Weird books can be pretty awesome.
What a shocking thing for someone as normal as me to say, I know! But hang on, I’ll give you examples. You need to know exactly what kind of thing I’m talking about.
My Lady Jane is completely insane… And hilarious. There’s just something about horse weddings that makes England’s history so much better. The only five chapters of Welcome to Night Vale I got to read were bizarre… And strangely addicting. And Ever Alice is the whackiest Alice in Wonderland story I have ever crashed into… But the Queen of Hearts can dress as a giant brussel sprout as much as she wants, I’m here for it.
So you’d think with all that, I’ve pretty much seen it all… Wrong. Because then this book comes along. And ohhh boy. It’s weird. Weirder than all the others combined.
So let me introduce you to the oddity of Jak II, from the Jak and Daxter trilogy.
And just from the title, you can probably already notice a couple things, like:
- Yes, I skipped the first book and jumped straight into the sequel. Because I felt like it.
- And they clearly couldn’t bother coming up with an actual name for said sequel… And decided a plain 2 at the end would suffice. Go figure.
So what on earth made me pick up this strangely named thing that looks nothing like any of the books I’ve ever read and liked? It… It was the authors. I don’t know, two guys with the pen name Naughty Dog? It sounds like a failed rap group. I couldn’t resist.
BUT, let me tell you what actually goes down in it, because I have plenty of thoughts… And they’re chaos. Who cares if this doesn’t make any sense, right? You like reading weird stuff too, we both know it. So go on. Be weirded out with me.
~ Okay, so when it comes down to it, Jak II is about a guy with anger issues and his weasel/otter friend, trying to save the futuristic dystopia they’re stuck in after going through a time portal.
And I know, this sounds rather complicated already…
But you should also keep in mind that the otter/weasel guy used to be human and isn’t anymore (stuff from that first book I didn’t read), and there are robotic monsters trying to destroy a city, and a city leader trying to protect people but also being kind of a jerk, and an underground rebellious group trying to overthrow the jerk leader, and a crime lord, and a couple double agents, and a weird sage lady that communicates by waving her arms like a madwoman while a parrot creature translates for her.
Makes sense? Good. Moving on.
~ It’s actually rather hard to pin down a genre for this book. Shocker.
I’d say for the *most part* it’s a dystopia… But then you have sci-fi like technology sprinkled everywhere… And odd dino creatures with pink energy shields running around in magic forests… And old-timey relics and temples… And a glowing seed that makes old men able to talk with plants…
Soooo I’m going to leave it at sci-fi-ish fantastic dystopia, with a dash of asylum madness.
The sage lady is there to add a bit of horror to the mix.
~ I can see you’re confused already!
So am I. I don’t know what anyone was thinking.
~ But on to more conventional stuff.
The characters in this book are actually rather cool, if you ignore their extremely strange looks. So don’t let the pointy ears and green hair distract you too much.
First, we have Jak, the main disaster dude. He’s somewhat hyperactive and has a weird obsession with breaking stuff, but that’s just his cultural background, don’t mind it.
The thing is, Jak used to be a mute. And then that jerk city leader I mentioned kidnapped him, tortured him for two years, pumped some dark energy thing into him, and after all that, well… The guy can talk. Which might not be too great from a disability rep point of view, but… I don’t even know, I’m pretty confused about everything.
Then, we have Daxter, the “ottsel” guy (otter, weasel… Ottsel…). He has some serious sarcasm, one-sided banter, comic relief thing going on, and he’s girl crazy. So you either laugh with him or throw him out a window for being stupid… Or both.
Put these two together, and you get a strange sassy duo doing reckless things for no apparent reason. It is rather amusing.
~ So the book starts with Jak and Daxter getting sucked into a shiny time travel portal, as you do on any regular Tuesday.
Jak gets kidnapped, and the whole two years of torture happen, yadda yadda yadda… Then Daxter breaks Jak out of wherever the jerk is torturing him and trying to make him into a sith lord soldier, and it would all be nice and good after that, but they’re still stuck in a dystopian future. And Jak is now a half monster… And he’s angry… And he wants revenge… So… Nothing’s nice and good, basically.
Angry dude and sarcastic dude are at a loss, and they need to do something. Lucky enough for them, there’s a rebel group who hates the jerk guy just as much as they do. Hooray! This is clearly a nice opportunity to use Jak’s new anger issues, so they join up and start doing *anything* to upset/undermine the jerk in whatever way they can. And I really mean *anything*.
~ At this point, the story turns into a very meandering plot of random quests that range from capturing flags, to fixing water pipes in the slums, to blowing up stuff, to murdering evil robotic monsters just to collect the things within their skulls…
Not brains, no. Gems. Brains are overrated.
~ And talk about action packed! I’m not joking when I say Jak has anger issues.
The word “punch” is in this in all its 99 variations and skin-tones, and I feel sorry for the people who had to die like that. Really, if there’s anything you can learn from this book, it’s that swinging long animals around is a great way to knock people out, right before you murder them.
~ But still on the subject of plot,
there’s actually a really odd aspect to it, besides… You know… All the weirdness Jak gets into trying to work for both the resistance and a dysphormic crime lord who gives him shiny weapons. And it’s all about… The pace.
Because how fast the plot moves keeps changing all the time, depending on how interested Jak is on actually completing the missions people throw at him, or pestering innocent citizens with a stolen motorcycle.
