I'd heard this was the weakest of the series, but I thought it was rather adorable and quite enjoyed myself. (Perhaps moreso than I normally would hav...moreI'd heard this was the weakest of the series, but I thought it was rather adorable and quite enjoyed myself. (Perhaps moreso than I normally would have, as I just got finished reading a rather dreadful old school 80s romance novel that was just blaaaaahhh.) This was a nice palate cleanser, and I found myself unable to stop reading it, for whatever reason. Excited (and sad) to finish out the series now.(less)
If nothing else, my experiment in reading Charles Stross for the first time resulted in one of the most unique reading experiences I’ve had in the las...moreIf nothing else, my experiment in reading Charles Stross for the first time resulted in one of the most unique reading experiences I’ve had in the last couple of years.
This book was somewhat of an impulse read. I wanted to read Stross’s Neptune’s Brood, because it was one of the few Hugo noms I hadn’t read yet, but noticed it was the second in a series. All the reviews said you didn’t need to read the first one, but I’m me, and I have to do things in order or my brain will explode and I will die. So I picked this up from the library because it was there when I went to pick up Skin Game . . . and, well . . .
So, you know how they say never to judge a book by its cover? This book is, like, the epitome of that cliched phrase. It’s what that cliche was invented for. Because honestly? I think most of the time that phrase is shit. I judge books by their covers ALL THE TIME. And you know what? I am REALLY REALLY GOOD at picking out books that I end up liking. Covers are definitely a factor that I consider (though by no means are they the only factor). There are definitely books I’ve loved that have horrible covers, but they are the exception, not the rule. And the thing about Saturn’s Children isn’t even that it’s a bad cover (in the sense that the artwork quality is poor), just an extraordinarily ill-chosen one:
The first edition of @cstross's SATURN'S CHILDREN has the porniest cover. I was getting the DIRTIEST looks while reading in public today.
I’m assuming this is a complaint he receives often, as he replied to me with this link to his blog. And I get it. I even think the cover makes sense in context, although I also think it’s probably somewhat of a cheap ploy on the part of the publishers. And a certain kind of reader is very much going to be drawn to this book, either because they want to read naughty fiction, or because (like me) they’re going to go WHAT THE HELL? and then get really, really curious about what that book could possibly contain. But most people? Uh, they’re going to get the wrong idea. I have a strong feeling that this cover probably turned away more potential readers than it brought in, but that’s just my opinion.
So why does the cover make sense in context? Well, because the main character is a sexbot. Or rather, a femmebot. Anyway, she’s an artificially intelligent robot, and she and her lineage sisters were designed to please a race of beings that went extinct soon after she was created. That’s right, Freya (our heroine) is a sexbot without anyone to have sex with. Her very purpose for existing is dead and gone. And with Freya and her sisters, it’s not just about sex. They are also programmed to love their creators uncontrollably, to the point of losing their minds and their free will. But Freya and her sisters, though their slavery is the most obvious, are not the only robots to depend on humans. All robots are programmed to be subserviant to human kind. In the absence of humans, however, robot class itself has stratified, with certain ‘high class’ robots rising up to be ‘aristos,’ dominating over their fellow robots with money, power, and in some cases, slave chips.
While I found large parts of this engaging, even bizarrely humorous, a lot of the time I was simply frustrated, due to the way Stross structured his narrative. The biggest problem, I think, was the passive narrator, Freya. Her story is told in the first person, and as immediately engaging as this was, it was equally problematic. Freya spends most of the book almost as confused as the reader (I say almost, because at least Freya has the rather large advantage of knowing the way her own world works — we as readers have to sort that out, as well as what the hell else is going on). The whole book, we follow Freya as she goes from one place to another, often on very long and arduous space journeys, given missions by one boss or another, and only getting trickles of information at a time. She barely makes any decisions for herself, and doesn’t engage in self-analysis (or much of any other kind of analysis) until the end of the book. Now, I recognize that her behavior is part of the criticism of slavery, that she has been trained by her social system to passively accept life around her and follow orders, but that doesn’t make reading about her story in this fashion any less frustrating (or confusing, as Stross chose to add espionage plots on top of the rest of it). It’s basically a clusterfuck of confusion, at least until the end, and even then I’m still not entirely sure I understood it all.
Sci-fi as a genre is fixated on ideas, and Stross excels at that. His plots and characters illuminate the issues of slavery, economy, identity, and the stagnation that results in interesting ways. His worldbuilding is also excellent–the robot society he imagined is vivid, and spread across the solar system. His universe feels lived in and plausible (brief flashes of dirt and humor make it more so). Even the fact that the robots have sex (and they have a lot of it) lends an extra dimension of reality to his fictional world. And the idea of examining a post-human world (in which one of the objectives of the robots is actually to resurrect humanity) is a brilliant one. But great sci-fi doesn’t just have ideas, it has ideas and great characters. It’s in that respect that I think this book is lacking. Freya makes for an easy and interesting point of view in this world, but she herself is an empty vessel.
Anyway, despite the issues I had with it, the flashes of brilliance I saw in it were enough that I will definitely be reading more of Stross’s stuff in the future.(less)
A fitting end, even if I’m not happy about it. At all. Except for I’m happy with most of it except for that one part that was AWFUL AND HORRIBLE AND I...moreA fitting end, even if I’m not happy about it. At all. Except for I’m happy with most of it except for that one part that was AWFUL AND HORRIBLE AND I HATE IT. And the rest of it was great, but I’m bitter.
In case you can’t tell, I’m a little too emotional to give this a proper review. I have no idea what I’m about to type.
First things first: until THAT THING happened, this was hands down my favorite book in the series, and my favorite Tamora Pierce book that I’ve read. I was just really digging it: the atmosphere, the stakes, the characters, all of it. And then THE THING, which I did not see coming, and which I thought was totally an OOC (out of character) moment. And I just . . . lost my mind?
But first, the good.
Mastiff is the final book in the Beka Cooper trilogy. It picks up three years after Bloodhound, on the morning Beka is burying her fiance, a fellow Dog who was killed in a slaving raid. Everyone expects her to be devastated, but she isn’t. She and Holborn (the dude) had been growing apart for a long time, and she had been about to end it before Holborn died. This puts Beka in a really interesting headspace for the rest of the novel. She throws herself into the Hunt. The Hunt this time? The King has been making changes of late that certain nobles and mages do not approve of (because it takes away some of their super speshful power privileges), so they conspire to kidnap the four year old prince, and kill about half of the summer palace staff in the process. Beka and her partner, Tunstall, are called to work the case because the King doesn’t trust anyone around him, and Achoo is the best scent hound in the city. They’re paired up with a strange mage named Farmer Cape and Tunstall’s lady-knight/lady-friend, Sabine, and set off to track down the little prince, unveiling a conspiracy in the process that’s wrapped up in issues of class, slavery, and power.
