Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
I love "takling animal" stories -- stories about animals that have societies and cultures and all that. So, when I spotted Swordbird, it immediately caught my attention. Looking further into it, I discovered it was written by a 12 year old girl. If it had been self-published, I would have run screaming. However, not only was it published by a major publisher (HarperCollins), it's part of a series she wrote and was published by them.
A 12 year old? With books published by a major publisher? Using a theme I like? Sold!
So how was it? While the writing was fine, I barely got more than 10% into it before I gave up on it. I could ignore issues like "How the hell do simple birds, bluejays and stuff, carry and use swords while flying? A sword would weight more than the entire flock of them!", but the issue that I couldn't accept was how one–dimensional the bad guy was. He literally cackled and talked out loud about how much he loves torturing people (other birds) and how much he loves whipping them and oh boy he'd get to whip some soon and evil evil I'm so evil look at me being evil.
Before I decided to give up on the book, I watched a totally unrelated movie on Netflix: Khumba. It turned out to be lucky timing, since, while the movie was average, that bad guy was multi–dimensional made the whole movie work for me.
Roger Ebert described Khumba as a "copy and paste movie". Even before I read his review, I noticed the elements of Lion King, Ice Age, and Madagascar in it. I didn't mind it, but it was kind of odd. Songs, characters, elements of the plot, even the voices all felt familiar.
Khumba was made by African animation studios and production companies, and won a number of awards there. While much of the animation was typical movie-quality CGI, there were elements of it that were really, really well done and pretty. I loved the leopard's/bad guy's fur pattern, and the way they animated his ability to track things by scent was amazing and beautiful.
Swordbird: Evil, Evil McEvil bad guy wants to make every bird in the world his slave so he always has someone to whip and torture.
Khumba: A zebra is born with half of his stripes faded out, so is disliked and picked on by his herd, and leaves to find a way to get his stripes back. While he was hated by the others because he "caused" a drought (there was a prophecy stating a half-zebra would cause the rain to stop falling forever), he was also the subject of a prophecy in the leopard society -- unknown to the zebras.
While Khumba was just a "throw away movie", something to fill a couple hours for me last night, because of the bad guy's interesting story, multiple motivations, and background story, the movie worked for me.
Swordbirds was supposed to be a special book, and I thought I'd enjoy it a lot, but it utterly failed for me because the bad guy lacked everything Khumba's had.
I gave Swordbirds a disliked instead of hated rating because it was written by a 12 year old. I do wonder how much she herself wrote and how much her parents/editors helped, but assuming she really did write it, she did a surprisingly good job. I can't expect a 12 year old to understand that shades of grey are better than black/white when it comes to characters, but hopefully she'll pick up on that as she continues writing.
As I didn't get even close to the 50% mark of the book, it doesn't count towards my goal for the year. Alas, I don't think I'll be reaching my 50 book per year goal, as it's April and I've only finished eight of them. So so so many started and not finished this year...
Next up: Gilded, one of the three oldest books in my To Read pile. I think it was recommended by someone on my friends list years ago. I have (had...) no idea what it was about, until I glanced at the Amazon page just now (wish I hadn't skimmed, it's a lot of fun going into a book 100% blind as to what it's about).