I picked this up as an ARC at the 2015 ALA convention and read the whole thing on the flights home. It knocked my socks off and made me immediately waI picked this up as an ARC at the 2015 ALA convention and read the whole thing on the flights home. It knocked my socks off and made me immediately want to rewatch all my Hayao Miyazaki DVDs. That's a good thing.
Saki is a typical girl in middle-school obsessed with fitting in with her cohort and making sure she has enough bars on her cell phone. The last thing she wants to do for her summer vacation is travel out to her grandmother's place in the country for the ancient, traditional Obon festivities, which will necessitate being out of touch with everyone she knows except her annoying brother and doing lots of chores. In an attempt to fit in with the local popular kids, she gets tricked into a relatively minor act of desecration in an old cemetery which nevertheless invokes a Death Curse for which Saki is pulled for three nights into the spirit realm on a quest to set things right.
There is so much to recommend about this novel. First off, it's a wonderful adventure story, rich to overflowing with fantastical (and likable) characters. Also, Saki herself makes a great gateway for any children interested in Japanese culture. She's western enough that American readers can easily identify with her, and through her they can experience both traditional Japanese life and the richness of Japan's mythological landscape.
Saki is also an interesting character in her own right. She's neither a horrible, entitled brat, nor is she a goody-two-shoes. Instead, she starts right on the line between being a reasonably good kid and being insufferable, giving her emotional journey both a direction to go and danger to be avoided.
Loved this book. Now I've just got to figure out who to give my ARC to next. ...more
Silly me, here I thought this was going to be G.R.R.Martin's attempt at a children's novel. Not that it's been marketed that way or anything, oh no. ISilly me, here I thought this was going to be G.R.R.Martin's attempt at a children's novel. Not that it's been marketed that way or anything, oh no. It almost works as one, though, except for the war, dismemberment, and characters being burned alive. Still, taken on its own, it's a wonderful, tragic (albeit brutal) tale of children and dragons. And who knows, today's kids would probably yawn through the original Mad Max trilogy and not bat an eye at the violence in the story here.
One note: some of the descriptions I've seen posted about this book imply that it's set in the Song of Ice and Fire universe. It isn't. It was originally published in short story form back in 1980, and you can see Martin working through some of the themes of summer vs winter, dragons and magic, and the effect of warfare on the common folk....more
Waylander has the bones of a fantastic novel. It combines an epic quest with intense city-under-siege warfare, and while there are some definite goodWaylander has the bones of a fantastic novel. It combines an epic quest with intense city-under-siege warfare, and while there are some definite good guys and bad guys, the "good vs evil" aspect of the book isn't quite that clear cut, and David Gemmell has a lot of fun playing around in the gray areas of right and wrong. He's also an author who isn't afraid to be cruel to his characters and has a good sense of when to deliver a gut-punch to the reader without being as gratuitously cruel as G.R.R.Martin. All in all, this could have been a completely enjoyable reading experience.
Too bad Gemmell's such a horrible stylist. Waylander is a textbook case of just about every bad thing an amateur writer can do with English prose. Passive voice, overused adverbs and adjectives, "telling, not showing," summarizing whenever the author seemed bored, and stilted, stilted dialogue like something out of the Bible or Arthurian legend. There is a lot of dialogue in the book, but not one natural-sounding line. Gemmell's characters don't just talk to each other, they make pronouncements, declamations, and full-on speeches, and every single one in the same "Book of Job" voice.
Gemmell's style smooths over every now and then - he can really write mass combat effectively - but the rest of the time his ham-fisted, hackneyed prose makes what should have been a classic of the genre into what often feels like the novelization of a 1980s sword n' sorcery B-movie. Come to think of it, the best thing I could say for Waylander is that it would have made a great Corman flick....more
I was really surprised that I didn't like this book, but for long stretches it was just a tedious slog with tedious characters. I would have thought tI was really surprised that I didn't like this book, but for long stretches it was just a tedious slog with tedious characters. I would have thought that such a well-written piece of Harry Potter / Narnia fanfic would have at least been fun. While there were enough good scenes to keep me going, and the resolutions at the end were satisfying enough, the whole enterprise just didn't seem worth it.