I loved the Hunt, and seeing different parts of Tortall. I liked the dynamic between Beka, Tunstall, Sabine and Farmer. I LOVE Farmer, who perplexes Beka by constantly acting like a ‘looby’ in order to get his enemies to underestimate him, and he’s talented and kind and just adorable. It was interesting seeing Pierce working in the cult of the Gentle Mother, which is surely responsible for transforming Tortallan culture for the ladies, making it into a world two hundred years later where in order to be a knight, Alanna would have to dress up like a boy. The central mystery of what happened to the prince and why was also really interesting. There was also a really harrowing scene involving Achoo the doge that had me almost falling off my couch in panic (but she quickly fixed it, also in an interesting manner).
I still think the frame for this was cheesy and unnecessary (we could have figured out on our own that Pounce the cat/constellation in this series was also Faithful the cat/constellation from The Song of the Lioness quartet). But Pierce does have a tendency to slip into cutesy-wutesy mode every once in a while, which is something I knew going into this series, so I can’t really hold it against her. The journal format still creaks and groans under the story. There is no way Beka could have written all those words while on that stressful (and busy) of a Hunt, and the story would have played much better with a plain first person POV. But those are small complaints I’m willing to overlook. THE THING, however, is something I’m having trouble doing that for.
Beware, here be spoilers.
So THE THING: (view spoiler)[Tunstall (the same Tunstall we’ve known and loved now for years) turns out to be a traitor who sabotages their mission half-way through, kills a young boy, and is responsible for who knows what else damage, all because he wanted to marry Lady Sabine and he (a commoner) didn’t think he was worthy. He thought the conspirators would give him land and a title, and Sabine would never be the wiser. Beka catches him out, and he ends up dying of cold and shock in the middle of the night after their big fight. This was a HUGE shock. Tunstall was always portrayed as the sort of man who always did the right thing. We had a definite opinion about him, we loved him, and to have him do this is a betrayal not just to the characters, but to us as readers as well.
And look, I get the impulse here, but I hate it anyway. Pierce has never shied away from writing characters who do morally ambiguous things, and she has always written about the conflicts caused by inequality. When Tunstall ends up explaining himself to Beka (via pigeon as a ghost, of course), his motives sort of retroactively make sense (he even points out that he did tell them the conspirators approached him half-way through and offered him a bribe. He even tells them he accepted that bribe. They all just assume he accepted it as a ruse, when it turns out he didn’t.) But it just didn’t work for me. You can’t take a beloved character like that and just betray everything he stands for, not without a little more build-up at least. We had absolutely no clue that Tunstall was having all these FEELINGS. If we had, we might have felt more emotionally prepared for his betrayal, but as it’s written, it just seems to come out of nowhere, and his explanation after it’s all gone down only serves to blunt the hurt rather than make it acceptable.
I mean, not evening the adorbs of Farmer and Beka getting engaged and the little prince ending slavery could make up for it. (hide spoiler)]
NB: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program, but that has not affected the content of my review.
IIIII...moreNB: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program, but that has not affected the content of my review.
IIIIIIIIIIIII . . . have no idea how to rate this book*. I have no idea how to talk about this book. I have no idea how to think about this book. I mean, on the one hand, I’m so glad something like this — so weird and weird and just weird — can be published. But on the other hand, I have no frame of reference for really talking about it? Other than maybe Watership Down or Animal Farm, but those books had such different agendas from this one that the comparison doesn’t really work for me.
*One of my favorite sentences from this review was left out on purpose because I felt weird posting it to GR. You can see it here if you're so inclined.
In terms of mechanics, The Bees is a very good novel. Laline Paull — a playwright who went to Oxford — is good with words. Her description — her worldbuilding, I guess you’d call it — is also very compelling and well-drawn. I was very much in that beehive every step of the way. It was also fascinating to get so deep into the inner workings of a beehive: the different types of bees, their duties, their lifespans, and habits, their fears and desires. The problem for me comes in the story that Paull chose to tell using all of those tools at her disposal. I was never quite sure what the point of it all was, and it seemed clear to me that she was trying to make a point. But I kept getting mixed messages from the text.
Our eyes into this story are Flora 717′s eyes. We follow Flora from the moment she emerges as a self-aware being, a member of the lowest caste of bees in the hive: a sanitation worker (the floras). Other bees look down on her, and most of the members of her caste are mute (and presumed dumb). But for whatever reason (ahem), Flora is quickly scooped up by a higher caste of bee when they learn she can produce Flow (Paull’s term for the substance fed to bee larvae). This establishes the pattern for the rest of Flora’s life, that due to convenient or unforeseen circumstances, Flora ends up exceeding the mandate of her caste and ‘serving time’ as many, many different types of bee. The reason why Flora is so unusual is never made clear, and the conclusion of the novel doesn’t offer any sort of thematic or metaphoric answer, either. It ended up feeling like Paull wrote Flora as special so that we as readers could visit so many different parts of the hive and experience so many different parts of bee life, which would have been impossible to do through the eyes of just one bee under normal conditions (as implied by the word ‘caste,’ bee society is strictly compartmentalized).
Okay, so this is where my mind starts to do whirligigs, because all the while Flora is having her mystical magical Mary-Sue* journey through the beehive, being stuff she’s not supposed to be (and being the best at whatever thing of the moment) and meeting the queen and reading forbidden books and foraging and laying forbidden eggs all over the place, you get the idea that we’re mean to to think Flora is righteous for doing all of these transgressive things (an idea affirmed by the ending). Like, how dare you bee society make all these bees do these things and tell them what they can an cannot be? And how dare you mind control them with the scent of the queen and not let them lay eggs? Everybody should lay eggs! Let’s all just lay some fuckin’ eggs and have a party! Except, that feeling doesn’t really have an actual basis in the text other than us rooting for Flora because she’s the protagonist. Flora herself is very Pro-Queen, Pro-Beehive. She likes her hive and never once expresses distress or unhappiness at the state of things, even as she flits from one occupation to another.
*Is it possible for a bee to be a Mary Sue? Discuss.
Part of me wants to conclude there is no intellectual or metaphorical basis for Flora’s actions, but everything else in the text, the marketing, the motto of the bees (ACCEPT, OBEY, SERVE) screams ‘DYSTOPIA’. Except, the function of a dystopia is to exaggerate and highlight social flaws, and at least in terms of effectiveness, there aren’t any flaws in bee society. The bees do all they do for survival, for actual concrete reasons. There is no discrimination going on when a bee won’t let another bee transcend its boundaries. Bee society is a function of evolution, and a highly effective (and ancient) one if my quick Google-fu is to be believed. That’s the main difference between this book and books like like Animal Farm and Watership Down — the animals in those books are vehicles for examining *human* society through a different sort of lens. The bees in this book have no such function, at least not one I could find. So maybe this is a marketing problem*, not a writing problem entirely. Especially considering the ending, which seems to imply this book was more of an exploration than a condemnation, strongly implying a focus on the cycle of death and rebirth in the natural world, and meditating on how one’s life is used up in pursuit of things far out of one’s control. Frankly, I find that a far more affecting thing to explore.
