Let me start by complimenting what little I enjoyed about this book. Pullman's prose, for the most part, is fantastic--no surpr...more**spoiler alert** Well.
Let me start by complimenting what little I enjoyed about this book. Pullman's prose, for the most part, is fantastic--no surprise there. He has some truly beautiful passages, where you can tell he's really enjoying the actual task of writing, rather than dashing his reader about the head and neck with yet another discussion about the Evil Church. His world-building is phenomenal, and his passages among the mulefa, while long-winded, were some of the more interesting in the book. While he never quite reached the richly textured and three-dimensional world-building of The Golden Compass, his prose was never unenjoyable.
Unfortunately, that's about all that was enjoyable. Many of the complaints I had about The Subtle Knife, I had again about the last book in the trilogy--only they were even worse. Pullman spiraled out of control from a young girl's journey into adolescence, to a sprawling anti-Christian diatribe that sacrificed things like coherent plot, reasonable character development, and organic relationships for hamfisted metaphors and shoddy plot resolution. Not at all briefly, a list of the things that were terrible about The Amber Spyglass:
Lyra "Oh, Will!" Silvertongue. Where is the sharp-witted, clever, adventurous girl from the first book? Where is the girl who broke into Bolvangar, freed dozens of kidnapped children, tricked the king of the bears, lied her way in and out of every possible scenario, won over the Gyptians, won over a goddamn armored bear, and fought against her indomitable father, Lord Asriel? In The Subtle Knife, Lyra spent most of the novel following Will around, worrying if what she was doing was all right, worrying about what he thought, worrying about him in general, and crying a lot. It gets no better in the third installment, except now Lyra's constant sniveling and cowtowing to Will is exacerbated by their burgeoning affection for each other--but more on that in a moment. She does nothing of interest at all in this book. Her decisions are constantly left up to Will for his approval and support. The only adventurous thing she does is descend into the world of the dead, which would have been more interesting if it wasn't literally just walking for 5 chapters while Pullman talked about how sick and tired they were (though not nearly as sick and tired as I was--and still with 200 pages left to go!). Will. Ugh, Will. While Pullman had some interesting things going on with him initially--I loved the idea that his mother's schizophrenia might be the result of specters in our world--all of these were dropped in favor of Will being a largely faultless protagonist. He exhibits little fear or doubt; the one crucial scene where he does doubt himself and his choices feels so contrived and manufactured that it shifted my already lukewarm feelings for the character right to disliking him. He is also the biggest offender of Pullman's inability to write children. You'd think he would have a handle on that considering he did so well in the first book; but both Will and Lyra speak like they're full grown adults for the vast majority of The Amber Spyglass. Will is the worst offender: his dialogue reads like he is a well-informed 30-year-old man with opinions and arguments grounded in years of life and research, rather than a 12-year-old boy whose entire existence up until the last, oh, month or so has revolved completely around his mother and her illness. Will becomes so flat and bland and uninteresting, free of flaws or faults, that reading about him was almost painful. It's no wonder Lyra, doubting and crying and shaking and incapable of any of the feats she has already done, turns to him to make any and all decisions. Basically any character who was interesting at some point, come to that. To sum this up, Pullman either killed or essentially rewrote any character who was even moderately interesting in the first two books. Characters who were so vital and vibrant previously are reduced to little more than footnotes, or worse, plot devices. Serafina Pekkala? Gone. Iorek Byrnison? He lumbers around for a few pages, makes some cryptic commentary about the knife, and then is gone. Lee Scoresby is barely identifiable as himself, and Will's father? Nothing more than a walking plot piece, spouting off cryptic knowledge about the outside world without any explanation how he could know it (oh, right, he's a shaman, so I guess he's the author?). I don't even want to get into Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel--they warrant a bullet entirely to themselves. But briefly, the scheming, selfish, power-hungry duo from the first two books, who repeatedly brush off their daughter in their pursuit of something greater, are suddenly and without explanation totally devoted to Lyra's safety and well-being. Mrs. Coulter has whole paragraphs describing her sudden love for Lyra; Lord Asriel sacrifices himself to keep her safe. Now, had these acts been framed as, perhaps, necessary but unwanted steps on the road to freeing the world from The Authority, I might have bought it. At least in Asriel's case; he was clearly unopposed to doing whatever was necessary to accomplish