Thursday, December 17, 2015

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx by A. R. Cook vs. The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick

This is our eighth and last first round match of Bracket One of Battle of the 2013 Books, which features The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx by A. R. Cook versus The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx:  Knox Robinson Publishing, May 2013; 286 pages; cover illustration by Grzegorz Rekas. A. R. (Alison Reeger) Cook has written short stories and short plays, which have received honorable mentions in some journals and digests. Her second book in this YA series is titled The Scholar, the Sphinx, and the Fang of Fenrir.

We begin the story in Cervera, Spain, in the year 1852. David Sandoval, our 16-year-old hero in The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx, procures an architectural apprenticeship from a family friend who lives in Paris. Despite the misgivings of his parents, David persuades them to let him travel to Paris on his own.

At an inn near Paris, David hears music in the street. The innkeeper informs David that a traveling gypsy show is performing. "Just keep your coin purse close. Got to be watchful of sticky fingers," warns the innkeeper. David meets a young girl and a Scotsman juggler who challenges David to perform in the gypsy show. David does so and wins an old-fashioned dagger that is "curved like a basilisk’s tongue."

That night a strange creature breaks into David's room, entering through the window. The creature's breath soothes David into a peaceful lull, but he wakes himself enough to push the creature away, reach for his knife, and scare it away. He sees his coin purse on the floor and a fancy gold coin on the windowsill. David assumes the creature is with the gypsy troupe.

The next night David steals into the woods to find the gypsy caravan with the intent to kill the creature that attacked him, to potentially save others from such a fate. After finding and creeping into the creature's wagon — smelling the same smell from the night before — he sees a female sphinx, who suddenly awakens. Trying to escape, he is caught and tied up by the gypsies. The creature pulls him into her wagon, and lulls him to sleep with her breath.

The next morning, David, still tied up, observes the gypsy camp as people are eating breakfast. The sphinx is serving her group a delicious smelling stew.

The Doctor and the Dinosaurs:  Pyr; December 2013; 255 pages (with and extra 30 pages for appendixes); illustration by Andrew Bosley. Mike Resnick is a prolific writer of novels and short stories and has edited 40 anthologies. He has won five Hugo Awards and has been nominated over 30 times. He is the author of the Starship series, the John Justin Mallory series, and the popular Kirinyaga series. Resnick's novel The Doctor and the Dinosaurs is the fourth book in his "Weird West Tales" series.

The Doctor and the Dinosaurs takes us on a trip to an alternate version of the Wild West. Doc Holliday is dying in a sanitarium in Leadville, Colorado. An owl rests on the windowsill and watches as Doc coughs up blood and gasps in some breaths. The owl turns into Geronimo who then offers Doc a chance to live about one or two more years if he will help him with a problem. According to the Apache Geronimo, white men are digging for dinosaur bones on sacred Comanche land. Geronimo thinks Doc Holliday can convince the men to stop digging, using any means possible, including Doc’s famous gunmanship.

Doc asks why an Apache leader is helping the Comanche people in Wyoming. Geronimo reveals that the Comanche medicine men plan to resurrect some of the dinosaurs to destroy the white men and end the digging. Unfortunately, once the dinosaurs are resurrected, they can't be controlled and will go haywire and mindlessly kill anyone else in their path, which includes Apache and Comanche, as well as anyone else in their path. In Geronimo's opinion, the better plan would be to simply stop the dig and leave the dinosaurs as bones.

After Doc Holliday agrees to this deal, Geronimo does some chanting. Although Doc still coughs, he feels as he did two years ago. Doc then sets out on his journey, which first takes him to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There, he meets up with Theodore Roosevelt, who is not president yet, and they head in a northwest direction to find the paleontologists' digging site and to see what's what. They notice two Comanche following them.

The Battle:  We have a Wild West alternate-reality fantasy battling against a YA mythological fantasy. After reading the first 25 pages, I find these books to be a good pairing. May the best book win!

In The Scholar, the Sphinx, and the Shades of Nyx, David, our scholar and hero, loves stories and devours books. He is young and ready to embark on his life's journey. Unfortunately, he makes a poor decision, which takes him on a creepy path of abduction and magic.

The book flows well and the storyline so far is interesting. The writing is good, and there are some high-quality vocabulary words, which I appreciate when reading young adult novels. The name-dropping of myths and famous authors, such as "Perseus" and "Victor Hugo," seem to be placed in the story to educate the reader rather than move the story forward. Some references reminded me of the Percy Jackson series.

I wondered why the sphinx and the gypsies didn't rob David and kick him out of their gathering. Why is the sphinx interested in David? The good writing makes me believe the reasons will be forthcoming and plausible.

The Doctor and the Dinosaurs is witty and easy to follow. Humor seeps in a lot. After Geronimo temporarily heals Doc Holliday, Doc goes to a saloon where he sees Thomas Edison entering: a prosthetic-armed man walks into a bar... I was expecting a joke to follow! Then Doc says, "I've still got consumption, but at least I can function." Both seemed funnier while reading the story than they do as I write about it now. But what matters most is how much I liked the words as I read them.

Doc, a true alcoholic, believes that "water was for bathing, whiskey was for drinking, and only a fool mixes the two up." Other quotes worked well in the story and never pulled me out of the story.

Historical figures are fictionalized characters in The Doctor and the Dinosaurs. In addition, many other Wild West and famous names are "dropped," such as, Kate Elder, Lillie Langtree, Wyatt Earp, Ned Buntline, boxers John L. Sullivan and William Smiley, outlaw Johnny Ringo, famous paleontologists Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh, and philanthropist George Peabody. And that was within the first 25 pages!

However, The Scholar, the Sphinx, and the Shades of Nyx also included a few dropping of names: David and Goliath, Napoleon Bonaparte, Victor Hugo, and writer Johann Ludwig Tieck who wrote about Brunhilda.

Both books include data for thought: historic names and mythological references. They seemed to me like books to read along with school topics, although only The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx is a YA novel.

After reading 25 pages of each book, I (Jackie) enjoyed both books. But for Battle of the Books a winner must be chosen. Although both authors had unique writing styles and cleverly created stories of interest, I choose to continue reading the story that takes me to the Wild West.

THE WINNER: The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick

The Doctor and the Dinosaurs advances to the second round to face The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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