I think it's a problem of stakes. For most of The Magicians there simply aren't any. I get that this is supposed to be a "what would magic school be like in the real world" kind of deal, so I'm not asking for epic quests or snarling villains. What I need, though, is for something - anything - to matter to the protagonist, and that's just not the case with Quentin Coldwater. Except for a handful of moments, the only thing really at risk for the first 75% of the novel is that the main character might get bored. As a result, the reader is treated to chapter after chapter of boring, jaded college kids living boring, jaded lives where they don't even have to pretend not to care about anything, because they really don't. Doesn't inspire me to read book 2....more
I don't comment on every graphic novel I read, but I just want to say this was an outstanding introduction. Self-aware genre humor is so hard to pullI don't comment on every graphic novel I read, but I just want to say this was an outstanding introduction. Self-aware genre humor is so hard to pull off, but Rat Queens does the whole sword & sorcery gaming routine with perfect timing while also managing to sneak in occasional moments of genuine heart. If this series can keep going with the same tone, pace, and characterization (and without getting canceled too early like every other indie series I read) I'm eager to find out where this story is heading....more
I don't know what it is with J.F. Lewis and likable protagonists who eat people, but after the Void City vampire series, he's gone and done it again iI don't know what it is with J.F. Lewis and likable protagonists who eat people, but after the Void City vampire series, he's gone and done it again in the realm of epic fantasy.
Grudgebearer is an overlooked gem of a new fantasy series, and an absolute blast to read. Lewis's most interesting and original creation in this series are the Aern, a cannibalistic warrior/slave offshoot of a more traditional (snooty, decadent) race of elves. What makes them unique is the idea that they are physically incapable of breaking any oath, whether made personally or by Kholster, their supreme leader. So, when said leader swears (for instance) that if any of their former masters should disturb the resting place of the Aern's sentient suits of armor, he and his kind would return and wipe the elves off the face of the earth, that's exactly what he has to do, even if said offence is committed by a loan, idiot elf prince six hundred years later.
Moral shades of gray are so yummy in epic fantasy. The Aern can be considered noble for their determination to keep their promises, but when those promises include genocide does that really put them on the side of right? Or is it mitigated by the fact that their targets, historically speaking, really did have it coming?
The book's ending is a rather abrupt cliffhanger, so it's a good thing the sequel will be coming out shortly....more
In book 1 of this series, Laini Taylor hits home runs right from the start and doesn't really slow down. Karou is one of the most original charactersIn book 1 of this series, Laini Taylor hits home runs right from the start and doesn't really slow down. Karou is one of the most original characters I've come across in teen fiction, and the world she inhabits feels like something Neil Gaiman and Guillermo Del Toro would have come up with during a round of drinks. Karou's life (going to art school in Prague while living with magical chimerae and traveling around the world to collect teeth for a sorcerer) was so interesting I wouldn't have minded staying there for the whole novel - but of course that can't happen and things go south once the angels attack. What I love most about Karou is that she doesn't waste a single page moping about her situation and waiting for someone else to make decisions. She takes action and sets the rest of the story in motion in her attempt to get home.
Then, suddenly, all the mysteries are answered. The completeness of the revelations that follow in the second half surprised me - I expected the author to drag out the mysteries for as long as she could. The answers to the questions raised in the first half of the book all made perfect sense and were quite satisfactory. They did, however, slow the story down just a notch. Still, looking forward to book 2....more
For the sake of my book club, I'm starting this series out of order, but House of the Stag, as a prequel, stands nicely on its own. I'm sure that someFor the sake of my book club, I'm starting this series out of order, but House of the Stag, as a prequel, stands nicely on its own. I'm sure that some big plot reveal in book 1 has been spoiled for me, but from the high quality of this volume, I know I'll be reading the other two.
