I love the Thursday Next series, but wasn't as fond of this one. Probably I'll like it better the next time I read it, but I'm not sure; the ending se...moreI love the Thursday Next series, but wasn't as fond of this one. Probably I'll like it better the next time I read it, but I'm not sure; the ending seemed a little contrived, or at the very least rushed. Although Fforde sets up the denouement throughout the book, the fact that it involves not only new characters but also a hitherto unknown organization makes it feel forced.
Aside from this, the storyline with Thursday's son Friday trying to change his destiny was really good. I especially liked their visits to the Man-Child, who's living in an altered-time zone and therefore sees things differently. Cheese is still outlawed, Landen is still disgustingly* good-tempered and attractive, and stupidity is still a commodity that has to be parceled out, so overall I'd say this book is a good addition to the series.
*and by disgustingly, I of course mean that every female and a bunch of the male readers want to be married to him.(less)
I didn't find out what a "dogsbody" was (a drudge or menial worker, in case you didn't know either) until years after I'd read this book, so the doubl...moreI didn't find out what a "dogsbody" was (a drudge or menial worker, in case you didn't know either) until years after I'd read this book, so the double meaning passed me by--Sirius being in the body of a dog/Sirius losing his position of power to become a humble and powerless creature. Fortunately, it doesn't matter at all. This is a delightful story on so many levels.
Since Sirius the luminary star-denizen doesn't have any more idea about Earth life or humans than Sirius the abandoned puppy does, everything he learns is filtered through the dog's perceptions. This is something DWJ is amazing at, being able to look at some ordinary thing like a telephone cord and describe it the way someone would who'd not only never seen a telephone cord before, but didn't even understand the concept of telephones. (It just occurred to me that kids today might not know what a telephone cord is either. Now I feel old.) I love working out what Sirius is seeing. I also like the path Sirius takes from being an arrogant, powerful being with anger management issues to becoming someone who cares about others and puts their needs first. It could all be down to how very helpless he is, even when he's a full-grown dog, but I figure someone truly irredeemable wouldn't have changed no matter how helpless he became.
The characterization is just superb, as usual, and once again DWJ gives us a dysfunctional family that is maybe too realistic for comfort. Kathleen is the poor relation who's in the same situation Sirius is, dependent on a family in which the adults are unreliable. Basil's the oldest son, kind of a jerk because he's bigger and a bully; Robin's the middle child, too weak to stand up to Basil even though he likes Kathleen. Mr. Duffield, Kathleen's uncle, is the distant father who doesn't notice anything that isn't important to him. And Duffy, his wife, is a nasty shrew whose laziness and viciousness is most obvious when she blackmails Kathleen into doing all the cooking and household chores to keep Sirius (Leo, as Kathleen names him) from being thrown out or killed. I don't know how old Kathleen is, but she can't be older than 11, and the thought of a healthy grown woman standing by while a child struggles with responsibilities she's not ready for makes me sick. One of the things I love most about this book is when Miss Smith, a kind and intelligent old lady who knows "Leo" is more than he appears, adopts Kathleen to get her out of the Duffields' house and give her a real home. I don't care that that was probably unrealistic even for 1975; I want to believe that a horrible biological family is not a life sentence.
Finally, I'm fascinated by the mythology of the story, both the invented mythos of the star-denizens and the Celtic myth elements of the cold dogs and the Hunt. Most of the story is set on Earth, so the bits about the denizens are sort of in the background, but DWJ never lets anything go to waste. Polaris is a variable star? Its denizen must be a stammerer! I get the impression that DWJ had thought the background through enough that she could have written a second book just based on that material. It's the sort of thing that gives depth to a story, and I'd admire Dogsbody for it even if I didn't love it.(less)
Back when I was twelve or thirteen and tearing through the YA shelves at the library, I picked this book up and immediately set it aside because the f...moreBack when I was twelve or thirteen and tearing through the YA shelves at the library, I picked this book up and immediately set it aside because the first paragraph seemed boring. I did that at least six times before, something having changed inside my head, I finally decided to read it. It is still my favorite book by Robin McKinley and a wonderful adventure story, initial maunderings about orange juice aside. (I am now old enough to appreciate McKinley's writing, but between this and Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster series I wonder at the things that used to be designated as YA.)
I wonder, too, that Harry's character as a relatively unfeminine, tall, horse-loving young woman doesn't put me off; these days (as I am now old and crotchety) I have little use for stories about girls Oppressed By Society who have complete disdain for the womanly arts. I think it's because Harry, for all her unfeminine ways, is still very much a woman and still responds to her surroundings as such--just not the way most of her peers would. In Damar, surrounded by "natives," she finds many other women who behave the way she wants to and are still feminine. I think, despite what McKinley says, that Harry's journey into this foreign country would have been a homecoming even had she not had blood ties to it.
I love Harry's relationship with Corlath, and not just the romantic one; they are each troubled by the other from the moment their eyes meet and she doesn't look away. She is his equal, and more, which makes their romance sweeter and more solid than if it had based on love at first sight, though you could argue that it *was* based on that. The characterization is all around good work, really. If I have a problem with the book, it's that I don't know how I feel about the wrapping-up McKinley does in the last chapter. I enjoy it, but I feel it may be sloppy, which is disquieting, so I tell that part of my brain to shut up and I go on enjoying it.
This is one of the books I make my kids read. They, too, have trouble getting past the orange juice, but they, too, love it when they're finished.(less)
Is it just coincidence that Diana Wynne Jones's creepiest book is also her 13th published?
The unnamed, bodiless narrator knows only two things: that s...moreIs it just coincidence that Diana Wynne Jones's creepiest book is also her 13th published?
The unnamed, bodiless narrator knows only two things: that she is one of four sisters, and that there's been a terrible accident. She follows the sisters around, trying to discover which one she is, and finds more questions than answers. Where is middle sister Sally? What does the Worship of Monigan--a funny game Cart, the oldest sister, made up that has sinister undertones--have to do with her present condition? How is she ever going to get back to her body? And how can she warn the girls about the terrible accident that's coming?
DWJ drew heavily on her own childhood to create the four sisters; when someone once objected that the girls' terrible living conditions was too extreme, she said that she'd had to tone down the truth or no one would have believed her. The squalor and parental indifference the girls live in makes me squirm inside. The ghost first observes them making their environment worse just to see if their parents will notice. (They don't.) What's more, these girls seem so real, so believable, are drawn in such detail that they come close to eclipsing everyone in DWJ's previous novels. They certainly overshadow the other characters in the book, though these secondary characters are as solid as anything else DWJ wrote.
And it is a profoundly creepy book, not just because the evil is centered in a mildewy, decrepit doll. (Dolls are really creepy if you have the right soundtrack.) The Worship of Monigan begins as a game, but provides an outlet for something truly evil to enter the world. Monigan herself is cold, menacing, and completely heartless. She accepts sacrifices even if they have no meaning to her, and everyone involved loses something important they didn't realize they were giving up. Other occult elements, like the ghost's use of a Ouija board to communicate and the use of blood to give the ghost substance to talk, give the whole novel a sinister tone.