his goal. But Mrs. Coulter? She is reduced to little more than a weeping, desperate Virgin Mary archetype, sacrificing herself and her love for her child. Whatever. Religion. Hoo boy. We know from the get-go that these books were not exactly friendly towards Christianity. That's fine! I thought it was terribly interesting in the first novel and even sort of in the second one. Nobody can really dispute that the Church as a massive power-hungry organization is a good thing. But Pullman executed it so poorly, I was left nearly sympathizing for the Church, which...wasn't what he intended, I'm sure. In Pullman's world, the Church is unequivocally bad. Everyone affiliated with the Church is bad. Everyone affiliated with religion is bad. It's only without God that you can be happy and free. Never mind that religion != Christianity, and in many parts of the world, it's not even the dominant mythology. Never mind all the people of faith--any faith--who have done truly good works (Mother Theresa, Gandhi, MLK Jr., but you know the church is bad so whatevs). Never mind that there are good people who may be questioning certain aspects of religion but not all of it; never mind that it can be a powerful force for good. No, in Pullman's multiverse, the only religion is Christianity, and it's BAD. Unequivocally. The Church itself is almost comically evil. I expected any of them to begin twirling their moustaches and tying girls to train tracks at any given moment. This isn't even to mention the angels! This supposedly cosmic, superpowered force is repeatedly said to be too weak to truly combat humans; hell, Balthamos spends his last appearance literally running away from a dude with a gun. Pullman's mythology is contradictory and ham-fisted. If angels aren't that strong to begin with, how did the Authority or Metatron gain control over humans? (Except in book two they were shown to be a lot stronger than people, sooo.) If the Authority is so incredible and swayed everyone to his way of thinking, how was he defeated by...falling out of a chaise lounge? I don't know. And Metatron! Defeated by his cosmic desire to get his ethereal dick wet. Yeah. I can't even go on here. This book read like a massive wank fest about Pullman's atheism, like how shitty is organized religion you guys???? The mulefa, Brother Frank or whoever, the entire world of the dead. Okay, of these, the mulefa were actually really interesting as a concept. I didn't mind their meandering chapters, though they were a pretty constant source of plot stagnation. A lot of them seemed like so much padding, Pullman experimenting in semi-anthropological writings and no editor in sight. But the hired killer-cum-priest? His entire novel-long arc ended in him encountering, for roughly five minutes, a character who had unceremoniously left the narrative 300 pages before, and then dying. He never encountered any of his targets or provided any real tension; he was the character equivalent (almost literally) of a Chekov's gun which was brandished and then carefully placed back on the mantle without ever firing. The entire world of the dead arc dragged on far too long with far too many diversions, and considering Lyra's whole purpose in going there was to rescue Roger, that poor kid sure got shafted as far as page time went. Most of it was dedicated to--you guessed it--Lyra and Will, predominately Lyra crying and looking to Will for guidance. Also there was a bomb or something, I guess, that made no sense whatsoever? Anyway, RELIGION SUCKS The subtle knife. It broke??? This is apparently a thing that can happen??? And hasn't happened in 300 years so literally every bearer before was 100% resolute and without doubt or something??? THIS PLOT MADE NO FUCKING SENSE Babes in Boyland, or, Two Twelve Year Olds Doing It. Y'all, these are twelve-year-old kids. Now, I had crushes when I was 12; I think we can all attest to that. But the fact that their ~romance~ was unironically shown as this life-long true love between characters Pullman was essentially writing as adults by that point, is a little disconcerting. Does Pullman know any twelve year olds? Has he ever met a child? Even with these life-changing experiences, I can promise you that no twelve year old is thinking of true love at the end of things, and certainly not sex. The talk about who they would marry was cute, and I think the crush developed between them was very sweet; but when it went full-blown into grown up love like they were two adults who had any concept of what romantic love was, and that no one else in the book questioned this, that was too much. And then they saved the world by fucking? Two children saved the world by having sex. Yes. That is the entire crux of the plot and solution to literally every problem in all the worlds--two kids going at it like rabbits. Sorry, Pullman, even writing them like adults couldn't sell that for me. The metaphors. I think everything was a metaphor, actually. Pullman is a very good writer, but he has an unfortunate tendency to spend several paragraphs detailing some minor detail, only to turn around and slap you in the face with IT WAS A METAPHOR!! IT WAS A METAPHOR FOR THIS THING (PROBABLY RELIGION, DID YOU KNOW I HATE IT, I'M PHILLIP PULLMAN AND I'M AN ATHEIST). Like, okay bro, we get it. We get it.