*The back cover of my ARC was entirely taken up by giant black capital letters: ACCEPT OBEY SERVE. Not something you could miss. Also, the fuckers kept comparing this book to The Hunger Games, which is SO COMPLETELY ABSURD and also WRONG (also The Handmaid’s Tale, which is a bit more appropriate), . This book has almost no similarity to the HG trilogy at all. They’re just using HG as a trap to draw people in, and those people who bite are going to be very disappointed.
After writing the bulk of this review, I did some Googling and found a couple of interviews where Laline Paull talks about the book. It might be interesting to note that the phenomenon of the laying worker is an actual thing that happens in beehives, and that it was a central source of her inspiration for the novel. Not that it helps me now. I’ve already read the book, and I don’t feel she accomplished very much in terms of exploring that concept. As noted above, it mostly just made Flora come off like a Mary Sue.
Overall, this book was fast and easy to read, highly informative about bees, and maybe worth it if you like weird and interesting things to puzzle over and dissect, but as a piece of literature, I think The Bees is too confused to be of much value. But that might just be me. Take my opinion with a grain of salt. I did after all warn you right up front that I had no idea what to do with it.(less)
I suppose it was sort of inevitable that I wouldn’t like this one as much as I enjoyed Terrier, but I felt Bloodhound (the second book in Pierce’s Bek...moreI suppose it was sort of inevitable that I wouldn’t like this one as much as I enjoyed Terrier, but I felt Bloodhound (the second book in Pierce’s Beka Cooper trilogy) had some structural and pacing issues that hampered my enjoyment.
Bloodhound picks up a year and a half after the events of the last book. Beka has been an official Dog now for almost a year, but she can’t keep a partner. They’re either incompetent or can’t keep up with her. And then she gets saddled with a scent hound named Achoo when she catches her handler abusing her (not that she sees this as a problem, because Achoo is adorable). Things in the Lower City are on edge due to a bad rye harvest, and people are on the verge of panicking that a long and hungry winter is ahead of them. And on top of that, someone has been circulating forged silver coins (‘coles’), which threaten to raise the price of silver so high that it will have catastrophic results for not only the local economy, but that of the whole country. A riot breaks out when a popular bakery raises the price of bread, and both Beka and her former training partner Tunstall are injured. Because of Tunstall’s injuries, the Lord Provost chooses her, Achoo, and Goodwin (Tunstall’s partner) to head over to the neighboring port city of Port Caynn to track down the colemongers.
The main problem with this is that we’re almost halfway through the book by the time Goodwin and Beka get to Port Caynn, and once they’re there we’re in for even more set-up before Beka can really get down to it and start her investigation. I also felt the colemongering plot was inherently less interesting than the two cases from the first book. It’s not that it was bad or anything, it just didn’t hold my attention very much. And because of all those pacing issues, I wasn’t zooming through it like a mad person, and thus more able to notice things that bothered me. Beka’s journalling seemed an even more flimsy way to tell this story, especially when her entries would go on for thousands and thousands of words. She mentions she’s writing in a sort of shorthand (Dog cypher), but even so, it’s too much. There’s no way Beka could have conceivably written all of this, especially while on a Hunt, and especially considering the reason Pierce has her doing it read as pretty flimsy to me. She should have just nixed the journal format completely, or changed the way she had Beka write it all out. (She seriously writes out conversations word for word like a regular 1st person narrator.)
Not that it was all bad (not that any of it was bad, actually, just less fun and interesting). I still really liked Beka, loved Achoo, and liked seeing Beka exploring a new city. A couple of the twists were also really interesting (and horribly sad). But overall, I just wasn’t as interested in watching Beka chase down money forgers as I was watching her learn how to be a Dog and chasing down child-kidnappers.
I’ll save you having to read this review: Just go watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube. I mean it. GO!
Okay, now when you’re done with that, come...moreI’ll save you having to read this review: Just go watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube. I mean it. GO!
Okay, now when you’re done with that, come back and read this review. And then maybe get yourself a copy of The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet and snuggle up in your reading chair for a couple of hours.
What this book is, basically, is an adaptation of a YouTube series, which is itself a modern day adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, told in interactive vlog-form (there are additional in-world videos, Tumblrs, and Twitter accounts, and if you watched live, you could interact with the characters). Please note: you absolutely don’t have to have read P&P to enjoy the series. I didn’t cotton on to it until it was about a month away from being finished, so I had the glorious experience of binge-watching almost all of it. I think I might have watched like, seventy-five episodes in a row or something. I remember I was sick at the time, and I just sat in front of my computer for nine hours straight (in a rather uncomfortable chair, I might add, since I didn’t have a laptop at that point, or the ability to stream YouTube on my TV like I do now). Such was the power of the narrative.
I had almost the same experience with the book, in that I read it straight through. I was a bit worried going in that it would just be a rehash of what I’d already seen in the series, but a majority of it is either new content (stuff they wanted to put in the show, but either couldn’t find a way to logistically make it work, or which wouldn’t have been something we learned via the chosen vlog format), or old content viewed in a new way. And since Lizzie is a grad student, it’s also sort of a meta-commentary on the videos she made (which in-universe were made as part of a graduate project).
Maybe I’m sort of underselling how fun both the book and webseries are. Especially the webseries. Lizzie gets around the problem of having people she’s talking about in the videos by role-playing with her family and friends, and it’s the goofiest fake costume drama ever. I’m also sort of obsessed with the girl who plays Jane, who has now guest starred on Bones, Sleepy Hollow, and turned up on Big Bang Theory as Raj’s love interest. For my money she’ll always be Jane Bennet, though. She’s so good at it! And she has the best hair ever.
Also, y’all should watch Emma Approved, which is Pemberley Digital’s adaptation of Emma, and Frankenstein M.D., which is their gender-swapped adaptation (partnered with PBS) of Frankenstein. Because the internet is amazeballs. Which is a real word now, so I’m totes allowed to use it.
You know how sometimes you go to review a book and you just can’t figure out what to say about it? For, like, weeks on end? And meanwhile you keep rea...moreYou know how sometimes you go to review a book and you just can’t figure out what to say about it? For, like, weeks on end? And meanwhile you keep reading, and your stack of things-to-review just keeps growing. And growing? And grooooowwing. This is one of those times. It’s not that I don’t have thoughts and feelings, and not that I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did and I do, but I’m having a hard time getting up the energy to condense and organize all those thoughts and feelings in order to write about them.