As with many of DWJ's novels, the ending is complex and satisfying, and the solution to the problem of Monigan's hold over the ghost is brilliant. The introduction of the very adult element of abusive relationships may seem out of place in a young adult novel, but I think it adds to its dark and sinister nature. Once again, it's the relationship between the sisters that really makes the whole thing work. The Time of the Ghost is an excellent novel in which Diana Wynne Jones again proves her mastery of the fantasy genre.(less)
Like almost every other reviewer of this book, I have to say: do NOT read this if you haven't read The Stress of Her Regard, to which this book is som...moreLike almost every other reviewer of this book, I have to say: do NOT read this if you haven't read The Stress of Her Regard, to which this book is something of a sequel. Tim Powers excels at creating alternate explanations for actual historical events, and at revealing the truth behind those mysteries, but in this case, those revelations all happened in the first book. Combine this with the return of characters (or their descendants) from The Stress of Her Regard and you have a book that can't completely stand on its own.
That said, as a companion to this much-earlier novel, Hide Me Among the Graves works very well to bring this mythology to a close. In Stress, the characters' actions to stop the vampire/nephilim creatures are effective, but not permanent, where in this novel the goal is not just to survive, but to win. The central historical figures this time are the Rossetti family of literary and artistic fame, relatives of John Polidori who, in the previous story, became one of the nephilim. I had no idea the real Polidori was the Rossetti children's uncle, and if this was Powers' plan from the start, I am totally impressed; we go from the real Polidori being one of the fathers of vampire fiction, to the fictional Polidori becoming a vampire himself, to vampire Polidori's attentions to his family giving them outstanding artistic abilities, to those periods of genius matching up with the historical assessment of the quality of Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti's respective works. Powers sees connections between the most unlikely of events and, more importantly, makes us see them too.
I'm giving this only four stars mainly because I'm not sure how I feel about tying this book so closely to another, let alone one published thirteen years earlier. To me, part of the joy of a Tim Powers novel is discovering a new or reimagined mythos, not just continuing to explore an old one. (Even with the linked novels Last Call, Expiration Date, and Earthquake Weather, each book either entangles the characters in a new mythos or reveals a previously unknown aspect of an old one.) I'm also not sure about using the Rossetti family and Algernon Swinburne as the pivotal historical figures, because as important as they are to literature (maybe not Swinburne, but I've always felt he was sort of a hack--and hey, Powers says I'm right about that!) they aren't nearly as well known as Shelley or Byron, and I feel this makes Hide Me Among the Graves less accessible to people who don't know their 19th century literature. On the other hand, maybe Tim Powers' ideal audience for his books is people who *do* know their 19th century literature, in which case this isn't so much a problem. My personal quibble is that I don't care for books that make huge temporal jumps--this story begins in 1845 and ends around 1888, skipping five or nine years between sections. This is probably to accommodate that whole matching the story with the Rossettis' and Swinburne's artistic output, so it's necessary, but personally annoying.
Tim Powers is one of those authors I can't imagine writing a terrible book. I enjoyed this immensely, despite my criticisms, but I admit I'm already looking forward to whatever he writes next.(less)
This third and final volume in the Milkweed Triptych was enjoyable, but ultimately a disappointment. Tregillis continues to deliver on the fast-paced...moreThis third and final volume in the Milkweed Triptych was enjoyable, but ultimately a disappointment. Tregillis continues to deliver on the fast-paced action, and handles the rewriting of the timeline of Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War well. With two Raybould Marshes running around, his decision to make Old Marsh's perspective first person and Young Marsh's third person kept the two narratives clearly separate. Some of the suspense is lost when it becomes clear that this "new" timeline is our actual history, which presumably isn't going to be obliterated by Eidolons, but the internal suspense (such as Liv and the baby heading off to doomed Coventry for safety) keeps the story moving.
It's the ending I object to, in which all the loose ends are tied up and Gretel finally receives her just reward: (view spoiler)[She's not killed, but marooned on a barren island by Marsh and Marsh with her wires cut off, and left with an ongoing supply of food so she'll live a long life in torment, without being able to use her power. (hide spoiler)]. It's said more than once that Gretel is evil, but aside from those assertions I don't see much evidence for her being anything but criminally insane. In particular, the interludes where we get inside her head reveal that she's completely doolally and focused entirely on creating a reality in which Young Marsh falls in love with her. Her attempts to kill Liv and Agnes are evil, but I'm not sure a person with her type of insanity can really be said to be evil. She is definitely not in the same class as von Westarp, who murdered and tortured children to achieve his goals in perfect sanity, and I don't even think she's in the same class as the necrophiliac Reinhardt, who burned a dozen kids out of vengeance. Gretel, like von Westarp's other children, needed to die to prevent the apocalypse; the two Marshes' justice for her is nothing more than personal vengeance, and it makes them less than heroic. What's unfortunate is that it fits with their personalities, so my question is, why should I have any respect for either of them?
I'm no less a fan of Tregillis's work because of this book, but I hope his next novel is less disappointing for not being part of an otherwise very satisfying trilogy.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I don't have a favorite Diana Wynne Jones book; I have a cluster of five favorites and six more second-tier favorites. Of those top five, three were p...moreI don't have a favorite Diana Wynne Jones book; I have a cluster of five favorites and six more second-tier favorites. Of those top five, three were published consecutively, and Archer's Goon is the first of those. DWJ's sixteenth published book, Archer's Goon represents, with Howl's Moving Castle, the peak of the humorous writing that characterizes much of her 1980s period. The core is a strong, beautifully plotted story, but it's overlaid with so many funny bits that it isn't until you get to the end that you realize how complex it is.
Part of that complexity is the sheer number of important characters present in the book. Not only do we have the seven siblings who "farm" Howard's town, we also have Howard's family, their live-in student Fifi, and Shine's bully boy Ginger Hind, and all of them have well-developed, interesting, but above all unique personalities. And never once do we forget who anyone is. DWJ does this with a few well-chosen quirks, but doesn't leave it at that. Torquil, for example, is a flamboyant, exaggerated character, but then Howard sees him in a moment of quiet that reveals his deeper sadness. Howard's sister Awful bears a striking resemblance to the vicious gangster Shine. And Archer, to his credit, actually cares about Fifi. Of them all, it's Howard whose character is the least well developed (or interesting) and it turns out that even that has a reason.
But what I'm truly impressed with here is the way the plot unfolds, starting with the Goon in Howard's kitchen and proceeding through the introductions of the seven siblings. Parallel to this is the secondary plot (and I do think it's secondary despite its being the motivation for all the action) in which Howard scrambles to figure out who wants the 2000 words his father writes each month and what that person does with them. It's probably a mistake to say they run in parallel; it's more accurate to say that they are intertwined, and I think they are perfectly balanced, one plot advancing the other and then handing off the lead to be advanced in turn. In the climax to the story, both plots intersect, with Quentin Sykes's words being the device that keeps the world from being run by the megalomaniac Archer--a scene that is a true delight.