This novel was such a let-down in every way possible. I could have stopped the trilogy at the end of The Golden Compass and been happy; I guess now at least I know the other two books are mind-numbing shit never to be spoken of in polite society. So Dust is successful I guess because curiosity prevails! Or sex! Or something! WHO THE HELL KNOWS, PS RELIGION IS DUMB XOXO GOSSIP PULLMAN(less)
I'll write a more complete review another time, but I have to note how dissatisfying the sudden switch from protagonist to supporting character Lyra's...moreI'll write a more complete review another time, but I have to note how dissatisfying the sudden switch from protagonist to supporting character Lyra's arc has taken has been. In The Golden Compass, the book was unquestionably about Lyra, and she was flawed and loving and wild and fascinating. But in book two, it's as if all that was just to lead us to the ~real~ hero, Will Parry. Lyra loses a lot of her spark and natural leadership. She led a rescue mission into the Arctic against her mother in the last book, but now everything she does is with Will's approval and leadership. Where is the Lyra who got an armored bear to aid her? Or the Lyra who led a troupe pf children out of Bolvangar? Or who fought against her father? Who cares! Because Will Parry is around to save the day!
I was also frankly bored by both Cittagaze and the forays into our world; even Mary Malone quickly lost her charm. When the novel was about this strange, alien world, it was interesting; I just don't really want to read about a boring, serious 12-year-old boy with a destiny~ when I could be reading about Lyra or Iorek or literally any other character.
Serafina Pekala and Lee Scoresby's interludes were great, at least. (less)
Very enjoyable audiobook! I definitely preferred the "acted" portions to the ones just read by Kushner (though she was still very nice to listen to),...moreVery enjoyable audiobook! I definitely preferred the "acted" portions to the ones just read by Kushner (though she was still very nice to listen to), and am afraid I'm a little spoiled now for books just narrated by one person.
Sort of a cross between Austenite mannerisms and Neil Gaiman fantasy (I was repeatedly reminded of Stardust throughout), Swordspoint didn't take the direction I thought it would--namely, that it would end in some grisly duel, which seemed fairly obvious by the title. The swordfighting was almost secondary to the politics and subtleties, and at times I was a little confused about which was supposed to take precedence; that's probably the only reason this didn't get five stars. At times it just seemed to flipflop uncertainly between being a book about a common man navigating the various political intrigues of upper society, and a book about upper society trying to impose its will on everyone else. But that's probably just do to the format and personal preference--I have a hell of a time keeping track of things on audiobook, when I can't easily flip back and double check a name or plotpoint mentioned earlier.
I would have liked to see more of Michael Godwin in the end; but I think this book is part of a series? So perhaps that was just a setup for the sequel(s). Alec occasionally got on my nerves (read: often), but I liked St. Vere so much it was easy to overlook. I don't know that I've ever liked a leading swordsman hero-type quite so much. It helped he had the added twist of being gay and open about it. That was one of the most interesting things about the book--its frank and open look at homosexuality, even if it was notably only between men, never women. Are there no lesbians in Riverside? Oh, well.(less)
Library loan ended, and I'm not attached enough to this anthology to renew again. Many of these stories are lovely and interesting; but many are also...moreLibrary loan ended, and I'm not attached enough to this anthology to renew again. Many of these stories are lovely and interesting; but many are also tedious and frankly, a little pretentious--the sort of ponderous, nonlinear, dreamlike narration of Literature. The Little Mermaid story and Swan Sister at the seaside were gorgeous, heartbreaking narratives; I definitely recommend those if you pick it up. I will in all likelihood borrow it again later and read through some more of the stories, though. Anthologies as a rule tend not to hold my interest for the entire book--it takes a cohesive narrative for that.(less)
**spoiler alert** Probably closer to a 3.5 or a 3.2, but definitely not a 4. This was an interesting book, but awkwardly disjointed. The second-person...more**spoiler alert** Probably closer to a 3.5 or a 3.2, but definitely not a 4. This was an interesting book, but awkwardly disjointed. The second-person vignettes were a neat convention initially, but soon became trite and obnoxious, adding little to the plot. Generally speaking I enjoy atmospheric description, but not when it is superfluous. I want the story to move forward, not detour on meandering side trails of description. Morgenstern's prose is lovely, and Jim Dale's narration was great (although his female voices are just funny, considering he's a 70 year old man); but the book as a whole didn't cohere for me. I was completely uninterested in Celia and Marco, both as characters and plot devices. Their great love affair in the face of great difficulty~ was silly and absurd. Any plot that hinges on the indefatigable love of two people to carry it just falls flat for me. Don't get me wrong; I love a good romance, particularly ones that are filled with outrageous difficulties (I mean, I read YA paranormal romance, ffs). But there didn't seem to be any real reason for them to fall in love--Marco was just enchanted with her because she was beautiful and skilled, and any sort of interpersonal development that might have come out of their relationship was glossed over. I would have loved to see that addressed a little more: the idea of spending eternity as a near-phantom with someone whose love for you is based on little more than physical attraction and intrigue is really interesting. All that being said, what I would have liked more of was Bailey and Poppet's relationship. I loved the childhood crush he had on her, and honestly wanted more of them overall. They were just so much more interesting than the idiotic love triangle between Celia/Marco/Isabelle.
