This is like a high-end restaurant's classy, deconstructed version of one's favorite childhood dessert: it hits all the warm and fuzzy notes that a fu...moreThis is like a high-end restaurant's classy, deconstructed version of one's favorite childhood dessert: it hits all the warm and fuzzy notes that a fun, romp-like, young-adult faerie tale should, while also having very worthwhile commentary on such topics as security theatre, the advantages and lack thereof of growing up, and the importance of feeling that you have agency over your own life.
Despite trying to cover some Big Ideas, and despite having some of the best world-building I've ever read, I barely noticed either of those things until I finished, because ultimately, The Girl Who Circumnavigated [etc] is, at it's heart, a faerie tale, and it reads like one: seamless and mythic. I felt wrapped up in the plot and the characters, with some room spared to appreciate the atmosphere. It was just once I finished that I realized how novel the book was. This is the type of book that I'll want to reread over and over again, and I am completely confident that I will find more each time I do.
It's worth noting, as an aside, that Valente's work is also extremely strong from a gender perspective: she has self-sufficient, interesting female characters who have myriad personalities and goals besides romantic ones. And unlike some books that have gotten critical acclaim for strong female characters, The Girl Who [etc] stars characters who break the bookish-eager to please-sidekick mold of female characters: the titular September is brash, nosy and heartless as well as brave, inventive and persistent; her mother is a mechanic.
There are so many other positive things to say: the denouement is clever (and extremely obvious once you know it, but so brave that I never expected it to be true!) and profound and sad, all at once. There is a Wyverary - a mix of a wyvern and a library who knows everything about everything as long as it starts with the letters A-L. There is a soap golem, who of course, has Truth inscribed on her forehead, and is of course, named Lye.
It's like the Phantom Tollbooth crashed into a faerie tale and it is absolutely delicious.(less)
There were a lot of books this could have been and I think my opinion of it suffered from having heard so much about it and wanting it to have been th...moreThere were a lot of books this could have been and I think my opinion of it suffered from having heard so much about it and wanting it to have been those other books. I wanted this to be a book about the unreliable memory of childhood and how age gives a mundane tint and banal explanations for the remembered magic, both awesome and awful. I wanted this to be a book about the adult that we become and how that holds up to the children that we were and the continuous source of identity.
Instead, it's a modern fairy tale. I love modern fairy tales and this is a great one, but I can't forgive it for not being the book I wanted it to be.(less)
This was really cute and unique. A perfect blend of tenement historical fiction, with really spot on accurate Jewish American history with a kid's fan...moreThis was really cute and unique. A perfect blend of tenement historical fiction, with really spot on accurate Jewish American history with a kid's fantasy book, with all the bells and whistles of typical YA fantasy.
Major props for the creativity - this is probably the only book ever written to combine a Dybbuk and Thomas Edison in more or less the same plot. Also, the magic feels well thought out with a clear culture of how magic is and isn't used and how this varies among the upper and lower classes. Finally, the tenement culture felt familiar and true to the historical nonfiction that I'm familiar with.
The weakness was the pacing - the entire book feels like a build up to the "to be continued" that occurs at the end. I think it probably would have been more satisfying to wait until the series was finished and read it all at one go.(less)
What an uneven collection. It's not even just the wide variation of quality (although there IS a wide variation in quality), but it seems like the sto...moreWhat an uneven collection. It's not even just the wide variation of quality (although there IS a wide variation in quality), but it seems like the stories chosen have only a glancing association with the ostensible theme. This is particularly notable given the hubris expressed in the introduction that this will be the ur-collection of modern faery tales (Klima goes as far as to imply that it is the ONLY collection of this sort, which is laughable, given that not only are almost all of these stories pulled from other, similar, anthologies, but the vast majority of them have been published in one of the Ellen Datlow/Terri Windling anthologies.) Its also poorly organized, with adjacent stories doing nothing to build or communicate with each other and some stories on the same faery tale are close to each other, while others aren't. The theme is also poorly defined, with some stories being modern interpretations of faery tales, some being retellings without a change in setting, and yet others seem to come from a universe where the words "faery tale" have no meaning.