I don't know how many times I've read this book, but it never bores me. I think some of this is that DWJ embeds so much potential in it, not for a sequel, but for the future growth of her characters. In the scene where Howard and Awful struggle into the future, each passes through stages of their future lives, and those futures emerge so realistically from the people they are in the book that I have no trouble believing that they will go on, after the last page, to grow up and conquer the world (or not) in their own ways.(less)
Witch Week, while not my favorite Chrestomanci novel (I think I've said before that I don't like them as much as other books by Diana Wynne Jones), st...moreWitch Week, while not my favorite Chrestomanci novel (I think I've said before that I don't like them as much as other books by Diana Wynne Jones), still charms me in its depiction of a boarding school in alternate-universe England, an England in which witchcraft is illegal and punished by being burned at the stake.
DWJ's fourteenth published novel begins with a typical classroom and a note to the teacher that reads "Someone in this class is a witch." Somewhat atypically, DWJ introduces many characters in this first chapter, and while some are clearly going to be our villains, it's not obvious at first who the hero will be. As time passes, the answer is--all of them. DWJ passes the narrative between these POV characters so smoothly that it's easy to lose track--and I mean this in a good way--of whose head we're in at the time. It turns out that some of the members of class 6B are, in fact, witches, and in the end it takes Chrestomanci to sort out the biggest problem, which is that this reality shouldn't even exist.
My favorite parts of this book are the set pieces, the brilliant little scenes such as all the shoes disappearing and reappearing in a great heap, or Nan's adventures on an overeager broomstick, or (this one really is my favorite) the Simon Says spell which causes everything Simon says to come true. Everything. Even the part where he calls himself stupid. It's magnificent.
As always, DWJ's characterization is perfect, and I noticed in this reading that her description of places tends to be minimal where her description of people is detailed. There's never any difficulty picturing what her characters are doing, or how they look. I think this is where Witch Week, for me, edges out the two earlier Chrestomanci books (Charmed Life and The Magicians of Caprona) because there are more characters who are fleshed out, even the ancillary ones, than in the other two books. It's an enjoyable read, though I look forward to the next books in my reading project, all of which are in my top five DWJ books of all time.(less)
Jasper Fforde's first young adult novel has all the hallmarks of his books for adults while still being aimed at a younger audience; the story is shor...moreJasper Fforde's first young adult novel has all the hallmarks of his books for adults while still being aimed at a younger audience; the story is shorter and more focused, the main characters are teens, and you will find no Jack Schitts here. 15-year-old Jennifer Strange runs a magicians' employment agency called Kazam in a time when magic is at the ebb and people are turning more to technology to solve their problems. Jennifer's problems are more complex; her boss has disappeared, her employees are at each others' throats, and a prophecy that the last dragon will die at the hands of the Last Dragonslayer in just a few days has dumped that problem in her lap as well. Because it turns out she's the Last Dragonslayer.
I never felt Jennifer was really 15 years old. Granted, she's had a great deal of responsibility in her young life, but she talks and acts like...well, like Thursday Next. I think if I cared about the distinction between YA and adult novels, this would have bothered me more. As it is, I point it out because it's one of only a few flaws in the story. The plot is well-paced and the repercussions of Jennifer assuming her new role all make sense. Fforde is good at pointing out human flaws, especially greed, and putting Jennifer at odds with her king makes for good conflict.
One tiny thing that cracked me up was the marzipan. Fforde always has one element in his novels that is totally bizarre and totally taken for granted by the characters. In Thursday Next, it's illegal cheese; here, marzipan is a dangerous drug that might as well be angel dust. Things like "Police broke up a dangerous marzipan smuggling ring" just amuse me all out of proportion. But then, I already don't like marzipan.
I'm looking forward to the next books in the series, though I resent them a tiny wee bit for not being sequels to Shades of Grey. Any new Jasper Fforde novel is a lovely surprise.(less)
In her twelfth published novel, Diana Wynne Jones again does something new; The Homeward Bounders has a little bit of Dogsbody, a little bit of Power...moreIn her twelfth published novel, Diana Wynne Jones again does something new; The Homeward Bounders has a little bit of Dogsbody, a little bit of Power of Three, but mostly it's just itself. Young Jamie goes poking around where he shouldn't and is found by Them, mysterious cloaked creatures who appear to be playing an enormous strategy game with the world--and they deal with Jamie's intrusion by making him a Homeward Bounder. Now Jamie is forced to travel between worlds, pulled by an insistent demand he can't predict, with the promise that if he can find his way Home he'll be allowed to stay. As he travels for months and years without aging, Jamie visits hundreds of worlds with hundreds of societies, some pleasant, some hostile, never allowed to stay long enough to make a home, holding on to just the tiniest hope that he will return Home someday.
While the varying societies Jamie visits are fascinating (DWJ was endlessly creative when it came to making new worlds) this book is very much about people and how they treat each other. Jamie's experiences make him cynical, naturally, and when he finally acquires some companions, he's unable at first to trust them or see them as anything but burdens. Helen Haras-uquara has her own issues, and Joris the demon hunter can't seem to stop talking about his "owner," the great demon hunter Konstam. That the three of them can become friends at all is due to DWJ's understanding of how people work. Their relationships are prickly, slow-growing things, but they do grow in ways dictated by who each of them are.
As a role-playing gamer, I love the way that wargaming comes into the story. Adam, an enemy turned friend (something we'll see again in other DWJ books, particularly Archer's Goon) provides the key to defeating Them through his and his father's enormous wargame terrain. While the other characters have supernatural abilities that let them fight their unseen enemy, Adam and his sister provide support in other ways, particularly through knowledge.
The revelation of how They are playing their game and what it will take for Jamie and the others to defeat them is complicated, typical for a DWJ novel. There's never anything simple about her solutions, and in this case understanding it requires a way of thinking about the world that reminds me of the ending of Fire and Hemlock--if one thing must be true, then another can't be. Jamie's solution to the problem hinges both on his ignorance (knowing who Prometheus is would have ruined everything) and his profound understanding of the puzzle. He sacrifices everything to keep Them from returning to power, and the final sentence of the novel makes me cry every time I read it.(less)
This follow-up to The Last Dragonslayer has all the charm and randomness of its predecessor. Jasper Fforde seems to have made a career out of...well,...moreThis follow-up to The Last Dragonslayer has all the charm and randomness of its predecessor. Jasper Fforde seems to have made a career out of...well, interesting prose and clever ideas, but I was thinking more along the lines of "completely random throwaway items you can't believe are part of the story." It mixes up what would otherwise be an interesting but not mind-blowingly original story.
I still say Jennifer Strange doesn't sound or act like a teenager, though Fforde makes an effort (okay, not an effort, more like a two-line exchange of dialogue) to establish that she's mature for her age because of her upbringing and her having been thrown into a position of responsibility so young. Aside from her age and the greater simplicity of the prose, I see no reason to class this book as a YA novel--and since simplicity of prose is not necessarily a marker of YA fiction, that classification stands on even shakier ground. Having said that, I figure the earlier one is introduced to Jasper Fforde, the better, so if his publisher wants to market it as YA, I say go for it.
The contest of magic at the heart of the story is quite tense, and Conrad Blix as villain is exactly the sort of person it's easiest to hate, someone who abuses rules and laws to give himself an unfair advantage. As Jennifer's support is whittled away, she's forced to reach out beyond her usual sources, so we get to meet characters like the Magnificent Boo (and the truth behind her story was both simple and horrifying) and, at last, the long-missing Zambini. The book sets up a different villain for the future and ultimately gives Kazam back some of its lost glory.