The Night Circus itself was really enjoyable to read about (although, again, I would have preferred those little vignettes to tie more into the story than just be random tents), and Morgenstern has a real knack for minor characters. Tsukiko (Sukiko? Not sure, since I had the audiobook), the clockmaker, Poppet and Widget--by far more intriguing than any of the protagonists. The plot was enjoyably convoluted; I just wish its main players were more convoluted themselves, rather than flat cogs in the plot machine.
Still, it was a good enough listen. I like Morgenstern's prose--it's almost Gaiman-esque, at times--and will probably purchase her next novel. I just hope it's populated with better leads.(less)
Giving this two stars. I debated giving it three just because Nick Podehl's narration was great, but the book was just....not good. I enjoyed parts of...moreGiving this two stars. I debated giving it three just because Nick Podehl's narration was great, but the book was just....not good. I enjoyed parts of it, the roughly 30 minutes where Kvothe or people around Kvothe weren't talking about how great he was, but otherwise, good lord. I haven't read a story where the author so unabashedly and unironically touts his protagonist as The Greatest Guy Ever. There is nothing Kvothe isn't good at; even when he says he doesn't understand women, he has three showing interest in him, all of whom are older and frankly have better options than a 14-15 year old boy. he's handsome, he's smarter than anyone, ever, he innately understands sympathy, he knows the name of the wind by the end of the book, he heals faster for god's sake; unless they reveal he's actually some sort of Christ-like figure--which would both validate and infuriate me--there's no logical reason for him to be the best at everything. Except maybe wish-fulfillment by the author.
The writing is okay. It drags on and on, and the book could have used with a good editor paring down some sections. His metaphors are acceptable at best, trite and overdone at worst. When he tries to cleverly stick in modern colloquialisms ("I know it like the back of my hand," etc.) it just sounds awkward and forced, like Rothfuss is pointing excitedly at his manuscript and going, "see? see? It's funny because we say it too!" I had to restrain myself from rolling my eyes so hard they went right back into my skull whenever Kvothe discussed any woman he was attracted to, particularly Denna, who from the narration you would believe came down on the backs of flying unicorns and could heal people with her touch. It would be okay if this was just the narration/Kvothe's point of view, but other characters confirm that Denna is, like Kvothe, the Greatest Ever. I was also extremely uncomfortable with the weird armchair psychological analysis by Kvothe and the owner of the Eolian, how Denna's entire value was based on men finding her attractive and women disliking her out of jealousy. Um, okay, let's completely disregard how she's an accomplished musician and fucks people over by picking up and leaving on the regular, or how it's 100% her choice to live unfettered, so it isn't like she's under the cruel thumb of the patriarchy; if the world has only one thing going for it, it's that it at least isn't rampantly sexist. But Denna! Poor Denna. Her life sucks because dudes just like her so much.
This was a good thing to listen to on audiobook, and I'll probably pick up the second one. If nothing else, Rothfuss created an interesting mythology in the Chandrian, and even though he did ALMOST FUCKING NOTHING UGH with them in the first book, except having Kvothe wonder what they are without doing jack shit about it (oh, I can't get into the archives, despite being good at everything, including sneaking around; OH WELL), I'd like to see what happens there. If I could just get a version that was all about the Chandrian/Kvothe and the Chandrian without his whole life story, that would be awesome. Because frankly, he's awful.(less)
This got off to a slow start, but was ultimately very enjoyable. I think when I began approaching it as less of a YA novel--i.e. aimed at teens or eve...moreThis got off to a slow start, but was ultimately very enjoyable. I think when I began approaching it as less of a YA novel--i.e. aimed at teens or even early early 20s--and more of a young child novel, aimed at children in grade school, I could take it more at face value. The writing is simple and, as noted in a status update, fable-esque (which suits the entire tone and set up of the story, of course). The characters aren't exactly three dimensional, but they are well-rounded enough for the purposes of the story, to grow in the end, and to teach a fable's necessary moral.