In many ways, Red Rising is a pastiche of a lot of stories that have come before it, but this book is exactly why I don’t think being a pastiche is necessarily a bad thing. If done well, taking a bunch of cool shit from other places and recombining all of it into new and exciting configurations can result in a really fun reading experience. Which I think this mostly was for me, barring some quibbles. Certainly it had the quality I most look for in a book, which is immersiveness. I was IN this world and I didn’t want to put it down until I’d found out exactly how it ended.
Be warned, I’m about to spoil the first fifty or so pages of this book so that I can talk about the rest of it.
Red Rising takes place on Mars far in the future – not sure how far, at least a thousand years from now, probably more. Darrow is a Helldiver, a young man who’s spent his entire life being worked like a slave under the surface of the planet, supposedly mining gas so that future generations will be able to live and colonize the surface of Mars. Darrow is also a Red, one of the lowest classes of human being living in a hierarchical society ruled by Golds. The Golds hijacked humanity centuries before when genetic engineering and eugenics began to produce humans so physically superior to the others that they felt themselves entitled to more, first on Earth, and then on Mars. Their society is heavily influenced by the Roman Empire, right down to the ‘worship’ of Roman Gods, and the use of Roman military tactics and structures. You get the feeling that most of this is superficial, a call back to an age of supposed glory meant to reinforce the glorious image of the Golds. But we mostly only learn all of this as Darrow does. Because, yeah, as he learns after an act of rebellion on the part of his wife, he and the other Reds aren’t working towards some future Mars where his descendants can live in peace on the surface. They’re working for the current Mars, which is already colonized (for hundreds of years now) and are being kept below the surface to mine resources for those living above.
It’s at this point that young Darrow – bent on revenge after the death of his sixteen year old wife, Eo (Reds live and die young) — is recruited by revolutionaries who mean to turn him into a Gold and have him infiltrate society from within in order to bring it crashing down.
So that’s the set-up. The majority of the novel takes place as Darrow accomplishes said infiltrating, which involves genetic manipulation, lots of training, and a Gold military academy. Darrow is aiming high. The academy is the best part of the book. The Golds’ training is hands on and brutal, and really compelling. None of Pierce’s characters are particularly lovable or deeply drawn, but the stakes he sets up are intense. I finished the book feeling like I’d just gotten off a particularly intense roller coaster.
I did have some issues with the book, mostly to do with the writing style. Pierce is a young writer and he has some talent and probably a really bright future ahead of him, especially once he matures a little bit as a writer, but there were places that were just really overwritten, mostly at the beginning of the book when the plot wasn’t as interesting. When writers think they’re being profound it’s profoundly irritating to me. I would have also appreciated a little bit more character development. It was very plot and action heavy, and could have done with a little bit of weight on the other end of the spectrum. Unlike other readers, I didn’t mind the violence. Maybe I’m just desensitized (ahem, Joe Abercrombie and Game of Thrones, AHEM SPARTACUS) . . . but it seemed pretty tame to me. (Reviews I read made it seem like a really violent book, so I had prepared myself. By the end I was like, okay yeah, a little gruesome, but go watch a guy get his dick cut off and then get crucified and come back here and tell me this was a violent book.)
Overall, it was a good reading experience, and I’m excited to see where he takes books two and three.(less)
HOLY SHIT, Y’ALL. Sending out the Bat Signal. This is a book you should read probably as soon as possible.
I can’t believe it took me almost nine month...moreHOLY SHIT, Y’ALL. Sending out the Bat Signal. This is a book you should read probably as soon as possible.
I can’t believe it took me almost nine months to hear about this book, and I only heard about it then because a particularly prolific book blogger I follow on Goodreads received a free review copy of the audiobook, and also gave it five stars. She also had not heard of it before, even though it had been published last May. This is a travesty. Everyone should be reading this book and singing its praises to the rooftops. Fucking everyone.
Golden Boy centers around Max Walker, an intersex teenager who identifies as male. The only people who know about his ambiguous gender are his parents, who have done all they could since he was a baby to make his life as normal as possible. In fact, everyone loves Max. His brother adores him, he’s popular at school, is great at sports, the top in all his classes, and is kind to everyone. But when Max is raped by a trusted childhood friend, things fall apart quickly. It sets in motion a process of self-discovery not just for Max, but for his entire family, and the girl he’s fallen in love with.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot because then I’d be a ruiner, but I would like to point out that I started this book at 5 PM on a Friday night, fully intending on only reading a couple of chapters before heading out for a movie or calling up a friend to go eat or something, but then somehow it was eight and then ten o’clock, and then I ended up reading straight through until the end. It was almost midnight by the time I finished (at which point I exploded my feelings all over Twitter, where the author responded very kindly, but more importantly, where I got at least two people to buy it that night). I shall continue my mission to make everyone read it forthwith.
The novel is told by several different narrators as they go about their lives and deal, knowingly and unknowingly, with the fallout from the rape: Max himself, his little brother Daniel (who is a bit odd, and knows it), his lawyer mother, his crush Sylvie, his doctor Archie from the local clinic, and a couple from the POV of his father, who is running for a seat in Parliament. What’s great about this is how distinct each voice is. I’m of the firm opinion that you can tell how talented an author is by their use of first person POV. It takes someone very talented to create a character’s distinct voice, one that helps to shape the character’s arc as well as portraying their personality (the beautiful harmony of style and function), and Abigail Tarttelin manages to create six. (Contrast this to several YA books I’ve read in the last couple of years where the first person narrators are indistinguishable not only from one another, but also from the author’s voice).
And if all that sexy talk of form and function isn’t doing it for you, perhaps I can interest you in the UTTER AND TOTAL AGONY OF EMOTIONS that you will also experience.
And it’s not just that the book is well-written, has interesting characters that you fall in love with or become extremely angry with, and centers on an interesting topic. Because it does all of those things very, very well. But it also happens to be insightful and beautiful and horrible and wonderful and uplifting all at the same time. And like all great pieces of literature, it manages to weave its thematic threads so subtly that you don’t realize you’re being wrapped up in them until they’ve got you tight without any possible hope of escape. It’s a great book, is what I’m saying. It’s the book I wanted from Middlesex (although I did quite enjoy that book, problems with it aside). It’s the book I never knew I always wanted.
Turns out I'm not going to write a full review of this, but I did want to get some quick thoughts down about it while they're still fresh. Mostly I ju...moreTurns out I'm not going to write a full review of this, but I did want to get some quick thoughts down about it while they're still fresh. Mostly I just want to talk about how fun it was to read a book about a girl who is so competent at something girls aren't usually good at in novels, and who has a chance to do something serious, with real consequence. I liked the twist half-way through with Dove and Sarai, and I love love love Aly and Nawat together. This doesn't get five stars from me, though, because I feel like it got a bit bogged down with all the spy/revolution stuff for a while and forgot about its characters. There was just so much detail that Aly had to take in as the spymaster for the rebellion, and we had to hear about it too, that it just got overwhelming sometimes. It was a relief when actual things would happen to Aly or her friends/co-conspirators because then it felt like a novel again, rather than a historical chronicle.(less)
On this my third reading of this book, I thought I’d try something a little bit different for the review. It was either this or wax poetic like the ex...moreOn this my third reading of this book, I thought I’d try something a little bit different for the review. It was either this or wax poetic like the ex-graduate student that I am, and nobody here wants to read that. (Not to mention, they don’t let you curse in graduate level writing, which is one of the many reasons I decided not to do that sort of thing anymore.)
