it is immersion)
Length: 368 pages (kindle edition).

Book review: The Wolf of the North

So, I finally got to another book that was on my TBR quite soon after I bought my e-reader… two years ago. Needless to say, I am glad I got to it. Another quick and very good read.

The Wolf of the North starts like underdog story with Wulfric being weak and bullied by older boys in the village and having pretty much only one friend in Adalhaid, girl from the same village. He’s quite the opposite of his father, the village’s best warriors who’s quite disappointed by it.

Eventually, Wulfric starts changing and eventually beats Rodulf, the ‘boss’ of his bully gang, to the point that Rodulf loses an eye and his hopes for becoming a great warrior are crushed forever. Probably very well deserved beating that changes both Wulfric and Rodulf.

Wulfric then starts his training while Rodulf and his father take different path, choosing to pursue wealth and political power instead of physical power and skill with blade.

The machinations of those two eventually start a downhill spiral (won’t spoil the details) and the growing greed of those two causes large amount of grief among the other villagers, Wulfric being one of those hit hardest, of which most was quite cold plan.

At this point I’ll stop when it comes to the story. I must say that I felt Wulfric quite relatable, especially when it came to struggling with his feelings and the hard decisions. The story of Rodulf and his father, with their machinations and growing fall to corruption was likewise well done, to the point of being able to cause countless deaths just to reach their goal.

Small downside was that in the early part of the book, there were one or two points where the shifts to the narrator felt a bit weird. Regardless, second book, here I come!


Read date: 4.-7.4.2018
Published: 8.10.2016
Goodreads / Amazon rating: 4,11 / 4,3
My rating: 95%
Length: 326 pages (kindle edition)

Lowland hills

Sometimes, nature can surprise me more than I’d expect. Some places I’d expect to be either flat or lazily rolling hills with no steep parts, yet I can be proven the opposite. I roughly had an idea where I was to go this Saturday – I planned to go there last year at roughly this time, but weather and then other things happened and I had to postpone it, eventually to the next year at least as the place is nice in early April with the flowers blooming.

Warning: long post with lots of photos.

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Deforested

This will be a post that goes a bit into biology even though it’ll include photos and experience from my hikes. It’s about a fact that places I knew (know) are changing before my eyes, and might as well change forever, voluntarily or not.

Since 18th century, spruce forests started to dominate central Europe. The lumber they produce has wide use and they grow fast in the first 20-25 years. Yet, they have several vulnerabilities, the main one in normal conditions is shallow root system.

Spruces here in central Europe have much more problems. Easy to take root, they started to dominate the landscape, but pollution weakened them, making them easy target for bark beetles. Combined with the larger frequency of dry years in the last 10 years, the shallow roots mean the trees are becoming dry due to lack of moisture and even easier target for parasites. And to top them off (literally, in the end), the increasing amount of strong winds that can uproot the weakened trees or snap them in half.

The most memorable of many was the windy night in late 2004. It hit several places, but the devastation in Slovakian High Tatras was most prominent with strip two to five kilometers wide and over fifty kilometers long. The place changed forever, once shady forests below the hill giving space to low plants.

Tri studničky, Tatranský Národný Park, Slovakia (2017)

What survived the night in 2004 was not much and most of it was taken down by the following two or three nights that came in 2010s  (the second big one was in 2014, almost exactly 10 years later, with several minor in other years). The events, in turn, made the bark beetle infestation even worse as they could use the massive amount of fallen trees to breed even more and make the forests vulnerable for disasters that did not need much time to come.

The problems are even worse in east Czech republic, historically industrial area with pollution problems (even though the situation is getting better). As I mentioned recently, in the last hike I was crossing a place that was formerly spruce forest. Even three years after the 2015 wind, not all the fallen trees were taken away. Infrastructure suffers in turn as the village roads were not planned to carry several trucks with loads of wood every day for months, let alone years. Seeds of other trees are on short supply as the forest owners try to replace the fallen trees with something that would have better chances.

Former forest near Karlovice village, Czech republic (2018, destroyed in 7/2015)

Sometimes, more trees are destroyed before the results of one calamity are dealt with. I can say for sure that hikes when I’d not hear at least distant sounds of chain saw are getting quite rare. Even though making marked trails passable is often done just after clearing the roads, there were times when a trail was closed for three to four months after one windy day.

Destroyed forest near Králický Sněžník, Czech republic (2015, a week after the windstorm)

To make it worse, some places are hard to reach and even clearing the path is complicated, let alone helping the land to recover. The options to get heavy trucks to elevation around 1300 meters when the villages below are around 500 is quite complicated, as the places have roads that can carry an off-road vehicle or snowmobile at most and are used primarily by cyclists.

Uprooted spruces, Sušina peak, Czech republic (2016, year after the windstorm)

A few years ago, spruces made up to 90% of trees. The ratio in cultivated areas is decreasing with each harsh wind (I believe that most of the times it was somewhere between 100 and 200 km/h) as its obvious that re-planting spruces would most likely be wasted effort.


Some places change right before my eyes. What will they look like in a decade or two I don’t dare to guess…

Traveling trouble

This will be a bit different post for 1st April, recollection of some unlucky things that happened to me during my hikes.

2009: Don’t underestimate the weather

17.8.2009, one of the most memorable. One of the most important rule of hiking is: respect the nature and especially weather. Especially in places where safe spots are rare – such as Slovakian Tatra mountains. Yes, by popular belief, third week of August is the most stable with minimal amount of rain. Not a hint of clouds on 15th when we arrived. Hike I had to end 80% to the peak because of my drink supply running low from the immense heat on 16th. 17th seemed to be no different.