The most simultaneously interesting and irritating parts of the book where the side stories, the sudden pauses to tell an old tale or someone's history. I liked them on their own, but, particularly when there were several in a row, they were a little jarring and pulled me out of the main story.
I don't really have too much to say on this one! It was very sweet, a quick read--I got through the last half in one morning--and once it got going, was very enjoyable. Would recommend!(less)
Keeping this one short, but a definitely enjoyed this book. I would have given it five stars if the pacing had been a bit better: I spent the first ha...moreKeeping this one short, but a definitely enjoyed this book. I would have given it five stars if the pacing had been a bit better: I spent the first half of the book very interested, but not entirely sure where everything was going. Healey seemed to have this cloud of exciting events that weren't quite related to each other; but in the middle of the book things exploded in action and kept getting better from there, so I can't entirely fault it. Still, the first half of the book and the second half of the book seemed to be two separate stories that didn't quite mesh together when they met in the middle.
Her writing style is easy to get into; her heroine is funny and relatable. Ellie is self-conscious without it completely diminishing her self-worth, which is not something you see in heroines a lot these days. Further, the object of her affection does creepy, not-okay things to her and she doesn't let it slide--even as she's falling for him. She's tough and smart, and by the end of the book, I had no trouble believing she had grown up as she had. It was more like I was waiting for her to grow into that person: Healey really laid the foundations for Ellie's maturity well.
I'd go on about the Maori legends (fascinating), the interweaving of various mythologies (very well done), or the other characters in the book (all interesting to read), but suffice to say that it's definitely a book worth picking up. (less)
**spoiler alert** Update (1/24): reread this bia the audiobook, and I think the story is better for having a good narrator. Still uncertain about the...more**spoiler alert** Update (1/24): reread this bia the audiobook, and I think the story is better for having a good narrator. Still uncertain about the romantic plot and the real world tie in, but I enjoyed it a lot more this time around.
A solid three stars. Very different from the film, and I have a difficult time saying which I like better. Plotwise, the book was much richer and more vivid: the idea of witches and magic was expanded on, Howl was an unrepentent ass, Sophie was much feistier. The characters were more enjoyable in some ways, and less in others, though I didn't like how many characters there were, and that they all had to make a deus ex machina appearance at the end of the novel. I was not a fan of the tie-in with the modern world. It was handled very nicely, but it felt like a very circuitous way to incorporate a Donne poem, and I got lost in the end trying to piece everything together. In the same way, the ultimate reveal of the fire demon as the teacher was hard to follow; had Howl not explained everything to Sophie as they flew back to the castle, I would really have had no idea what all had happened. Still, it was a sweet, enjoyable read, unchallenging but not dumbed down, which I liked. Easy to pick up and read in a few days when you need a break from more mature fiction.
But if you're looking for a fantastical romance, it'd be best to watch the film. Howl and Sophie's ultimate getting-together felt painfully forced, and Sophie's realization of her feelings seemed more the result of people hinting at and telling her she was in love, rather than she feeling it herself. I never felt Howl was moving towards being in love with her, and their "smiling and smiling" at the end seemed to come out of nowhere and somewhat demean the rest of the book.(less)
I picked this book up on recommendation from several friends who couldn't stop raving about it. I read the first 50 pages eagerly, seeing that Beddor...moreI picked this book up on recommendation from several friends who couldn't stop raving about it. I read the first 50 pages eagerly, seeing that Beddor was obviously laying down clues and hints for later on the story. 100 pages in, I was beginning to wonder if I wasn't imagining these mysteries. 180 pages in, and I was beginning to wonder if the book was going to get good.
My main qualm is that Beddor dumbs down his prose. You can tell he's writing for a juvenile audience, simplifying sentences, relying on telling rather than showing what his characters are feeling or thinking. Here's hoping it's intentional, because this book could be epically amazing if Beddor hadn't felt the need to oversimplify it for presumably stupid readers. I've rarely had this problem with juvenile fiction before; even Harry Potter, while simplistically styled, didn't feel stupid. If an author is making me feel silly reading his work, it's not a work I can read. The ideas were amazing, but I simply couldn't stomach his prose.(less)