- – -
Dear Mrs. Reed,
You are a dick. In the parlance of your time, I’m not sure there’s anything I can say to you that will equal being called a dick. Perhaps ‘bad egg’? But no, not strong enough. ‘Hedge-born’ has a nice class-based ring to it, but I’m also partial to ‘fawning foot-licker,’ ‘bat-fouled canker-blossom,’ and ‘fat-kidneyed fustilarian’. What does that even mean? Anyway one or all of those surely apply to you, even though I’m not entirely confident of their context.
For fucks’s sake, she was just a little girl. She wanted you to love her — it’s really not that complicated. Get over yourself.
- – -
Dear Mr. Brocklehurst,
You are the worst. You don’t even deserve a real letter.
- – -
Sometimes I feel like you are too good to be true, but that’s mostly because the things you see as flaws in your personality don’t really feel like flaws to me, although it’s clear those around you agreed you could do with some improving. As far as I’m concerned, though, you are kind and loving and open-hearted, and you made friends with Jane Eyre, which forever endears you to me. You were her first friend in the entire world, and your life touched hers at just the right time, so that she took your example to heart probably more than she would have otherwise.
P.S. I’m sorry you died. That really sucks.
- – -
I’m sorry your probably-father Mr. Rochester refuses to treat you like an actual person. As if being of “inferior stock” (i.e. the illegitmate daughter of a French dancer) means you deserve to be treated like cattle. I guess Mr. Rochester is one of those people who thinks everyone should have the exact same intelligence level and interests in order to be worthy. At least you have Jane Eyre to love you the way you are, and according to her, you turned out pretty sensible after all.
- – -
Dear Mr. Rochester,
Look . . . I know it sucks you married, first of all, someone who turned out to be shallow and temperamental at the best of times (although she was beautiful, and probably a hellion in the sack), and second, utterly mad and spiteful at the worst of times, but dude. Come on. Get your shit together. Enough with the mindfuckery.
I know you learned most of this by the end of the novel, which was why Jane was finally able to marry you as her equal, but here are some things that I feel I need to tell you anyway:
•It is perfectly understandable that you fell in love with Jane. She was intelligent, kind, and she loved you back for some unfathomable reason. I am choosing to ignore the possibility that you sensed her extreme need for love and companionship and took advantage of it. I am giving you the benefit of the doubt here. So yes, falling love (even with your governess) I suppose is okay. It is Romantic and tragic. •It is NOT okay to lead your governess to fall in love with you when you are already married. •It is NOT okay to parade a beautiful woman around, pretending you are going to marry her, just to get a reaction out of your beloved. And I suppose I have to explain to you why that is wrong, although Jane did a pretty good job of it herself (not that you listened to her). Firstly, it is cruel to the woman you supposedly love to make her think you are engaged to someone else. You willingly caused her pain as a test of her love, which did not increase in the slightest due to your mindfuckery. And second, it is cruel to Blanche Ingram, and even though she isn’t a very nice person, she is still a person with feelings, and I’m sure she was hurt and confused after your flattery and blatant hints of matrimony when it turned out you weren’t interested at all. You self-obsessed ass.
•It is NOT okay to dress up like a gypsy woman to fuck around with women’s heads and get secret stuff out of them. What the hell were you thinking. •It is NOT okay to propose to another woman, no matter how much you love her, whilst you are still married to another motherfucking woman. •It is NOT okay to accept your beloved’s betrothal without first telling her that YOU ARE ALREADY MARRIED. •And while we’re at it, it is NOT okay to keep your wife locked away in an attic, when she is obviously mentally ill. I’m sure you would (and have) argued that she was evil to begin with, but I think you’re full of shit. It was a loveless marriage to begin with, and if your willingless to just lock away the problem and dehumanize a woman who once shared your bed is any indication, you probably started to treat her like shit even before the first sign of trouble, because like Adele, she wasn’t ‘worthy’ of your respectful regard. Is it any wonder she didn’t act like a perfect angel, madness aside? If I was fucking married to someone who thought I was worthless and kept me locked away in an attic like an animal, I’d probably try to burn him in his bed, too.
And it only took you having your whole house burnt down, your betrothal disappearing into the mist, and the loss of a hand and an eye for you to learn all of this. If you even learned it all. I’m still skeptical.
At any rate, you lucked out with Jane Eyre. You don’t deserve her.
- – -
You read as the villain of the piece to someone who passes through the book without turning their brain on, but I really think you’re the most tragic part about it. Screw Rochester and his brooding and sadness and his handless arm and loneliness. You married a dude who didn’t love you, thought you were “slatternly” (whatever that means), and at the first sign of illness, dude fucking locked you away in an attic and tried to pretend you didn’t exist.
Perhaps it helps that I’ve read this magnificent piece of literary criticism (one of the few lit-crit books I actively enjoyed), but to me you seem to be the voiceless center of the novel, the secret around which all events rotate. Only when your story is closed is Jane’s story free to end as well, and perhaps that’s because your plight makes tangible what Jane has been feeling all her life, and until abandoning Rochester on the day of their wedding, never acted upon.
But even if a person hasn’t read that book like I have, I find it hard to believe that any right-thinking person can come out of this book not feeling that you’ve been wronged, and that Mr. Rochester is an ass-backwards toerag. And if they do, they probably also think Edward Cullen is the shiz. I suppose being a teenage girl isn’t a sin, but hopefully they’ll grow out of it. And in the spirit of full confession, I suppose I, too have loved my very own brooding, obsessive, and self-destructive man. “American Heathcliff, brooding and comely,” indeed.
- – -
Dear St. John,
I super despised you on my first two readings of this book, but now I just feel sorry for you. You’ve managed to confuse deprivation with sanctity, and you think that it makes you a better person, despite your inability to feel compassion for others. What’s worse, you don’t only let this belief affect your own life, but you actively shame others for not behaving in the same manner. When Jane refuses your proposal of marriage, rightly believing your lifestyle would smother and kill her (although she blames the Indian climate), instead of respecting her opinion, you refuse to accept it. On separate occasions, you continue refusing to respect or accept her decision that she DOESN’T FUCKING WANT TO MARRY YOUR ASS, and on your final confrontation, you escalate to outright righteous hostility, shaming, and fear-mongering. You say this:
“No,” said he; “it is a long-cherished scheme, and the only one which can secure my great end: but I shall urge you no further at present. To-morrow, I leave home for Cambridge: I have many friends there to whom I should wish to say farewell. I shall be absent a fortnight—take that space of time to consider my offer: and do not forget that if you reject it, it is not me you deny, but God. Through my means, He opens to you a noble career; as my wife only can you enter upon it. Refuse to be my wife, and you limit yourself for ever to a track of selfish ease and barren obscurity. Tremble lest in that case you should be numbered with those who have denied the faith, and are worse than infidels!”
