Listen! For The Story of Owen has a second – and final – act.
Picking up a few months after the tragic, life-altering events at the end of The Story ofListen! For The Story of Owen has a second – and final – act.
Picking up a few months after the tragic, life-altering events at the end of The Story of Owen, newly-minted dragons slayers Owen and Sadie alongside Owen’s bard Siobhan – the first bard in generations – join the Oil Watch, the international organisation that protects the world’s main resources from dragons. Theirs is not an easy journey despite their heroic efforts, for the world they live in and the organisation they are about to join are corrupt. Corrupted in the way they engage with their own history and by how their actions often place more value on maintaining tradition and saving the privileged few.
In this world, an alternate world to our own, history has been shaped by the presence of carbon emission-eating dragons. Everyday life is hard. Dragon slaying might be heroic, but it is also extremely dangerous. This is the type of world-building that is imbued with the type of details that I wish more books would have. Everything has been thought through from how the presence of fire-spitting, acid-throwing, enormous vicious creatures would impact the lives of humans to the choices these humans make. Everything shapes culture, social behaviour, economics, politics.
As Owen’s bard, Siobhan has a mission: to tell the world his story. More to the point, she is to tell the world the way Owen has chosen to create his history and the things that are important to him. As one of the famous Thorskard family, his life is one steeped in tradition and with the power to reach out and change the world for the better: for every town deserves a dragon slayer. Every person deserves to be saved. This is Owen’s mission and that mission is to be embellished and put forward by Siobhan through her music.
And as a music prodigy, Siobhan is all about music and resonances. Her internal orchestra allocates a sound, an instrument to all characters, each of them an integral part of the ongoing symphony of her life. This is something that is smartly replicated in the telling, in how Siobhan refers to other characters in musical terms.
Beyond that, Siobhan’s sacrifice at the end of book one has lingering consequences as she is now disabled and can barely use her hands. This affects not only the minor aspects of her daily life and how she interacts with other people (and how they react to her) but the larger ones: she can no longer play the music she creates. At least not the way she used to.
This might sound super dry but this story is anything but. As much as Siobhan wants you to believe it, this isn’t only Owen’s story. Because her narrative tells us of so many other things, so many aspects of this world, so many historical details. And about herself. Don’t be fooled: this is as much Siobhan’s story as it is Owen’s. It’s about the Oil Watch and how it needs to change; about the incredible group of people that work and fight alongside Owen, Sadie and Siobhan. It’s about friendship, it’s about ecology and politics, and the world, and different people dealing with thing in different ways, and about killing dragons for survival. And it’s fun and funny too but also exceedingly bittersweet and fucking tragic because well, killing dragons is no game.
And add to all of that the fact that this book is full of people of colour, full of LGBT characters (including Siobhan, whom I read as asexual) and an incredible assortment of amazing female characters and boom, here there be an orchestra of awesome.
Listen! This duology is one of the best I’ve read lately....more
Carlos Delacruz is an agent with the New York Council of the Dead who can be often found working alongside hisOriginally posted on The Book Smugglers
Carlos Delacruz is an agent with the New York Council of the Dead who can be often found working alongside his ghostly partner trying to maintain peace between the dead and the living and protecting the entrada to the underworld. Brooklyn is his domain, where he goes hunting when he is told and where he has found a measure of peace and companionship amongst those who know what he is if not who he is.
For Carlos is an inbetweener, someone not entirely dead but also not entirely alive either, his skin an unhealthy shade of grey, his body as cold as a corpse, his heart barely beating. Half-resurrected from a death he doesn’t completely recall suffering, he also has no recollection of his actual life: his name has been given to him by his now friends, his mission in life a gift that keeps him going.
Up until now Carlos has never truly questioned his job or how he has become what he is. But then one mission leads him to meet someone like him, another inbetweener with a dangerous plan, someone he ends up killing on the job. That death comes back to haunt him just as his loneliness becomes a sharp knife that constantly pierces his soul: what would they have said to each other had they had a chance?
But then he comes to know others like him. One of them is Sasha, the sister of the man he just killed and the woman he becomes desperately attracted to. The other is a sorcerer with a plan that could bring down the invisible walls between the living and the dead. An infestation of ngks threatening to destroy Mama Esther, one of Carlos’ best friends is only the cherry on top of a mountain of problems Carlos is about to face.
Half-Resurrection Blues is Daniel José Older’s first novel and the start of the Bone Street Rumba series. The writing, the humour, the main character’s deeply felt sense of loneliness and the diversity of the world are praiseworthy. When it comes to the writing, Half-Resurrection Blues somehow manages to be both poetic and completely down-to-earth – Carlos is a fan of poetry and often finds himself waxing (incredibly cheesy) poetic:
I want to take that face in my hands and put my own face against it and let our connecting faces be the fulcrum that swings our two bodies together and let the winter night guide our combined life forces into an intimate tangle that obliterates all our fears and regrets, but instead I just smile and offer her my arm.
…at the same time that he does not hold back on the fucks and shits and every inbetween (ha) thing.
It’s a heady combination that works really well because Carlos’ speaking patterns are also very much inbetween: at times it sounds out-of-place and outdated and at times contemporary. I often wondered when did Carlos first die, a mystery yet to be solved and I would not be surprised if he wasn’t alive in the sixties or seventies. He is also, in the vein of much of UF’s main heroes and heroines, a smart-ass, snarky and ultimately funny narrator. I loved his voice.