I kid you not. Like, I get it, you can’t be all business no play all the time, but if it were up to me, this guy would never get his driver’s license.
~ And the really annoying thing about this is that, ughhhh, 60% of the book is about moving from one place to another.
Running around… Flying car rides… Parkour on rooftops… Sounds sort of interesting if you keep it short, but WHY!! Would anyone think!! It’d be good enough to make up half of the book?? I can’t take any more “Jak jumps this, Jak jumps that”. And if I see another floating motorcycle, I’m gonna lose it. I skimmed through a lot of pages… And I definitely don’t appreciate Naughty Dog’s obsession with Fast and Furious and Assassin’s Creed. Because that’s clearly what made things go wrong here.
~ But this brings us to the side characters, and I have a lot to say about this too, okay?
I’m fine with all the odd twerps Jak and Daxter talk to and lay their sass on. There’s a bunch of sketchy people, violent goons and a twitchy scientist… so far so good. But oh. My. Goodness. Describing every single person Jak runs past in a crowded city is overdoing it!
Soooo many supporting characters, sooo many useless people whose sole purpose is to walk around like zombies and act scared when Jak drives like a madman… Why don’t these people have a life? An ounce of personality?? Their blandness. Is. Creepy.
And it’s very unsettling, the number of paragraphs used to describe these folks. Makes you feel like there could be a troll dude walking behind you at all times.
~ It gets worse, though.
Because the side characters are not just boring and zombified… They also don’t make any sense. Let me tell you why.
All over the city, we have guards working for the jerk leader, and trying to keep order in a place where disorder can’t even exist, due to the overall lack of brains… These guards keep screaming things like “This area is off limits!” and “Sacrifice for your city! Remember!”. And the zombie people just… Keep walking lazily like nothing creepy is happening.
So they’re boring… But they’re rebellious. And they’re scaredy… But badass enough to ignore the threatening guards. I call inconsistency for characters 30 through 1765 (oh yeah, there’s that many).
~ Then again… There’s a chance the zombies really have no reason to worry. Because… Death doesn’t mean much in this world they live in.
Everything’s so easy. Guards die and disappear in a purple flash of light… Jak falls off a cliff and reappears on top of it two seconds later… There’s no mess to clean up. No skeletons in the closet. No need to worry about breaking your neck.
The stakes aren’t much higher than being tasered repeatedly with a lightning gun (which, fair, must hurt a lot), so I guess I’d be bored too. And scared of Jak’s driving… And of his green goatee…
You know what, I’ve changed my mind. The zombies make some sense after all, I take the mean comments back.
~ But speaking of inconsequential death… There are actually two kinds of deaths in this book I did mind.
One, the dude who acted like he was about to die right before being crushed in what should be a shocking, tragic plot twist… And was obviously not shocking at all.
And two, the lizards. Yeah, lizards. You read that right. JAK KILLS SO MANY LIZARDS!
And then he grabs some energy balls that come out of them… I think this is supposed to be the equivalent of eating? You know how fiction is like sometimes, they just ignore basic human functions. So he kills the lizards… All of them… So many of them… And then feeds off their purple lights… It’s animal cruelty. I don’t approve. And that’s it about that.
~ So if you’re wondering why I’d forgive all the moving around and reptile murder and zombies and even keep reading at all…
I could say the cool settings have something to do with it. There’s some really nice worldbuilding involved in this whole… thing.
~ And this book has very detailed descriptions, all throughout.
Like… very detailed. You know. Extremely… detailed. I could just *see* every single neon sign and water leak in the city. It’s rather overwhelming, but kind of interesting too? From an architectural point of view?
You get abandoned ruins, How-To-Train-Your-Dragon-Style forests, techy prisons that look straight out of a video game, pretty gardens, racing arenas, underground temple places, and disgusting sewers. You can imagine I loved the sewers the most. Slimy… Green… Really nice.
~ So quick recap!
We have fun characters, a horde of useless zombies, an annoying pace, and cool settings… So far this is clearly a mixed review, walking very close to the “WHAT IS THIS DUMPSTER FIRE BOOK, I HATE IT” line. But there’s something else pulling the rating for it up, and it’sssssss the plot twists.
Oh yeah. Lots of weird things happening to keep you in an interested, weirded-out, shocked state. People are not what you think they are… Dogs behave weirdly… Sketchy power deals go on… And before you know it, woosh! Everyone’s changing sides, and someone’s dead, and what now?? You stole my sandwich??
Erm, sorry, there are no sandwiches. Ignore that part.
~ Honestly, my favorite bit of all this was when that strange skull statue in an abandoned cottage started talking with no explanation (!!) and was like…
“The dark rage in you will destroy you with its madness!! Kill my enemies and I will teach you stuff!!”
Very inspiring pep talk, I love the guy.
~ And that is really all I have to say about the book itself… But, boy, look at this cover.
Whoever designed it clearly had big plans, because they skipped the whole normal process of book cover >> movie tie-in cover and went straight to a video game tie-in style from the very beginning. I think this would stand out in any library. Right??
Okay, I’m done. Have some random quotes now.
“Breaking stuff’s fun, right?”
“This place is too much excitement. We need to move back to the country”
Can’t say I disagree.
“You better keep us alive, or I’ll never speak to you again! Obviously”
I still don’t think you can die, but okay.
“Surrender and die!”