25% Survival Rate Is Not As High As You Think

The first few pages of Blood Tournament (2018, #1) makes everyone remember Hunger Games. The scenario is very similar: in a dystopian future, the government picks 40 contestants to compete in an underground arena, only 10 would survive. This is oddly similar to Hunger Games.

There are several twists though and make this book an enjoyable read. First of all, you might think that a 25% survival rate is not too bad. But once you think about it, it is a smart design by Benson, the author of the book. When the number of contestants dwindles, it makes more sense for several contestants to conspire against small groups. In the Hunger Games’ setting, conspiring is less likely because there are only 1 person can live. You can almost guess that Book 1 of Hunger Games would likely be “the protagonist bitterly kills someone she loves” or “some surprising twist is coming to make more than 1 person survives”. I believe the 25% survival rate ends become an interesting device and gives an interesting twist to the plot.

Then, there is a part which I feel “Hunger Games” was weak: it was catering to a more female young adult market. So for me, “Hunger Games” doesn’t have enough plot devices to include many scenes which could be adrenaline-filled. In a way, that’s why I find “Blood Tournament” is more enjoyable: it is grimmer in tone, faster in pace and more action-packed. That’s perhaps why several reviewers commented they wish “Hunger Games” go into “Blood Tournament”‘s direction.

All-in-all, “Blood Tournament” is a great summer read, I hope to see more work from Benson in the future.


History, Indie, Thriller

Review of “Valley of Thracian”

For many readers in United States, Bulgaria is a strange and mysterious land. A small European country with around 7 million population, most of them speak Bulgarian, a major Slavic language after Russian and Ukrainian. Only recently attain its democracy 20 years ago, joined the European Union at 2007. For most American readers, Bulgarian would probably perceived as just an insignificant country in Europe.

Yet, Mr. Shuman,Yet, Mr. Shuman, former Editor in Chief of Israel Insider and About.com’s Israel Culture Guide, told us how false our perception can be. In “Valley of Thracians”, we are guided into a wonderful journey into ancient Bulgarian history, a thrilling crime story and a memorable adventure.

“Valley of Thracians” starts with the quest of a retired literature professor , Simon Matthews, to find his missing grandson, Scott Matthews, in Bulgaria. He met Sophia, an attractive archeology professor who assists him through whole journey. Sophia vaguely remind me cryptologist Sophie Neveu in Robert Langdon’s “Da Vinci Code’. As a device, Sophia serves both as a romantic interest of Prof. Simon and provides reader much information of the historical knowledge of Bulgaria.

As the story unrolled, Shuman hints us Scott’s disappearance is related to a stolen Thracian treasure. This is when the plot thickened, more characters were introduced – the crippled, cunning and memorable Boris, also the patriarch of the host family of Scott. His sister, Katya, a pharmacologist with a mysterious motivation to protect Scot. The cruel and relentless gang boss, Nicholay. All of them are portrayed in detail and believable.

There were several surprising twists in the plot. For example, the readers were hinted early on that Scott’s disappearance was related to a Thracian treasure. But it leaves the readers wondering for 150 pages on why Scott was imprisoned. Shuman also cleverly camouflage the true motivation of Sophia of why she helps the Matthews by establishing a ersatz mutual attraction between Matthews and Sophia. Of course, we are all left to wonder a deeper question: Does the Thracians really has an advanced civilization? And what would the Thracian treasure connects to this civilization?

I found the Bulgarian history, the plot and the characters make the whole book a page turner. Furthermore, the reader could feel a genuine grandfather-and-grandson relationship throughout the book, it was rare to see such a portrayal in modern day novels. It is perhaps even rarer to have a glimpse on Jewish Bulgarian lives in a foreign land. Shuman, as the editor of Israelite magazine, one online, one offline , and as a resident of Bulgaria for two years, he is in a unique position to tell us stories of Jewish Bulgarian.

All in all, if you like Dan Browns’ work such as “Da Vinci Code” or “Angels and Demons”, you will also like Mr. Shuman’s “Valley of Thracians”. I found it a gripping read and wish to see more work from Mr. Shuman in the future.