Just, fuck you, dude.
Lucky for you, Jane is a lot more forgiving than I am, and she cherishes you as her cousin. I also see from this reading that Bronte was using you as Mr. Rochester’s opposite. Whereas Mr. Rochester cared nothing for Jane’s agency in terms of showing her the full situation and allowing her to make a choice, going so far as to ignore her principles and becoming angry when she refuses to become his mistress (also: treating her like a wifely object and objectifying her as the pure and holy opposite to his demon wife, Bertha), you also care nothing for her agency, but instead of wishing her to abandon her principles, you wish to force on her your own. You wish to put her in a little box and make her conform to your ridiculous ideas about Christianity, which do not involve the compassion and forgiveness of Christ, and are extreme in their nature.
In short, you got problems, dude. And unlike Mr. Rochester, you never have a chance to learn your lesson.
- – -
I will confess to you I do not understand your attraction to Mr. Rochester. In my previous two readings of your life story, I just accepted that you loved him because you told me so. This time, I couldn’t fathom the attraction. Was it his manliness? Was it his gruffness? Was it that you could be rude around him with no consequence? Was it that he so clearly loved you? Or was it that you just wanted to be loved so very badly that you accepted it from the first person willing to give it to you? What does he give you that makes you love him so? I would appreciate answers on this matter.
Other than your choice of life partner, I do want to tell you that I quite admire the fuck out of you. You steadfastly endured a rather horrible childhood, made something of yourself, went after the things you wanted, and when your principles and your sense of self were due to be compromised, you removed yourself from the harmful situations causing them to be so. And even though I don’t get the Mr. Rochester thing, I respect that you didn’t let him pull his shit with you, and you only married him when he was in a position to be your equal.
I'm officially a fan of this series, now. A lot of the stuff I had issues with in the last book was addressed here, and the story itself and the chara...moreI'm officially a fan of this series, now. A lot of the stuff I had issues with in the last book was addressed here, and the story itself and the characters just dug into my gut. Diving into next book now. Who knows when I will come up for air. Full review later.(less)
Was sort of uninterested in this book, until I read this blog post by the author. Boom! Sudden interest, give it to me now. And I’m really glad I pick...moreWas sort of uninterested in this book, until I read this blog post by the author. Boom! Sudden interest, give it to me now. And I’m really glad I picked it up. My experience with Hild is the textbook example of why it’s a good idea to read outside your normal genres every once in a while. I don’t read very much historical fiction, and those I do read are usually the ones that have some sort of unusual hook, like TWO SOLDIERS IN WWII RUSSIA LOOK FOR A DOZEN EGGS FOR A WEDDING CAKE! (City of Thieves) or WOMAN TIME TRAVELS TO SCOTLAND AND HAS LOTS OF SEX! (Outlander). In comparison, Hild is rather tame, and MUCH more in depth.
Hild is Nicola Griffith’s examination of the early years of St. Hilda of Whitby, about whom almost nothing is known, except that she was probably one of the most influential women who ever lived. (Really, you should click that link at the top — it’s very interesting.) Griffith became obsessed with St. Hilda after visiting the ruined abbey where St. Hilda once lived, did a shit-ton of research into the middle ages and how women lived, and then decided to write this book. And her decision to not ignore the realities of women’s lives back then, which mostly featured around raising children and weaving, was a brave one. I mean, women did nothing back then, how could a book like that possibly be interesting?
It helps that our protagonist is not just any woman, but the niece of the King, and daughter of the man who should have been king, had he not been poisoned. And that Hild’s mother prophesied before she was even born that she would be “the light of the world,” a prophecy that her mother works hard to make come true, and which Hild herself fulfills not by any mystical means, but by being observant and clever and using common sense. She becomes the King’s seer, predicting events and advising him before she even has her first period. She is instrumental, in Griffith’s version of the story, in shaping her world even as young as the age of seven.
The book follows her from the age of three, when she learns her father has died and has to immediately seek the succor of his brother (who probably was the one who had him killed) for protection, all the while fearing he might see them as a threat. Due to her precarious position, she also seeks to learn how to defend herself with the help of her half-brother Cian (a character Griffith created), a gesith (knight) in the King’s court. Cian’s position is similarly precarious. He believes he is the bastard son of one king, Ceredig, a lie his mother and Hild’s mother let him believe to protect him. If Edwin King knew Cian was really the son of his late brother, he would likely see him as a threat and have him killed. As a result, Cian and Hild’s relationship becomes rather complicated. Anyway, he teaches her to wield a staff, and to properly fight with her seax (a gift from another King), because it was expressly forbidden for women to learn to fight with a sword. So Hild held a position few men, let alone women, ever held: king’s advisor, seer, warrior, landowner, with the freedom to speak as she pleased to men of authority.
God, there’s so much in this book I still want to talk about. How Griffith treats class, and the intermingling of the different races (Wealh (British), Anglo-Saxon, Franks, etc.). How Hild, a speaker of multiple languages, acts as a bridge for all these different peoples. How the whole book is a sneaky exploration of how the coming of Christianity to Britain changed the political and cultural landscape. The way she treats gender and sexuality (which was much more fluid back then, before the coming of Christianity). How she works all of this subtly into a book-long metaphor about women and weaving and family and friendship, and knitting things together. UGH SO GOOD.
This is a long book, but it’s worth it for the feeling you have almost immediately that you’re the one who’s time-traveled, back to the 7th century in England, before England was even a thing. It’s almost unbelievable how Nicola Griffith is able to create such an intense, detailed world inhabited by real people out of the bare scraps of historical record, but then again, I suppose a science fiction author is inherently suited to this kind of work — worldbuilding is kind of in the job description. This time, the world she’s created just so happens to have once been real. This book probably isn’t for readers who demand lots of fast-paced action and plot. It’s a leisurely one that demands you pay attention to it, that you bask in the words and the atmosphere they create, that you linger over them with your thoughts. That you spend actual time with these characters, and get to know and love them. If you’re not a reader who can put that much mental effort into reading, don’t bother with this one. And please, if you do, don’t blame the book if you have a bad experience.
Griffith’s afterword makes it clear she’s not done with Hild’s story, and she’s currently working on a sequel that will take us into Hild’s adult life, where she will have to do much less guesswork, as Hild’s life from that point is part of the historical record.