It's that last bit that leaves me dissatisfied with the final chapter, in which Fforde wraps everything up so neatly that it seemed as though he was trying to wrap up the series itself, which confused me because there's certainly a third book in the works (and supposedly available any day now). Unless he is Messing With Us, which I would not put past him. At any rate, this was an enjoyable read. I'm looking forward to the (possibly nonexistent, thank you very much Mister Fforde) next book in the series.(less)
The Spellcoats is one of the first books I ever read by Diana Wynne Jones and is still one of my favorites. With her tenth published novel, she demons...moreThe Spellcoats is one of the first books I ever read by Diana Wynne Jones and is still one of my favorites. With her tenth published novel, she demonstrates a maturity that marks the rest of her career; as good as her previous works are, with The Spellcoats she plays with first person limited POV and the clash of cultures to create Dalemark's history in a way that perfectly fits what she's already established with Cart and Cwidder and the more complex Drowned Ammet.
I didn't realize, back in the day, that this book was part of a series. I didn't have access to Drowned Ammet, and as The Spellcoats happens in pre-historic Dalemark, it wasn't obvious to me that it was set in the same world as Cart and Cwidder. Reading DWJ's novels in chronological order makes a huge difference. The Spellcoats is good on its own, but so much better read as a prequel (and I am very fond of prequels).
As usual, DWJ depends on the family structure to drive her plot. In this case, it's Tanaqui and her four siblings at the story's center; their blondness and mysterious dead mother setting them apart from the dark-haired villagers, and worse, they look like the invading Heathens their people are at war with. Driven out of their home, they travel down the River to whatever lies at its mouth near the ocean, find a great evil, and travel back to the River's source to find a way to stop it. They're not a perfect family--this would not be a book by DWJ if they were. Tanaqui gets impatient with her siblings, especially her sister Robin; Hern is a rationalist who doesn't believe in magic (unfortunate, because it seems to surround them) and Duck gets all vague whenever trouble threatens. But this is exactly what makes the story work, because it's the conflicts between them that create the conflict that drives the story. Their encounter with the evil Kankredin at the River's mouth goes both well and poorly because of who the children are and how they interact with each other.
The main conceit of this book is that Tanaqui, a master weaver, is telling the story through weaving it into a giant "rugcoat"; those who know how can read it. DWJ's skill makes this conceit hold together, as Tanaqui tells the story as if it's all already happened (which it has) and the "coats" end and begin in places where Tanaqui would have the ability to weave--not a small thing.
Tanaqui gets most of my sympathy because, as the POV character, she can put herself in the best light, but usually doesn't. Or, more accurately, she'll admit later in her weaving things that she left out earlier. She sketches the others fairly but accurately, and I especially like how she admits to getting impatient with her sister when Robin is ill. Tanaqui also ends up having the most important role to play, even though it's a role that leaves her ignored by history. (view spoiler)[The postscript, which describes archaeologists discovering her two rugcoats/spellcoats, is written centuries later and makes speculations about what the story might have meant. Of the five children, the girls are the ones who are overlooked: Robin disappears entirely, probably because she runs off with Tanamil, and Tanaqui is identified with a mythical figure that doesn't even have her name. History does tend to forget about its women. (hide spoiler)]
I'm tempted, just a little, to ignore my chronological reading project and move immediately to The Crown of Dalemark, which finishes the Dalemark Quartet--but it was written 14 years later, so I'll just have to be patient a little longer.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Medair an Rynstar set out to recover a powerful artifact that would save her people from an invading army--and wakes 500 years later to find the war l...moreMedair an Rynstar set out to recover a powerful artifact that would save her people from an invading army--and wakes 500 years later to find the war long over, the invaders integrated into the population, and no place in the new world for her. Compelled against her will to help one of the invaders' descendants, a man who looks eerily like that long-gone army's leader, Medair gets pulled into a new political conflict in which a faction of reactionaries wants to overthrow the "conquering" regime. Does fulfilling her mission mean she must follow its literal meaning and destroy the invaders, or is her task to protect the kingdom no matter who's ruling it now?
I'm going to have to review both The Silence of Medair and Voice of the Lost as one, because they really are a single book (and have been issued as such, as Medair). I can't recommend reading them separately. Why not just review that single volume? Because I want credit for having read two books. :)
Medair's choice isn't trivial, because there are good arguments on both sides. Höst makes that choice easier on the reader by making one of the sides moderately repellant, but it's still easy to sympathize with Medair's struggle, especially since she has such strongly antipathetic feelings toward the "invaders." To her, it's only been a short while since they were an enemy intent on conquering her people. Höst succeeds at the difficult task of keeping our sympathies with Medair on this subject. Medair's ultimate choice of which side to take has repercussions she can't avoid and can't reject, because her loyalties have genuinely been compromised.
It's also interesting how Medair deals with the complexities of being stuck in a time not her own. In her case, it's not just that customs have changed; she lived through an historic event that's now been romanticized out of recognition, with her own name and reputation become legendary. There are songs about her that were written by an ex-lover to make himself sound like the hero abandoned by Medair (when in truth he was a philandering jerk who did a lot of bed-hopping and abandoned her). Worse, there's an entire rebel faction using her name--one that wants the invaders destroyed, even though they've interbred with the natives and have had five centuries to become natives themselves. In some cases, even Medair's status as the person who actually lived through the invasion isn't enough to change people's minds about the history they've learned.
More problematic is the ending, in which Medair's lover Illukar defeats the world-destroying Blight with unexpected results, not the least of which is that he survives. (view spoiler)[Illukar sort of melds with Ieskar, original leader of the invaders and someone Medair was deeply attracted to. Now they're two people in a single body--fortunately they look almost identical, so they don't do this grotesque feature-shifting--but both love Medair, and she loves both of them, so it's okay. Intellectually, I have a problem with this being so easy, but I'm deeply impressed with Höst's abilities, because emotionally I thought it was romantic as hell. (hide spoiler)] But that's the only problem I have with the book, which I thoroughly loved.
Like Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold is much shorter than the other Temeraire books. When I first read Tongues of Serpents in 2010, I wondered i...moreLike Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold is much shorter than the other Temeraire books. When I first read Tongues of Serpents in 2010, I wondered if it was the first half of a novel that was too long to publish in one volume, but now it's clear that they're both independent but short novels.
Part of the four-star rating is the very-probably-wrong feeling I have that this book, like the previous one, is too short, but it's really that it feels as if Temeraire and Lawrence have been sidelined...which, of course, they have. The exploration of the alternate-history Incan Empire is still very interesting, particularly the idea that the Incan dragons are essentially owners of the humans. I also like that Iskierka, whose wild nature has been a danger to everyone around her from the beginning, finally goes to such extremes that Granby gives her the metaphorical spanking she really needs. Less pleasant is that (view spoiler)[RILEY IS DEAD! How sad is it that I kept hoping that he'd somehow, I don't know, escaped the explosion and the sinking ship and swam three hundred miles to the mainland...fine, okay, I'm sad and pathetic. But I liked him so much, and he provided an important link between Lawrence and the Navy. (hide spoiler)]
The ending of the novel makes it clear that Lawrence and Temeraire's exile is at an end, and I look forward to their rejoining the war in the next book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I enjoyed the previous volumes in this trilogy, The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea, but this one really blew me away. In the first two books, protago...moreI enjoyed the previous volumes in this trilogy, The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea, but this one really blew me away. In the first two books, protagonist Moon's mysterious past underlies the plot, but takes a back seat to the survival of the court he's become a part of. Now, with Indigo Cloud having found a new home and needing to restore it, Moon's past suddenly becomes very important: his home colony has finally found him, and even though he's mated to Jade, sister Queen of Indigo Cloud, they want him back.