All of that notwithstanding, there are some excellent stories: -Wil McCarthy's He Died That Day, in Thirty Years is one of those rare pieces: a sci-fi short story that actually is satisfying. It stood on it's own and yet was clearly related to Alice in Wonderland. It was rich and provocative and wholly original. Perhaps particularly remarkable is how every little detail of the story was rich with information.
-Michelle West's The Rose Garden was something that I wanted to hate. I hate Beauty and the Best as the exemplar of the Bad Boy genre -- that horribly insidious, misogynist trope by which women should cleave to cruel, angry men and by their love covert them into some sort of paragon. But The Rose Garden, while not being a full inversion, was raw and honest about its intentions. And, I'm a sucker for platonic romance, so...
-Robert J. Howe's Pinocchio's Diary is terrifying, brutal, and an absolutely fascinating retelling. I loved his exploration of "realness" and bullying and othering. This is faery tale telling at it's best -- using a tale familiar to all of us, to tell a moral familiar to all of us, but to also tell a story that feels real and visceral and to twist it into something new that has a new moral.
There are also some completely AWFUL stories -Howard Waldrop's The Sawing Boys is completely impenetrable. You see it's a modern twist on the faery tale in which a bunch of Yiddish gangsters are finally thwarted by a Klezmer band playing construction equipment. No? No hint of recognition? Maybe it will help if they only speak in roaring twenties slang, which is converted into Pig Latin such that you both have to decrypt every utterance and then further deduce it's meaning based on the glossary at the end of the story? No? Yeah, me neither. Also, apparently Yiddish is the new black in faery tales, as it also seems to infiltrate Leslie What's The Emperor's New (and Improved) Clothes for no clear reason, too.
-Gregory Maguire's The Seven Stage a Comeback, which unfortunately starts this collection, may work as a play, but as written media is completely god-awful. It's impossible to keep the dwarfs straight, as they have no names; only numbers, therefore there is no character development evident.
The rest is mostly pretty cliched and unmemorable. (I do love Neil Gaiman's The Troll Bridge, but I've already read it in a different collection, so it doesn't count)(less)
I haven't read an anthology in several years, so I wasn't sure what to expect in terms on consistency of theme and quality.
Overall, for an anthology...moreI haven't read an anthology in several years, so I wasn't sure what to expect in terms on consistency of theme and quality.
Overall, for an anthology that is looking to branch out beyond genre categories, the stories mesh relatively nicely with each other; although many fail to achieve the intended theme of "and then what happened?" The editing was well done, with the collection laid out in a way the flows, with stories with similar themes placed near each other, but not such that they blur with one another. There's a nice mix of long and short stories that makes the collection readable for long stretches of time. I found most of my favorite stories bunched at the back end, so keep reading if you don't like the beginning too well.
In terms of quality, I felt that most of the stories were well-written, although several were not to my liking.
The introduction by Neil Gaiman is probably the best part of the book. I loved the description of why people read and write fantasy and where fantasy as a genre can let us down. The desire to defy genres is ambitious and motivating.
Blood is a great opening story. It's evocative and plays directly to the "and then what happened" theme. Fossil Figures was not to my liking. It's a kind of generic twin story with some nice turns of phrase, but not much substance. Wildfire in Manhattan on the one hand, Gods are real and they live in cities has been done before and better (by two authors included in this collection, no less.) That being said, if not particularly original, this was still fun. I enjoyed the writing style and the characterizations. There was plenty of really nice imagery. The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains Gaiman's contribution to the collection was probably the closest to the intended theme. A very well-written play on the traditional fairy tale of Aladdin's cave of gold. Written in a very traditional folk tale style, but with new takes on the typical folk tale themes. Unbelief A story of an assassin sent to kill a mysterious figure. Went straight in one ear and out the other. This has been done before and done better. I would have lost nothing had this story been excluded completely. The Stars are Falling I hated this one, too. This is the typical story of a WWI veteran who comes home and tries to reconcile with his old life. It was so cliche in plot, tone and writing style and every piece of the plot was telegraphed from the beginning. Instead of "and then what happened?" I felt like "oh, that happened, really? I'm so totally unsurprised." Juvenal Nyx Sometimes, when you read fantasy, the setting is so complex that once author takes so long to set it up, you still don't understand it and you don't care. This story is how to do a complex setting correctly. Very little set up was ever done, but by the end you got the feeling that his world was so complicated and so rich. I wish I could have read whole series in this setting. The Knife This story reminded me a lot of "Blood." More a story-let, it felt like a nice palate cleanser after two relatively long stories; however, it's not something I would reread on its own. Weights and Measures as a sad story about a couple that had lost their daughter, this worked. Picoult excels at writing emotion and this