First of all, if you like science fiction at all, this is THE BOOK you should be reading right now. Just stop what you’re doing and go buy it, or rese...moreFirst of all, if you like science fiction at all, this is THE BOOK you should be reading right now. Just stop what you’re doing and go buy it, or reserve it at the library. It’s important you get in on this now before everybody loves it and then the inevitable contrarians pop up to tell everyone how much they dislike it and how everyone who likes it is probably dumb and/or reading it wrong and really it means THIS and HOW DARE YOU. And if you are one of those contrarians, then it’s early enough that you can pretend that you discovered it and don’t have to feel ashamed for doing something everybody else is doing. And when everybody else starts doing it, you can gloat real loud about how you found it first. It’s a win/win for you. I give you this advice free of charge, even though your behavior makes me want to pull out all of my hairs one by one and then feed them to you while you’re tied to a chair. Or something.
Ancillary Justice is the first book in Leckie’s Imperial Radch* series, and the author’s first book, the second of which (Ancillary Sword) will be published in October. This is sort of mind-blowing, because it is really good and really polished and it’s already won two major sci-fi awards, but then: I’m not sure there’s any universe in which a book that is about what this book is about doesn’t get noticed.
*Confession: every time I see ‘Imperial Radch’ I think ‘Imperial Radish’ and I LAUGH SO HARD.
So I almost don’t want to tell you what this book is about, but I think I have to because: a) If you don’t have at least SOME of the facts going in, you’re going to be confused and probably want to give up; and b) I feel like if I tell you a little about it (just enough to pique your interest), you’re going to be like WHAT and then do what I say.
So, just going to throw it right out there: The narrator/protagonist of this book is a 2,000 year old artificial intelligence that used to be a ship and have thousands of human bodies (ancilliaries) as extensions of itself, but who is now stuck in the body of a single human. And she wants revenge. I’m deliberately using the word ‘she’ here, even though the narrator’s gender is never specified, because I want you to get used to it. The narrator’s native language is one where linguistically there is no distinction between genders, and the world they use to refer to she/he translates always as ‘she’. It’s sort of a mindfuck. It was also very revealing of my ingrained social behaviors, as I found myself against my will NEEDING to know whether a character was male or female, and never getting an answer. We are specifically told the genders of several characters, but Breq (the narrator) keeps referring to them as she anyway, so the end product for me at least was a fictional world almost entirely populated by women. You might/will probably have a different reaction.
As for the story itself, it alternates by chapter between Breq’s present (as her mission of revenge nears completion) and her past, where we learn about her previous life as a ship, the culture she comes from (the Radch, an empire ruled over by an immortal emperor who has split HERSELF into multiple bodies so as to live forever) and how she came to lose everything.
As a warning, even with all this knowledge going in, you will be confused. Just ride through it. I promise: all is revealed, and it is supremely satisfying. Just push past the confusion, try to figure things out when appropriate, and wait for the clarity to come. You shall be rewarded. Plus: come on. Admit it. Sometimes it’s nice to be challenged by the books you read. Keeps the old brain pan working hard.
Update 7/29/2014: Ugh, this is going to be one of those reviews where I just flounder for things to say because a) I waited too long to write it, and...moreUpdate 7/29/2014: Ugh, this is going to be one of those reviews where I just flounder for things to say because a) I waited too long to write it, and b) I can’t really sum up my feelings into precise words.
The short of it: I really, really, really liked this book. I still don’t quite LOVE it, but I’m allllmost there. A couple more books should do the trick. (In fact, I did like it better than The Cuckoo’s Calling, although at certain points it was much more uncomfortable for me to read.) So, no pressure, book three. No pressure.
So in the last one, Strike and his new assistant Robin end up investigating the death of the famous supermodel Lula Landry (aka “Cuckoo”), but in this one instead of models, it’s writers. Strike–fresh off his notable capture of Lula’s murderer–is very in demand as a a P.I., so it’s him that the wife of missing author Owen Quine comes to in order to locate her husband (who she believes has just gone off to some writer’s retreat and forgotten to tell her where it is or when he’ll be back). Turns out, yep, he’s dead, and not only that, but he was murdered in a pretty horrible fashion, exactly recreating a scene from his own unpublished book, Bombyx Mori. Only, Bombyx Mori (the latin name for the silkworm) is basically the most infamous unpublished book in London right now, owing to its being a very, very thinly veiled representation of basically everyone in London’s literary scene, agents, publishers, editors, and authors alike. None of it is flattering, to say the least, and most of it is at turns horrifying, gruesome, gut-churning, and purposefully offensive (all couched in metaphor and allegory, of course).
So that’s the mystery. Being inherently more interested in authors and publishing than I am in models and such, the mystery in this one definitely grabbed me more than in Cuckoo, but Robin and Strike continue to be the real draw for me in this series. (I also continue to fancast them in my head as a chubbier, more hirsute Richard Armitage, and Jenna Louise Coleman.)
So yes: Robin and Strike. I’m very much into that. Not necessarily shipping it, although I wouldn’t be against that pairing in the future, but these two as a professional partnership are just really fun to read about. Especially since Rowling (as Galbraith) confronts head on Robin’s feelings that Strike is marginalizing her at work. I was a bit worried about a third of the way through that she was going to fall into the trap of having a conflict grow between them that could have easily been solved by communication (my least favorite type of conflict), but I shouldn’t have worried. They handle it all professionally, and both characters come away from the book having taken really satisfying leaps of growth. (I’m still holding out hope that Robin will dump that fiance of hers, but at least he’s now not being such a huge asshole about everything. Honestly, one of the main reasons I just can’t bring myself to give this that extra half a star is that I want more Robin in these books. I know Strike is the main character, but I really feel like Robin should have equal amounts of POV-time. Maybe now that she’s taking more of an active role in the business we’ll get more POV from her. More Robin, Jo! Do you hear me? (I suppose she could do worse than have Strike as her main character, though. He’s persistent and smart and he has issues that aren’t easily resolved.)
Anyway, like I said at the beginning, I was feeling a bit weird when I was 1/3 of the way through. The thing with Robin and Strike was making me feel upset, and the excerpts of Bombyx Mori that we hear about and read for ourselves are, frankly, disturbing as fuck, but I pushed through and both things were addressed by the end. More importantly, the reason behind them being there in the first place was made pretty clear (won’t explain–sorry, spoilers). There was just a bunch of good stuff packed in this book, and I’d have to read it multiple more times to probably get it all, just stuff about her skewering the publishing industry and certain kinds of writers, which is also wrapped up in some sly commentary about the ways women deal with working in traditionally male fields (surely she has drawn on personal experience here, on both counts). Her love for underdogs and disadvantaged people is also very much present. And her dead man, Owen Quine, could very easily have been portrayed one-note, but he ends up being a rather complex figure. Anyway, the storytelling of this book just sucked me the hell in. I spent the whole day reading, curled up on my couch with hot tea, listening to the monsoon. And it was very memorable and wonderful. This is most definitely a book-reader’s book–it will give you the experience, not just the story.