I've never read Baker before, but she's clearly a master of tone. The story begins among a primitive, forest-dwelling people just on the edge between a mythical, edenic past and their future as an honest-to-gods civilization. The half-demon protagonist, Gard, is exiled from his folk and takes his own path through slavery, magic, and a more civilized, vicious culture. In each section of the book, Baker's voice switches from near-biblical storytelling to almost modern satire and back. Gard may just about be the first Dark Lord in fiction to be confounded by home improvement, contractors, and the need for adequate plumbing in his demon-infested mountain fortress.
But that's skipping ahead. How he gets there is a joy to follow. I detect traces of Gene Wolfe and echoes of Elizabeth Haydon's "Rhapsody" series, but Baker's story is original and unique....more
They say "write what you know," but if you're trying to write an engaging start to a light fantasy series and what you know is the minutia of currencyThey say "write what you know," but if you're trying to write an engaging start to a light fantasy series and what you know is the minutia of currency exchange... maybe you should go to an SCA meeting or two. Spice & Wolf was trucking along in solid "okay" territory until it hit chapter 3 and what felt like a 50-page lecture on currency valuation, I almost quit out of sheer boredom. The book redeems itself a little once it starts focusing on characters again and introduces some actual conflict (though it does so far too late in the story). However, the prose is clunky, the dialog is stilted in the extreme, and the plot never rises above "mildly interesting."...more
Saga continues to be my favorite ongoing series. There aren't many monthlies that I'm still following, but this is definitely the one that I look forwSaga continues to be my favorite ongoing series. There aren't many monthlies that I'm still following, but this is definitely the one that I look forward to the most. The characters continue to engage, the shocks and surprises keep coming, and now we get to meet the in-laws! The rocky romance that's the heart of all the SFF adventure has to be one of the most honest portrayals of a relationship, possibly ever in comics (Edit: Well, except for Strangers in Paradise.)
Because of the generally slow pace of the series, I'm beginning to get the impression that Vaughan and Staples are playing a really long game, and that it's going to take lots and lots of comic books to get to the end of this Saga. Normally that would make me worried - I've seen too many comic series I enjoy crash and burn after a dozen issues because no one else was reading them. This one, though, seems to be building up quite a community of fans, as evidenced by the Saga Costume Contest winners at the end of #12. In today's world, if you've got that much cosplay going on, then your core following is secure.
Guy Gavriel Kay is now officially my favorite fantasy author. I describe him sometimes as the "kinder, gentler George R.R. Martin" but that sells shorGuy Gavriel Kay is now officially my favorite fantasy author. I describe him sometimes as the "kinder, gentler George R.R. Martin" but that sells short the thing Kay does that Martin doesn't: tell complete stories with a beginning, middle, and end. I wouldn't exactly call Kay's sprawling novels "tight" per se, but then again, look who I'm comparing him to.
Kay's shtick has always been to write magic-lite fantasy that's really historical fiction in disguise. In Under Heaven the supernatural is on display more overtly than in any of Kay's books since Tigana, but how it is presented is different from most other epics, in which magic is treated almost as a stand-in for technological power. Here, magic only exists in the wild, as far away from civilization as possible, and instead stands for the untameable forces of nature.
The era through the looking glass this time is Tang Dynasty China, and while the historical parallels are expected, I think this is the first time in a Kay novel that the Sweep Of History itself is treated like a character in its own right. Most epic fantasy novels treat with individuals who are at the fulcrum of power and can turn the tide of gigantic events through their actions. The characters in Under Heaven may find themselves at the heart of the action for brief moments, but those moments pass and history moves along without them.
Also, Kay's predilection for poets and musicians is finally beginning to dawn on me. Despite the vast amount of implied carnage (some 40 million people die off-stage) this is perhaps his most beautiful and poetic work I've read so far. ...more