The revelations about who Moon really is come one after another, and I had a hard time putting the book down because finally all the questions were being answered, only to raise more questions. Why would the colony want Moon back now, if they hadn't tried to find him before? How did he get separated from them in the first place? If Moon has family in that colony, what will they think of him? On top of this, the mystery of what the enemy Fell are up to and why gets resolved, and the novel ends with an outstanding and exciting confrontation in a setting that's pure Martha Wells. I loved every minute of this book.(less)
This is probably the first book I've read because of a Facebook ad. I liked it a lot. It begins with the protagonist standing in the rain, amnesiac, s...moreThis is probably the first book I've read because of a Facebook ad. I liked it a lot. It begins with the protagonist standing in the rain, amnesiac, surrounded by corpses, reading a letter written to her by...the previous occupant of her body. Myfanwy Thomas the first tells the new Myfanwy that she'd had premonitions about her imminent unmaking and that a new person would inhabit her body. She also tells Myfanwy that she's a member of a secret, paranormal society dedicated to protecting the world from monsters and evil creatures: not only a member, but a high-ranking official called a Rook. The first Myfanwy's dissolution was the result of a treasonous attack by someone else in the organization, and new-Myfanwy takes on the task of finding out who that is.
At first, I didn't think the book would work. Thomas (new-Myfanwy's name for her predecessor, to keep her a separate person) was meticulous and a thorough researcher, and created an enormous binder of material to help Myfanwy hide her amnesia so the unknown traitor will stay off guard. The narrative is broken up by long passages in which Thomas explains the organization, the people in it, its history, and sometimes just writes letters to her unknown successor. These are really long sections, and almost entirely given over to explanation, but the background they reveal is sufficiently interesting that the only thing that strains credulity is how Thomas reports entire conversations as if her interludes were a true first-person narrative instead of a letter. On the other hand, if she'd written the letters the way people usually do, they would be incredibly boring. I was willing to give this a pass. Myfanwy's sections, the main novel, are in third person, which helps keep the two narratives distinct.
The story itself is a good blend of action novel, mystery novel, and paranormal fiction. O'Malley drops hints that are visible without being obvious, and they all come together in the end. I liked the secondary characters, particularly Myfanwy's secretary Ingrid and the late addition of Li'l Pawn Alan, who would be a deus ex machina if O'Malley hadn't set up his crucial role so well. Nice dialogue with some very witty lines, good clear descriptions (essential in this kind of novel, and to be honest I don't think I'll be able to look at Jell-O in the same way ever again). My only complaint about the writing is that it's occasionally too clever, which pulled me out of the story by making me aware of its cleverness. I'm also not sure that Myfanwy's character works in terms of her differences from Thomas. Thomas was shy, agoraphobic, diffident, and Myfanwy is the opposite; I think it's unlikely that her colleagues would have been so accepting of her radical change in character.
I had one minor quibble that I only mention because it bugged me the whole way through. Thomas, and by extension Myfanwy, pronounces her name Miffunee (to rhyme with Tiffany) because "she doesn't embrace the traditional Welsh pronunciation" and supposedly dropping that "w" is more natural. I defy anyone to look at that name and come up with something that has no "w" sound, even if you can't pronounce it the Welsh way. Totally not a flaw in the novel, and I sympathize with O'Malley because I nearly named my child Myfanwy until I realized I did not hate her enough to saddle her with an unpronounceable name in the American school system, and it is awfully pretty on paper. (And when the Welsh say it.)
Overall assessment: this was an excellent novel and an even better first novel. O'Malley's greatest gift, in my opinion, is his ability to create believable, interesting, unique characters no matter how large or small a role they play, but he's also got an ear for dialogue and a good sense of plot structure. I look forward to his next novel with great interest.(less)
I really ought to give this book four stars because I think it has a few problems. But it was so intensely, viscerally satisfying I just can't bring m...moreI really ought to give this book four stars because I think it has a few problems. But it was so intensely, viscerally satisfying I just can't bring myself to. Höst writes books that are exactly the kind of fantasy I love, and while I think I liked Medair better, it's a really close call.
Ash has been pretending to be a boy for eight years, "adopted" by an herbalist named Genevieve. Now, someone is murdering herbalists, and when Genevieve is killed, Ash takes up with a nobleman named Thornaster to figure out who's behind the killings and why. Ash is a complex character, and her motive for becoming a boy and going into hiding, when it's revealed, is both an interesting plot twist and part of what drives the story. Thornaster is clever and has a mysterious past, but I liked that he didn't have any idea his new seruilis (sort of like a page) is female until that fact is proven beyond all doubt. I was proud of myself for figuring out his real identity when Ash did, and I liked how their romance developed despite having reservations about this very heterosexual man falling for her so quickly after having only known her as a boy. But, as with Medair, I liked the romance so much that I stuffed those reservations in a closet and locked it.
There are some other problems with the book. I am completely in favor of authors dealing out information for the reader to figure out as opposed to stupid infodumping all over the place, but I think Höst may have gone a little too far in the other direction. This may also be because when Ash becomes a seruilis and is introduced to the other young men of this status, there's a big section in which all of their names and descriptions are thrown at the reader in one go. It's a little overwhelming and I think it could be offputting; I saw it as a challenge, but I don't know that that's the default reaction.
The flip side of this is that Höst has created a really interesting world with an intriguing religion/magic that goes much deeper than what's presented in the book. Even though I'm pretty sure there's not much more story here, it makes me sad to leave behind so much creativity. I'm pretty sure, though, that I will be reading this book again, so it's not so much leaving it behind as leaving it behind for now. Excellent work, and I look forward to reading more of Höst's work.(less)
I'm a fan of Kay's history-derived fantasies, like the Sarantine Mosaic, and this one is outstanding. I had trouble putting it down and couldn't stop...moreI'm a fan of Kay's history-derived fantasies, like the Sarantine Mosaic, and this one is outstanding. I had trouble putting it down and couldn't stop thinking about it when I did. The Chinese-analogue empire of Kitai is powerful, but covets the horses of the western Tagur Empire. Shen Tai is only fulfilling his years of mourning for his father by burying the dead of Kuala Nor, but his courage in facing the restless spirits brings him to the attention of a wife of the Taguran Emperor, formerly a princess of Kitai's Imperial Family. She's so moved by his sacrifice that she makes him a present of some of their finest horses.
Two hundred and fifty of them.
This extraordinary gift makes Shen Tai a marked man, putting him in danger not only from ordinary men and government officials, but from the Son of Heaven, who might decide Shen Tai is a threat to his power. Tai has to figure out a way to get from the distant Kuala Nor to the palace, convince the Emperor of his good intentions, and, oh yeah, not get killed in the process.