It was to be climb of Rysy peak located on border between Slovakia and Poland and the highest point of marked trail system in the mountains (all the higher peaks require outright climbing with appropriate equipment and a permit). At my level of skill those days, I knew that realistically I won’t make it all the way, but I made it to the chalet below the peak itself. After a short break, seeing gathering clouds, I decided to start my descent before something comes.

Too late.

Five minutes later, sudden storm arrived. I was just in a shirt and thus was drenched to the bone in ten minutes. Worse, it was not just rain but hail and the impacts were really painful on my sun-burnt hands. The storm took maybe fifteen minutes, but it was enough to fill my boots with water.

An hour later, I reached the place where my parents were waiting for me, changed to a dry shirt (the only thing I had spare) and we went for the last five kilometers to the pick up point. It took maybe fifteen minutes for the storm to return and that time it lasted for almost two hours. Since then, I carry quite full backpack no matter how stable the weather might be. Ready for anything that can realistically happen.

2010: Train has the right of way

My first “pushing the limits” hike. 27km up and down in merciless summer heat. When I reached the train station, I had two choices: wait two hours for a train going directly where I need, or take a scenic route and depart in twenty minutes, arriving to my destination just a few minutes ahead of the direct option. Being nice day and willing to see different places than those I used for arrival, I chose to shorten my wait, even at though the detour made my ticket almost double price. Also, the scenic route meant no direct train and I had 10 minutes for the transfer.

I chatted with a group of young hikers that took a seat next to me and it went well until we stopped somewhere and remained there for almost forty minutes. Then, we were told that a cyclist was hit by a train a few kilometers ahead of us and the railroad is closed. We had to wait for a backup transport and with some luck, they held a train in my direction for ten minutes (compared to the scheduled departure) so people going that direction could get home with not so much time lost. Still, what was supposed to get me there twenty minutes earlier turned into 70 minutes of delay.

2015: Vertigo

In August 2015, I was attempting to hike Rysy peak again, this time from the Poland side. The trail is almost 10km of slow ascension through the valley followed by quite steep climb, the final part is ~1600 meters long with ~900 meters of vertical ascension. From elevation 2000m ASL onwards (peak at 2503) it’s really close to actual climbing, several passages secured by chains or with steps chiseled into the granite rocks. Still, several people die there each year. To tell something about the difficulty, of the 42 people in our group, only five of us dared this.

How far can you see the path?

Now, I was never one to have fear of heights, at least not when hiking. At some later point, I saw a woman in probably early twenties, clutching the chain in panic, shaking and crying. The finale is quite harsh, maybe thirty meters of pretty much vertical climb with 800 meters of depth behind your back, followed by 10 meters of walk across thin ledge. That was really scary. The view from above was worth it in the end.

Peak elevation: 2503. Upper lake (closer): 1580. Lower lake: 1395. Parking (off sight): 890.

Worst was to come. It took me maybe fifty meters of the descent (down the Slovakian side) and I misstepped, pulling some tendon, muscle or something in my knee. Long story short, after another hundred of meters I gave up and finished the descent on painkillers, glad that the next day had nothing planned. The pain receded on its own overnight, but I was scared of its return for the remaining five days.

By the way, during the extremely hot day and hard climb, my beverage consumption just during the hike neared 8 liters. With the rest (clothes for any situation, as mentioned before), my backpack was really heavy and I had to be extra careful to keep my weight center forward. And as seen on the picture, it was long way down…

2016: Beware of the dog… and cow

That was hike whose most “interesting” part was that to reach the place, not even that interesting, took me almost five hours in bus and train. I chose a trail that was not used much, which was far too obvious at some point. I had to push my way through young spruces, earning a few scratches. Not big deal on its own, but when the salt from sweating gets there, combined with tick repellent, it’s not really pleasant feeling.

I got to the main peak, went down, and prepared for the second part. The trail took me through a valley road, next to which were some houses, probably used as summer houses given the remote locations. Separated from the road by a stream, no fences were needed. A dog rushed to follow me, barking loudly. It was small one, so I stopped to make sure I don’t step on it, but the stop was too sudden and the dog, still barking, hit my leg, giving me another scratch that started to itch quite fast.

Then, I had to cross a field that was used as a pasture. Even though the five cows were some distance away, the idea that I would be run down by them, very well alone, was not a pleasant one and pushed me to the fastest speed I could muster at that point. Nothing happened, but still, combined with the dog just a few minutes before, I was scared.

2006: Mind your diet

My digestive system was in trouble since I was born. I went through complicated surgery when I was five and since then it was slowly getting better, but I still need to be careful. Apart from lactose intolerance, there are some things that could cause trouble, or some combinations. Problem is, some are revealed only by chance. And sometimes, in really bad time and place.

Let’s start that despite being still summer (2.9.2006), the night was cold in the hills and in the north-oriented valley, even around 9:00 it was -2°C. It went up gradually, so I thought it would be nice day. We reached the main peak shortly before noon and after a while there, started the descent.

That is where the problems begun, by quite scary sounds coming from within me. Worst thing? First it was through rocky landscape, then the trail led through shrub pines with no way to step aside. The pressure on my sphincter was increasing each minute, yet I had to keep my backside shut tightly for over five kilometers before I got a change to step off the path.

By that time my legs were shaking so much that I could not really relieve myself and eventually walked as fast as I could down to the valley, hoping for a public restroom at the parking or something like that. In total, around 11 kilometers from the peak. I made it just in time. Since then, I really watch what I eat a day before hike.


And with this quite uncomfortable story, I finish today’s post.