was a very sad, very moving story. As a magical realism piece, this didn't work. The conceit of the magic didn't make sense to me, and it distracted me from the emotions and themes of the piece rather than adding to it. Goblin Lake A beautifully written piece of meta-fiction that nicely explores the relationship between fiction and reality. I found this very insightful on the topics of why we read and why we write. Mallon the Guru The writing in this was so evocative and full of gorgeous imagery. The feeling of mysticism and growing feeling of dread worked their way into every sentence. The story left me more with feelings than with a concrete understanding of the plot (such that I immediately reread the story to make sure I hadn't missed anything.) Catch and Release Another nice twist on a genre -- a story told from the point of view of a reformed serial killer. I found the narrative chilling and fascinating. The analogy of fishing really carried the story. Polka Dots and Moonbeams one part 1920's gangsters, one part...something else. The writing is outstanding; the setting is established impeccably from the first sentence. Although as the reader you never quite figure out what's happening, the feelings of needing to escape, of love and of desperation all come through so clearly that it doesn't really matter. Loser Chuck Palahniuk always writes in the same Chuck Palahniuk genre and this is no exception. Take something banal, such as the Price is Right, and add grit. This was a fun, but superficial, read. Samantha's Diary I was so disappointed by this that I almost don't want to review it. I love Jones. I've read every book she's ever written. I bought this collection because it advertised a new Diana Wynne Jones story. But there's no two ways about it: this story sucked. There was no intrigue, none of the plot twists Jones fans live for and no depth of characterization. It was the saddest thing ever. Land of the Lost Maybe I could have handled this story better had I not been still grieving from Samantha's Diary. As was, this was a trite story about a woman who will find the grave of a serial killer's victim, even though the police have given up. Sound like something you've read about a million times before? Well, that's exactly what it was like. Lief in the Wind On the other hand, this was so fantastic. A completely original science fiction story about a team exploring a new planet and contacting the alien life there. Sound like something you've read a million times before? Well, this was absolutely nothing like all of those others. This started with the beautiful imagery of the "birds that get smaller as they get closer" and built open that with so much metaphor and so much detail of language. The story was also about how to recollect yourself when loved ones die and hope is lost and was gorgeous on that front as well. Unwell This story gets you totally lost in the mind of a toxic woman and you realize too late that although she's toxic there might be something else to the story. I adore stories with untrustworthy narrators and this was done perfectly. A Life in Fictions One of the few stories that felt completely new. Not a twist on a genre, or an old tale with a new spin, but just something new. It's a story about a woman who disappears into her boyfriend's novels when he writes characters based on her and how this affects her life. At a larger level it's about the many facets of self and what we do to integrate them. I really loved this piece. Let the Past Begin A lot of fluff surrounding a middle segment of a beautifully told folk legend. The meat of the story was haunting and so well-described that I could close my eyes and see the fortune teller. But the rest of it was chaff. The Therapist I loved this work. Very soft science fiction about what causes people to lose their tempers mixed with court fiction. I loved the idea of a neme (a contagious feeling of rage). I felt the first part could stand on its own and then loved the twist brought by the second part. Parallel Lines Now this was the twin story that I've been waiting for. At first glance, this is a boring Ouiji board twin-twin communication story. But it's actually so much more. The relationship between the twins and the characterization of each is done beautifully and the exploration of what we do and don't owe other people is unique. The Cult of the Nose This read along the same lines as the Therapist. What of the narrative should the reader choose to believe? The narrative itself was spooky with the sinister members of the Cult of the Nose inevitably showing up amid chaos and destruction. Human Intelligence about an alien spy on earth and the women who finds him out, but also about loneliness and goals and what one should do to achieve them. Stories A fictionalized autobiography of Moorcock. The first half reads like propaganda for the breaking down of genre barriers, which Gaiman had already given us (and better) in the introduction. The remainder, once he gets down to it, is a character-driven piece about love, loss and betrayal that is well done. The Maiden Flight of BellerophonI really enjoyed this while I was reading it for the well-drawn characters and the attention to detail (probably one highlight was a character who was obsessed with the flying machine Bellerophon having written the overly laudatory wikipedia article thereon.) However the plot never really came together for me. The Devil Staircase First of all, the layout (like stairs) is so distracting and not set up correctly with the page breaks. But once I got past that, I found that the central part of the story -- about a man who finds the devil's son, who offers him tempting gifts and who ends up taking a bird who sings when he lies -- interesting and creative. However, the beginning of the story really drags.