Tai's problem is like a stone dropped into a particularly muddy lake, as other political concerns are affected by it. His sister Li-Mei has been effectively sold as a bride to the barbarians of the steppe, something that the newly-powerful Tai objects to. The antagonistic presence of those barbarians on the northern border has created political and social turmoil within the Imperial court. And on a personal level, Tai has to deal with seeing the girl he loves become a concubine to his hated rival, cousin to the Emperor's most-loved consort.
Something I look for in a long novel with multiple viewpoint characters is whether I care equally about all of them. I've learned that I get dissatisfied with the whole book if I'm more interested in one or two POV characters; it doesn't matter if they're all well-written if I just don't care about the others. Under Heaven passed this test brilliantly. I never got bored with any section. I'm also a fan of Kay's writing style, as well as his ability to evoke a particular historical culture without sounding derivative. It's a long book that to me never felt long. There are a couple of really good love stories, just enough action, and a lot of excellent political intrigue. This book was recommended to me by a friend, and I think it's the best recommendation I've had all year.(less)
The Serpent Sea is a worthy companion to the first Raksura book, The Cloud Roads. Everything that was good about the first is present in the second, b...moreThe Serpent Sea is a worthy companion to the first Raksura book, The Cloud Roads. Everything that was good about the first is present in the second, but there's more of it: more detail about the Raksura culture, more interaction between the "solitary" consort Moon and his adopted court, more detail about the elaborate world Wells has created. In fleeing the Fell, the Indigo Cloud court has moved to a different home long-abandoned by their people, only to find it's dying because its source of life has been stolen. Most of the book is taken up by the quest to replace it, and while this storyline isn't as action-packed as the battle against the Fell, it's sufficiently tense to keep the reader's interest going.
It's a lot more obvious at this point that the Aeriat's social structure is gender-reversed from ours. It's not just that they're ruled by a queen and that their female warriors are larger and stronger than the males (as was established in the first book), but the behavior patterns, particularly as shown between Jade and Moon, are totally reversed. If this story had Jade as a male and Moon as a female, it would be a recognizable and somewhat cliche'd story about female empowerment against a masculinist society. I like this reversal because it provides just enough cognitive dissonance without becoming some kind of social polemic. (Not that I expect that from Wells.) Having a male character who acts the way we expect a strong man to act, who is part of a society that expects (male) consorts to be lazy and somewhat submissive, made for an interesting read.
The four stars are because, despite how much I enjoyed the book, I still have no idea where this series is going. I've been operating on the assumption that this is a trilogy, but there hasn't been any overlying arc tying the first volumes together and no thread to tug on that would show where the story is headed. The Fell are an interesting complication, but don't show up in this book. Searching for a home got wrapped up by the end of the novel. I'm happy to keep on reading, but unless this is a series of self-contained novels, I feel like there's something missing.(less)
This is unquestionably one of the gems of fantasy fiction, and one that is unfortunately not as well known as it should be. Story, character, structur...moreThis is unquestionably one of the gems of fantasy fiction, and one that is unfortunately not as well known as it should be. Story, character, structure, mythology all blend together perfectly, within a plot that continually loops back on itself until all the events you thought were unrelated are revealed to be part of a glorious whole. I read this book every few years, usually when I'm much in need of comfort and mental peace, and it never fails to deliver.
It struck me, this time, that Hughart's style is very similar in tone to Umberto Eco's (in translation) in The Name of the Rose, which is also an historical mystery with a wise older man and wide-eyed young apprentice. Go figure.(less)
I find it difficult to explain to some readers why this is a young adult book despite its graphically gory content. That's why it's such an important...moreI find it difficult to explain to some readers why this is a young adult book despite its graphically gory content. That's why it's such an important example of young adult literature. The definition of a YA book is not that it is safe or sanitized or short or uncomplicated. A YA book is, reduced to its essentials, a book about what it means to be a young adult. Will Henry, narrator and protagonist of The Monstrumologist, is barely a teenager, but witnesses horrors that grown men can't bear; his "family" consists of Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a "monstrumologist" whose obsession with the collection, dissection and categorization of cryptids makes him by turns harsh, indifferent, and compassionate to his young charge. Yet while the story is about monsters terrorizing a small New England town, it's Will Henry's struggle to figure out who he is and what he's going to become that's the center of that story--and that's a struggle every teen goes through, whether the monsters are real or figurative.
And yes, this is an extremely gory story. It opens with a grave robber bringing Warthrop a coffin in which an anthropopagus, a man-eater, is wrapped around the corpse of a half-eaten young woman, all of this described in, if not loving, at least meticulous detail. Warthrop and Will Henry's quest to find and eradicate the monsters' nest contains many horrifying scenes like this. I do not recommend this for the faint of stomach, but I do recommend it in general; Rick Yancey's descriptions and the conceit of this being Will Henry's lost journal are scrupulous and exact, not to mention engaging. The final scenes where the hunters enter the anthropopagi's nest are gripping and make the book hard to put down.
Of all the things I find remarkable about the story, the most remarkable is the character of Pellinore Warthrop. It's really hard to remember that he's a very handsome man when he isn't in the grip of his obsession; someone with that name ought to be cadaverous and balding. Better still, his depiction as a man suffering from a mood disorder is beautifully accurate. Warthrop is sometimes vicious to Will Henry, but Yancey makes it clear that no matter what the good doctor says, he depends on the boy to keep him sane and attached to the world. And, also despite his words, he does love the boy.
Which makes it all the harder to feel any kindness toward Warthrop. Will Henry, having lost both his parents in a fire, is fragile in ways that Warthrop does not understand or respect. He treats Will Henry as a tiny adult, often excoriates him for mistakes he didn't make, and on one or two occasions tears into him with the most vicious and cruel language you can imagine. How it is I still feel sympathy for him, I don't know, because it's impossible not to take Will Henry's side in their...you can't really call them conflicts, but what other word is there? I like it when Will Henry stands up to Warthrop, and I think Warthrop likes it too. Or needs it, which is the next best thing.
As powerful as the two main characters are, it's a good thing that the side characters are equally well drawn. Everything about this book works well in tension with everything else, characters, plot, description, and the indefinable creepiness that overlays it all. As horrific as it is, however, I can't think of this as a horror novel, but as a fascinating character study that's defined by one man's quest for the secrets of nature and one boy's desire to learn who he is in a world that doesn't care if he lives or dies. Dark, but in the end deeply satisfying reading.(less)
The Curse of the Wendigo takes this series to new levels of horror and a deeper exploration of the human spirit. Dr. Warthrop is called on to rescue h...moreThe Curse of the Wendigo takes this series to new levels of horror and a deeper exploration of the human spirit. Dr. Warthrop is called on to rescue his friend John Chanler, who has gone into the wilderness at the behest of their mutual mentor Abram von Helrung to find a creature Warthrop is convinced is a myth, the monstrous Wendigo. Finding Chanler is only the first part of the problem, because he comes back changed--the question is, is he still a man, or is he a monster?
