Sunday, April 3, 2011

List: Religion Portrayed Differently

So I've decided that the first Sunday of each month is going to be list-day, where I decide to list a few great books on a particular topic if you want something to add to your reading list. I hope you enjoy this! :)  

Today's topic is on Religion Portrayed Differently. As Edwin Lewis says, "A religion without the element of mystery would not be a religion at all", and yet most of my list tries to do exactly that - strip the element of mystery from religion, and let the chaos unleash itself on whichever world the book might be set in. Yet others on my list try to talk about the role of religion in our life - on religious conflicts that separate and unite people - and about the things that we do for religion. Not all the books in my list today are about religion, but each of them has religion as one of the major themes of the book. If you are interested in religion, and in less-than-normal portrayals of the same, it is my hope that you will enjoy this list. 

Religion Portrayed Differently

American Gods: A NovelThe Lions of al-RassanGardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen)Priestess of the White (Age of the Five Trilogy, Book 1)Lord of Light
(Note: The books are in no particular order.) 

1. American Gods (Neil Gaiman) 
Plot: In American Gods, Gaiman uses the following theme - when people go from one place to another, they take their Gods with them - and the fate of these Gods in that place depend on the belief of the people in them. In American Gods, old gods, be it from Hindu mythology or Norse mythology, must fight for their survival against the new Gods - media, internet, technology. The battleground? America. 
Why should you read it? Great metaphor, great writing, believable characters and epic scale. A book to keep you up all night reading it. 
(Read my full review here.) 
Dont believe me? Dont take my word for it. Read this review, or this one, or this one. 
Why you might not like it? Quirky writing style. You might want to read a sample first. 

American Gods: A NovelAmerican Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition: A NovelAmerican Gods
(Cover variants) 

2. The Lions of Al-Rassan (Guy Gavriel Kay) 
Plot: In the Lions of Al-Rassan, Kay writes about a world torn apart by a politico-religious conflict.  The novel concentrates on the relationships between the three peoples: the Kindath (based on the Jews), the Asharites (based on the Muslims), and the Jaddites (based on the Christians). In this setting, three people - Jehana, a plucky Kindath physician, Ammar, an awesome poet and mercenary, and Rodrigo, the captain of a Jaddite company - meet and start to like each other. But what happens when they are torn apart by religious and political conflicts that sorround their nations and people? The Lions of Al-Rassan will tell you. 
Why should you read it? Great characterization, touching plot, immensely powerful world-building and a writing style like poetry. Not a book to miss. 
(My full review to come soon). 
Dont believe me? Read Limyaael rant about why this book makes a good fantasy, or read this review, or this one. 
Why you may not like it? The author's style, which I describe as poetic, can also be called ponderous. There is a lot of skipping around from one place to another, which might be very annoying. 

The Lions of al-Rassan

3. Gardens of the Moon (Steven Erikson) 
Plot: The Gardens of the Moon is the first book in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series, a series about the struggles on power on the Malazan Empire. In fact, in the first book, the Malazan Empire is basically trying to annex two remaining provinces to it - The Pale and Durjhistan. The only problem is, there are a lot more players in this game than our immediately apparent to those playing it - including a lot of meddling gods. 
Why should you read it? Cool plot, intense world-buildings and amazing characters - an epic story. 
(My full review to come soon.) 
Dont believe me? Read this review, or this one, or this one. 
Why you may not like it? Erikson is definitely a hate-him or love-him writer. He's got a really complex backstory, he throws you right in the middle of the plot from page one and expects you to swim or sink, and the book skips around a lot. It can be hard to follow and way too complex. 

Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen)

4. Age of the Five Trilogy (Trudi Canavan) 
Plot: About a century after the war of the Gods, only five gods remain in the world...and they have formed their own religion, that of the Circlians. Auraya, the main character, is the newest priestess for this religion. But the loyalties of Auraya and the rest of her world are going to be sorely tested when the southern part of the continent claims to have a new religion with five new Gods - and even more with the appearance of the Wilds, old sorcerers who hate the Gods. This series raises questions about what happens when Gods live - and whether Gods can die. 
(The Age of the Five Trilogy has three books - The Priestess of the White, The Last of the Wilds, and The Voices of the Gods.)  
Why should you read it? Great characters - every character (especially the Gods) is shown to be so very human, great plot, amazing ending and very deep world building. An excellent, gritty, dark, realistic book. 
(My full review will come soon)
Dont believe me? Then read this (where it gets compared to my favorite author of all time - George R. R. Martin), or this, or this
Why you may not like it? You might not enjoy the skipping around between different points of views - as frankly I didn't like the Pentadrians or Ellaria enough to enjoy their voices. Also, the main character can get a little perfect at times and the ending may seem gimmicky and clich├ęd.

Priestess of the White (Age of the Five Trilogy, Book 1)Last of the Wilds: Age of the Five, Book 2Voice of the Gods (Age of the Five Trilogy, Book 3)

5. The Lord of the Light by Roger Zelazny
Plot: The Lord of the Light  is more science fiction than an actual book on religion, and yet, the fact remains that it makes a pretty great statement on Hinduism. In a futuristic earth, a group of colonists on earth have taken the names of the ancient Hindu gods - and rule their descendants within the framework of traditional Hindu beliefs. And to oppose them is one force - Sam (also known as the Buddha - the Enlightened One) who tries to overthrow the Gods and show their true faces to the people who they dominate. 
Why should you read it? Bold, creative, different - full of as much humor as action and as much beauty as mystery - great characters (I love the portrayal of Hindu gods as simple, erring humans, and how Zelazny recreates Hinduism). 
Dont believe me? Well, this review, and this review, and this one, quite seem to agree with me. 
Why you may not like it? Well, its a confusing, complex book, and the odd chapter structure and non-linear storyline has managed to confuse even me. 

Lord of Light


Well, thats all for today. Go read this books, or if you've read some great books that give you a new twist on religion, do share them with me and my readers! 

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