With regards to the plot and the world-building, Half-Resurrection Blues has a supernatural procedural mystery at its centre which unfolds slowly and gives chance to a myriad of characters to be brought into the fold. Most of them are not-white, might I add, and complicated elements of racism appear here and there, never taking centre stage but never out of sight either.
I think my favourite scene in the entire novel is when most of the secondary cast surrounds an injured Carlos (the circumstances of said injury is a moment that literally made me cheer out loud. It was, shall we say, a result of a deserved grievance): a paramedic, a surgeon, a santero and a snarky teenager working together to save his ass.
In the midst of all the positive aspects – and I did really enjoy, nay, I loved this novel – there is one not so positive thing that I must remark on: the portrayal of Carlos’ love interest, Sasha. Half-Resurrection Blues feels like a very male world ( a lot more male characters in comparison) but there are well-written women present and accounted for like Mother Esther and Kya.
Sasha however is woefully under-developed even though she occupies Carlos’ mind through most of the novel. From the moment he sees her (in a photograph), she becomes nothing more than a vessel for his gaze: a vessel for his lust to start with, then a vessel for his love, his guilt, his shame, eventually his seed and toward the ending she even becomes the villain’s vessel. Sasha has little agency and even the key moments shared between Carlos and her are mostly off-page – there is a scene where they sit down to have a conversation that could have helped in creating a better idea of who Sasha is but the scene is literally Carlos telling us “we talked all night.” At the end of it, he is in love and I don’t know why.
This is all the more lamentable because there were glimpses into what I can only describe as a fucking amazing woman but they only came through Carlos’ gaze.
In spite of that, Half-Resurrection Blues is a solid, fun debut that I thoroughly enjoyed and absolutely recommend. Can’t wait for the sequel: here’s hoping for more, better Sasha. ...more
Down a path into the darkest heart of a forest, lies a glass coffin and in it sleeps a cursed prince with horns onReview posted on The Book Smugglers
Down a path into the darkest heart of a forest, lies a glass coffin and in it sleeps a cursed prince with horns on his head. As far as anyone knows, through countless generations, he’d always been there, forever asleep. No matter how many times people tried, or what anyone did – or how many kisses were pressed to the glass by both boys and girls – he never woke up.
But this is only one tale amongst many in the strange town of Fairfold, where humans and fae exist side by side in an uneasy truce of unspoken rules. For there is also the tale of Ben and how he was blessed with the gift of music – a blessing that turns into a curse. And the tale of Jack, a changeling swapped by his mother for protection and adopted by his human parents. And most important of all, there’s tale of Hazel, the girl-who-would-be-knight.
Fairfold’s inhabitants are protected if they follow certain precepts but sometimes, townsfolk go missing or go crazy. But no one will mention any of that in Fairfold, because the town thrives as long as the tourists keep coming to see the horned boy.
But something else lies deep in the darkest part of the forest and it’s growing stronger and stronger.
…And then one day the sleeping boy is awakened from his cursed slumber and no one knows why or how.
Except for Hazel and her beloved brother Ben.
This is a book of lies and lost memories. This is a book of tales and curses and love. This is Holly Black doing what she does best: with gorgeous prose that flows beautifully, complicated female characters and a story of back and forth, The Darkest Part of the Forest is the author’s newest book and an elaborate modern fairytale that subverts genre expectations.
Hazel is the narrator, as unreliable as it can be. Without spoiling the details of the story, much of The Darkest Part of the Forest delves into Hazel’s personality, sense of self-awareness and her memories – those that she suppressed and those she doesn’t know she has.
The storytelling builds around Hazel’s central relationships. First and foremost, the one between her and her brother Ben. Theirs is that type of loving, close relationship that at some point derailed because of an unhealthy mixture of secrets, shame, guilt and jealousy. It’s as complicated and complex as it can be and all the more engaging because of that. There is also Jack, the boy she loves and whom she never expects to love her back. Another thing that Holly Black does really well (see: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown) is the exploration of one’s deepest desires, the attraction to danger and darkness and the lure of immortality. The relationship with immortal beings is also present and accounted for here, all the more important because of the story’s main pairings: Hazel and Jack; and Ben and the boy whose love declaration at a Time of Danger is the cheesiest, most happy-making thing in the entire novel.
Finally, there is Hazel’s relationship with herself.
Hazel’s narrative goes back and forth between past and present, revealing aspects of her life little by little as though she is afraid to let even herself know or remember the things she has done and felt. There are sides of herself that she is not aware of (oh, the fae and their bargains and curses). Discovering those, unveiling the Mysteries of Hazel and how amazingly courageous she is are what make the story (Night Hazel! Knight Hazel!) but also what sometimes, breaks it. There is a storytelling choice that keeps things from the reader for as long as possible – if I will be honest, it was at times frustrating because it felt forced. In parallel, even though I loved Hazel (just as she was), the representation of her emotional make-up was more told than she shown, with unfortunate heavy-handiness.
The explanation for her behaviour when it came to how she related to boys for example, was presented as a mathematical equation: starting with X and after Y happened it inevitably and neatly led to Z. Rather than a messy emotional state of mind that could be interpreted, I was left with what felt masticated hand-holding.
In spite of those criticisms, The Darkest Part of the Forest is a great, beautifully written tale that explores guilt, secrets, relationships, courage, fate and choices extremely well. Plus, boys kissing, girls kicking ass and a Monster With a Heart. All in all, a perfect start to 2015. ...more