This installment is far more gruesome than The Monstrumologist, in part because we're dealing with the actions of a man rather than those of a monster, and it's never totally clear what motivates Chanler's behavior--is he actually the Wendigo, or is he suffering from a disease? Von Helrung's contention that he's the Wendigo has a lot of support in the text, and I think the reader is meant to accept that interpretation. But Warthrop's opinion is never fully disproven either. If I have any complaints about the book, it's that Warthrop never draws the obvious conclusion that there might be some truth to the Wendigo myth, some real illness that might be behind the stories. He sticks singlemindedly to the "it's all a delusion" attitude and only once mentions (in passing) that it might have some basis in fact. If he'd based his analysis of Chanler's illness on the specifics of the Wendigo myth, he'd have been more successful in treating him...but then I suppose we wouldn't have had a story, would we?
Despite Will Henry's journey into the madness that is the Wendigo, both in the wilderness and in his encounters with Chanler, being the obvious center to the book, it's Warthrop's relationship with Chanler and his wife Muriel, and the revelations about his past with both of them, that to me make the novel something more than a terrible and gory horror story. The fact that Pellinore Warthrop has a heart is both terrible and sweet, especially when his most hidden feelings end up being the source of great agony for him. Unfortunately, Will Henry continues passive in this book, in the end becoming a tool for von Helrung to use in his quest to legitimize the Wendigo in the monstrumology community. There are, however, hints at what he will become, and I hope his passivity doesn't last through the series.(less)
I didn't like this one as much as I remembered liking it, possibly because I spent most of my reading time trying to remember the plot instead of just...moreI didn't like this one as much as I remembered liking it, possibly because I spent most of my reading time trying to remember the plot instead of just reading it. The Cygnet and the Firebird picks up only a few months after The Sorceress and the Cygnet, when a strange magician slips into the house of Lauro Ro without anyone but Meguet, the guardian, and Nyx, the sorceress, noticing. He's searching for a hidden key that Nyx discovers is linked to the great mage Chrysom, a key that probably opens his missing book of magic. On the stranger's heels comes a magical bird whose scream turns anyone who gets caught in it into jeweled trees. (This is, after all, a Patricia McKillip story.) Both the mage and the firebird are central to the plot, which is, like in The Sorceress and the Cygnet, divided, this time between Meguet and the mage and Nyx and the firebird. As usual, McKillip's writing is lush and evocative, though I think it may not be to many readers' taste; for me, it's as important as the story she chooses to tell. There are also dragons--I like these dragons a lot. Not my favorite of McKillip's books, but still entertaining.(less)
I don't think I was in the right mood to read this book. Objectively, I think it's very good, but it felt like Tim Powers lite--which is probably unfa...moreI don't think I was in the right mood to read this book. Objectively, I think it's very good, but it felt like Tim Powers lite--which is probably unfair to it. The blend of mythologies, the child stumbling on an archetypal space and witnessing the events of the Osiris myth playing out, give it a mystical feel that's well balanced by the semi-mundane war between the builders of the London Underground. It made me want to go there just to see how the reality matches up with the fiction.(less)
In Power Of Three, Diana Wynne Jones's seventh novel, she takes her skill with limited third person perspective and the naive narrator to a new level....moreIn Power Of Three, Diana Wynne Jones's seventh novel, she takes her skill with limited third person perspective and the naive narrator to a new level. Ayna, Gair and Ceri are siblings who live on the Moor, coexisting unpeacefully with the Dorig, water-dwelling fish-like humanoids, and the Giants, large and loud and strong. Ayna and Ceri have actual magical powers that they have to learn to use over the course of the story: Ayna can give a true answer to any question she's asked; Ceri can control others via Thoughts and mend anything that's broken. Gair's talent isn't revealed until later, but of course it's obvious that he has one even when he doesn't believe he does. The siblings' homelands are under attack by the Dorig because the Dorig want to drive the humans out of their lands, but the feud is made worse by a longstanding hatred between humans and Dorig, a feud caused by a curse and a murder years before. When their home, Garholt, is invaded by Dorig, Ayna, Gair and Ceri escape and find help among some Giant children, then make alliance with some Dorig children, and ultimately find a way to break the curse that's been driving the three groups apart.
None of the above is true.
The events of the story play out as I've described. The title refers in part to the individual magic powers the children have, the power they have as siblings, and the power of three races working together. But the story is entirely funneled through the perceptions of Ayna, Gair, and Ceri, and while in Dogsbody it was easy for readers to identify the things that Sirius saw because they were familiar objects, Jones takes advantage of the alienness of the children's world to completely fool the reader about who and what the humans, Dorig, and Giants are.
One of the things I like best about this book (aside from the total mindgame Jones plays) is the rather adult complication of the politics behind Dorig and human relations, and the politics of the Giants' intentions for the Moor. Each of the three races has its own well-defined culture that turns out to be part of a single religious/magical system. The underlying theme is that differences between people often turn out to be as simple as seeing things a different way. Breaking the curse, in the end, requires the help of all three races, with a final declaration that echoes Huck Finn's resolve to break an unjust law even if it means going to Hell. Add to this Jones's skill with characterization, dialogue, and description, and you have a complex novel suitable for readers of all ages.(less)
Flora's Dare is even better than Flora Segunda, and that one was pretty amazing. Flora's Dare feels a little more finished to me, probably because Flo...moreFlora's Dare is even better than Flora Segunda, and that one was pretty amazing. Flora's Dare feels a little more finished to me, probably because Flora's various quests all grow out of one desire, which is to become a Ranger. All the complicating factors come from other people, like her sister Idden and her friend Udo, or from external problems like the Loliga, a spirit creature trapped in the body of a giant squid, who's trying to escape captivity by destroying Califa. There's time-travel and ghouls and possessed footwear and secret identities and a magical plushy pig. Flora remains an unconventional heroine, this time because she doesn't recognize just how heroic her actions are. All she sees is her failure to accomplish what she set out to do, and that makes her sympathetic. I like her developing relationship with Udo--or, more accurately, Udo's development into a responsible human being instead of a self-absorbed prat with all the sensitivity of a rock. It's also nice to see her father come out of his depression and become more reliable. I'm looking forward to the next book.(less)
I so looked forward to reading this, and it was a great book, but there was one major problem that kept me from loving it. But first--the great stuff....moreI so looked forward to reading this, and it was a great book, but there was one major problem that kept me from loving it. But first--the great stuff. Flora's finally grown up (in Califa, you're an adult at age 14, and Flora's now 15) but her dream of becoming a Ranger hasn't come true. She's her mother the General's aide, which means more paperwork than anyone should have to do ever, as well as caring for her baby brother Pow. An unlikely chain of events leads to her being requested by one of the Birdie overlords to accompany his wife the Duchesa on her journey from the Birdie homeland to Califa. Then pirates happen. And a daring escape. And an overland journey with a surly wer-creature. And it's all because Flora wants to find her birth mother, believed to be dead but revealed at the end of Flora's Dare to still be alive.