Overall, I would say that if, like me, you're picking up this book because you're a Diana Wynne Jones fan, do not do it! Otherwise, this book is totally worth reading for the contributions from Gaiman, Mosley, Swanwick, Ford, Wolfe, Howard, Deaver and Powers, particularly and several other solid entries.(less)
Rocannon's World is interesting. LeGuin maintains a fairy tale quality of sorts while setting the story in a high science-fiction world, complete with...moreRocannon's World is interesting. LeGuin maintains a fairy tale quality of sorts while setting the story in a high science-fiction world, complete with FTL ships and ansibles. The combination is almost dream-like and provocative, but unfortunately falls into LeGuin's most common flaw -- a slowness that makes the book hard to want to pick up and difficult to concentrate once you have.(less)
By far the Keys to the Demon Prison is the strongest book in the Fablehaven series. In it, Mull corrects many of his earlier mistakes, by creating nua...moreBy far the Keys to the Demon Prison is the strongest book in the Fablehaven series. In it, Mull corrects many of his earlier mistakes, by creating nuanced and interesting characters on all sides. He highlights shifting alliances and the difficulties arising from allying with those currently convenient. Of particular note is the comparison that Mull draws between Seth and the Sphinx in the early part of the book.
The plot is also entertaining, with even more creative settings and creatures. Some of the flaws that plagued the early books, such as villain monologuing, plot that turns out to be largely unnecessary, and repetition of exposition to each character in turn, are still present in Keys to the Demon Prison, but in attenuated form. Mull also tries to actually highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each character, rather than play on gender norms as was the case in early books. (less)
I'm still not quite sure how I feel about this book & the ending. It was very strange and very unexpected. Overall, a lot of the characterizations...moreI'm still not quite sure how I feel about this book & the ending. It was very strange and very unexpected. Overall, a lot of the characterizations that were being built up were never really explained. There weren't any actual loose end; however, the conclusion felt pretty unsatisfying.
In any event, The Keys to the Kingdom books stand alone very poorly; by the seventh book every character, item and place has significance from earlier on in the book and there is no summarization of previous events. I would recommend re-reading the entire series before starting this.(less)
The Magicians is frequently billed as Harry Potter meets Narnia. What is left out is the heavy helping that Grossman borrows from a series of unfortun...moreThe Magicians is frequently billed as Harry Potter meets Narnia. What is left out is the heavy helping that Grossman borrows from a series of unfortunate events, which is, truly, unfortunate. The Magicians is really quite clever, when Grossman forgets to make all of his characters (and as a result, his reader) maximally miserable.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about why I didn't enjoy this book. I like urban fantasy. I like gritty literature. I loved the way the Grossman treated being a magician in a mundane world as something that would mess you up and remove your chances of having a normal life or normal interactions. I loved how academic and technical magic was. And, when Grossman concentrated on his own plot and his own ideas, the results were amazing.
To me, the problem arose in the set of totally unsympathetic disaffected 20-somethings that comprise that main cast. Although we're supposed to believe that they are the most brilliant youths in America, it seems to be a law of physics in Grossman's universe that whenever a character is confronted with two choices, they will chose the worse one. Perhaps it helps that his characters drink copious amounts of alcohol roughly every other page. As the reader, it becomes tedious to anticipate how Grossman will turn the latest plot arc into misery all around. Additionally, Grossman seems to intentionally write unrelated, usually pointless plot arcs that remain without conclusion at the end. Perhaps this is to loan the reader the despair the characters feel at living in a world where nothing means everything. If so, it worked -- I spent most of my time reading this book despairing. (less)