We get to see a lot more of the Republic of Califa than in previous books, which was great. This alternate-Earth has an alternate-Arizona that's even harsher than the reality, complete with Indian (Bronco) Territory and deadly scorpions. Big ones. There's also other countries with whom Califa trades and negotiates, potential allies against the Birdies, and more magical creatures than the denizens and egregores in the first two books. On the whole, Flora's Fury takes place in a much, much broader world than before, and I liked that a lot. Flora's quest to find her mother has just the right amount of challenge, setbacks, and surprise revelations--I love Evil Murdoch the mule. The ending has Flora make a choice, finally, about who she's going to be, and it's a difficult and therefore meaningful choice.
The part I wasn't happy about involved Flora's romantic relationships. (view spoiler)[Okay. I have never liked Udo. He's selfish and vain in Flora Segunda and his grandstanding when they're trying to rescue Boy Hansgen nearly blows the whole operation. Then in Flora's Dare he's shallow enough to get involved with the Warlord's pretentious granddaughter the Zuzu, and greedy and vain enough to get trapped by Springheel Jack's books. But at the end of that book, he finally shows the loyalty and friendship it's always been claimed he has, and turns out to be someone who'd be a good match for Flora. It really looks like that's where their relationship is going. Only in Flora's Fury it seems that they never got past the part where Udo thought Flora rejected him, and he's gone back to the Zuzu and he and Flora aren't even friends anymore. So then we get Tharyn Wraathmyr. He's dark and mysterious, but it turns out he's really just a young guy who's shouldering a lot of burdens, and Flora's attraction to him looks like it could become the real thing. But then--There's that scene where Flora's thinking that she likes Tharyn but doesn't love him, and she's always really loved Udo? Then she chooses Califa over adventure, and Tharyn just disappears in the space of a paragraph, unceremoniously whisked off the stage? And then she meets Udo "for the first time" because she gave up her love for him, and he's suddenly all manly and stuff even though less than a month before that, on the pirate ship, he was still juvenile and pompous? I didn't think Flora could choose Tharyn *and* Califa, but I just didn't believe Udo's transformation, and that's unfortunate because I think their relationship had a much better chance with Flora not remembering their past together. (hide spoiler)]
Flora makes a few bad decisions along the way, most of them because she's angry that everyone has been lying to her. In retrospect, I think her reactions were right. Her mother and Udo, among others, kept her out of the loop for no good reason, and I think anyone would be ticked off that they weren't trustworthy enough to be in on those vital secrets. Especially someone who's expected to play a part in them eventually. Especially when it means making someone believe their best friend is dead. That was an excellent motivating factor for getting Flora where she wanted to be.
And the ending is pretty great. Even believing all along that it could happen, I still didn't expect it. Overall, I liked it a lot, and I hope a second reading later, knowing all the spoilery stuff, will make it even better.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I'm predisposed to like Terry Pratchett's books, so it's no surprise that I loved this one (with a few quibbles). The book begins with the story of a...moreI'm predisposed to like Terry Pratchett's books, so it's no surprise that I loved this one (with a few quibbles). The book begins with the story of a young man driven to create a steam-powered engine--a locomotive--and succeed where his father failed. But almost immediately that plotline is interrupted by a scene that seems completely unrelated that touches on the ongoing internal problems the dwarves of Discworld are having. As the novel progresses, however, it becomes clear that this second plotline is the real story, the culmination of several books' worth of storytelling that began back in The Fifth Elephant (though technically you could make a case for it beginning as far back as Feet of Clay). This is both the strong point of the book and its weakness, because Pratchett is finally bringing this thread to a conclusion, and it's extremely satisfying to see that happen. On the other hand, there's never any sense that the heroes are in real danger from the villains, and the climax, while satisfying, doesn't really put the people involved in danger either.
In the end, though, you read a Discworld novel because you're invested in the world and the characters, and this one delivers on that promise. The Moist von Lipwig books are probably my favorites, and I loved seeing Moist and Adora Belle happily married (which they accomplish by often leading separate lives, and that makes perfect sense for them). Another thing I enjoy is seeing Commander Vimes from someone else's perspective, particularly Moist's--the policeman and the con man. And Vetinari's insistence that they put a rail line all the way through to Uberwald...of course that has nothing to do with Lady Margolotta, because there's nothing between them. Nothing. Don't look any further or it's the kitten torture for you. (Kitten torture made me laugh so hard I had to explain it to my husband.) It's what you'd expect from a Discworld novel, and I was extremely satisfied by it.(less)
Wow. Just...wow. The Fables series has never shied away from the dark and powerful, but this story about two of Snow and Bigby's cubs is extraordinary...moreWow. Just...wow. The Fables series has never shied away from the dark and powerful, but this story about two of Snow and Bigby's cubs is extraordinary in both its level of violence and its gutwrenching portrayal of love and sacrifice. This is not the Fisher King legend I'm familiar with, but it blew me away.(less)
I loved the first two books; I didn't think I'd feel differently about the third; I was not disappointed. What's more, I thought Bitterblue was a bett...moreI loved the first two books; I didn't think I'd feel differently about the third; I was not disappointed. What's more, I thought Bitterblue was a better, stronger book than Graceling or Fire, which is saying something--both of those had a good structure and excellent characterization, but Bitterblue connects the two and completes them.
It took me a few pages to get into Bitterblue, not because the story was slow or confusing, but because it had been so long since I'd read Graceling that I'd forgotten who Bitterblue was and what had happened to her father. Once all of that started to trickle back, I was hooked. Bitterblue isn't the child she was when Katsa rescued her; she's eighteen and beginning to rule her kingdom in her own right, not just through her advisers. That's a red flag right there, because whenever this situation comes up, it's all about the corrupt advisors and how they want to keep control of the kingdom. And that's sort of true here. Except that it isn't. Bitterblue knows she's inexperienced and ignorant, but as she tries to achieve independence, she gradually realizes that something is very wrong with her kingdom--something that goes deeper than trying to recover from 35 years of her father's corrupt, oppressive, malignant rule.
Kristin Cashore has this talent for taking stories and characters that ought to be the nightmares of bad fan-fiction and making them powerful and original. Bitterblue makes anonymous treks into her city, meets people who don't know who she is, even falls in love, but she doesn't spend all her time agonizing about how she's lying to everyone and she shouldn't be there etc. etc. Everything she does rises naturally from her desperate need to learn the truth, and she genuinely doesn't think about how her new friends will react when they learn she's the queen. On some level, she doesn't think of herself as queen, at least not in terms of rank and privilege--only in terms of responsibility.
And I honestly didn't figure out what the truth was about Bitterblue's advisors and her past until Bitterblue did. Cashore gives enough hints that you have a general idea, but they're both true and misleading at the same time. Again, you've got a character who's so unredeemably evil (King Leck) that he ought to be a joke, but he isn't, and the things he did that led to the situation Bitterblue is in are unbelievably horrifying (in the sense that you can't believe anyone could do them) and completely believable.
Finally, (view spoiler)[I loved what she did with Saf and Bitterblue's relationship, even though it has a sad ending. There was never any point where I believed they could stay together, so I wasn't heartbroken when he left--and it just felt right that he did, like it was enough that they'd given each other something important, Saf loving Bitterblue for herself and not her title, Bitterblue giving Saf the name of his Grace. Usually when a love ends like that it makes me sad, but I think this is the first time I felt that an ending really meant a new beginning. (hide spoiler)]
This was a fantastic end to a trilogy, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Cashore does next.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)