Again, hesitant to give this the full five stars, but can easily see myself doing so on a re-read. I hope she’s able to get book three out by summer next year. I was all trained to wait several years (at least) between Rowling books, but now she’s given me three in two years and my expectations have been adjusted. I now expect books yearly and shall be sorely disappointed if things turn out otherwise.
July 2013: I only have to wait a year for a new Rowling book? What is this devilry?(less)
This is a passage from my Harry Potter Medicinal Re-ReadChamber of Secrets post, written about Chapters 14-15. Click through at the bottom to read th...moreThis is a passage from my Harry Potter Medicinal Re-ReadChamber of Secrets post, written about Chapters 14-15. Click through at the bottom to read the rest of the post (and to join in on our re-read!).
CHAPTER 15: ARAGOG
[Archivist's note: From the diary of Ronald Bilius Weasley, excerpted May 24, 1992 and May 25, 1992. The full diary can be found in the Museum of Magical History along with a number of other artifacts surrounding the opening of the Chamber of Secrets and the events leading up to the Second Wizarding War. Used with permission.]
As if last week wasn’t bad enough . . . Madam Pomfrey still isn’t letting us in to visit Hermione, and everyone is seriously scared by everything that’s been going on, and they’re talking about closing the school . . . not that I would mind missing out on classes and exams and things, but still. I think I would miss the old place if I couldn’t be here anymore.
Anyway, bad stuff. All over. And on top of all that I have to listen to people like Malfoy mouthing off and bragging about his stupid dad getting rid of Dumbledore, the evil little git. This morning in Potions, I actually wanted to kill him. He was sucking up to Snape like he always does, going on about how Oh, Professor Snape, I’m suuuure if you wanted to run for Headmaster, you’d have my father’s support and kissy kissy smoochy smooch can I have good marks on this potion? That’s bad enough, really, but then he had to go off about Muggleborns, spouting off his stupid ideas and using that word, you know. And I was so good! I was so mad, but I held it in and didn’t punch him in the ear like I wanted. But then he had to go off and say the he bet the next M——— would die, and ‘pity it wasn’t Granger’. I think I must have blacked out from rage because all I remember is that next thing Harry was holding me down. I honestly wanted to kill him, I was so angry. Never been that angry before, it was a bit scary actually . . .
Stuff like that’s been happening all over the place, people saying things they have no idea about. Ernie Macmillan finally apologized to Harry in Herbology today. He’s all right, I guess, but he was off about Malfoy being the Heir of Slytherin, as if we hadn’t figured that right from the beginning and it was the most brilliant idea ever. And Lockhart, the idiot, mouthing off about how he thinks we’re all safe now Hagrid’s locked up in Azkaban. Harry had to kick me before I blurted out that we knew exactly what was going on, and even the Minister of Magic doesn’t think Hagrid is guilty.
That’s the other thing. It was kind of an important day, I guess. Harry passed me a note right after the thing with Lockhart. It just said “Let’s do it tonight,” and I gulped a little and looked over at Hermione’s chair . . . it’s time. We’re going to do it, and she’s going to get better and things will get back to normal and the school won’t close. All we have to do is follow the spiders.
The spiders, the spiders, the spiders. THE SPIDERS.
I’ve been sort of half-heartedly helping Harry look for them after Hagrid told us to follow them, but I wasn’t in a hurry about it. Harry spotted them right after Ernie apologized (and don’t think Ernie wasn’t interested in why we were so excited about spiders . . . honestly this place is weird and I’m weird when weird stuff happens, and everyone probably thinks Harry and I are mad all the time). I am glad everyone’s laid off Harry though, poor bloke. He really took it sort of personally every time someone thought he was a murderer.
So they’re headed . . . into the Forbidden Forest. We have to go into the Forbidden Forest. Tonight. I’ve never been in there, and I can’t say I’d really like to go now, especially because of THE SPIDERS. But Hermione. And Hogwarts. And Harry’s going, so I’m going, too.
[Archivist's note, about this copy: There is a break in the page here, there are no dates in the diary. It is easily assumed Mr. Weasley wrote the above portion on the afternoon of May 24, before his and Mr. Potter's sojourn into the Forest, and the following excerpt the next morning, by his own words, in his History of Magic class. Archivist will refrain from making snide comments on the teaching style of Professor Binns, who is still at Hogwarts as of this writing.]
I can’t believe I’m actually sitting here writing this. I can’t believe I’m not dead. Why am I not dead? Forget what I said about Malfoy yesterday. First I’m going to kill Hagrid. And I’m never going into the Forbidden Forest again. Ever.
We met the spiders.
It’s weird to sit here now and think about last night because it feels really far away somehow. (I’m in History of Magic, pretending to take notes. Most of this diary has been written in History of Magic, come to think of it . . . I also get most of my best thinking and daydreaming done here as well. Also, napping. Great naps to be found in History of Magic. Highly recommended. I should probably ACTUALLY be taking notes right now because Hermione’s not here, and we usually just copy off hers afterwards. Right, Hermione . . . I really wish last night would have gotten us somewhere, but Hermione’s still in the hospital wing . . .)
So last night. It took Harry and I FOREVER to leave the common room. Fred, George, and Ginny just wouldn’t leave. F&G kept roping us in to games of Exploding Snap, and Ginny just sat there looking worried or tired or something. I dunno. All this excitement is hard on the first years, I think. I should write Mum about her . . . ) I was kind of glad for the diversion, honestly. Wasn’t looking forward to going into the forest. Even after they went to bed and Harry and I snuck out again under his dad’s old cloak, I kept hoping once we found the spiders, they’d lead us somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Harry lit his wand so we could see (mine’s still useless, of course — it would probably have blown us up if I’d tried anything). A funny thing happened once we stepped into the forest, though (at least, until the THING happened). My fear sort of evaporated? Like thinking about going in was worse than actually going in. When the spiders led us off the path, I was the one who had to push Harry in, but I think we’re even, really, after what came next. After we found my dad’s car, that is. It was running wild in the forest all this time! I thought it was just a car all this time, but last night proves that my dad’s probably a better wizard than I thought. It’s been wandering around the forest for fun, I think, and it saved us after . . . well . . .
We found the monster Hagrid was keeping in the castle fifty years ago. We definitely found it.
I don’t actually remember much from the time we found the car until it deposited us back on the grounds proper. It’s all sort a confusing blur. But I do remember the terror. The mind-numbing, paralyzing terror.
The thing — Aragog — had his family pick us up and carry us to him. Harry talked to it, and I was completely useless.
Sorry, having flashbacks now, but I want to get this down. I remember something about a dead girl in a bathroom, and Hagrid being best friends with the spider, and the spider telling its family to EAT US, but that’s really about it until I was throwing up in Hagrid’s pumpkin patch (and he deserves it). Most of all I remember its size, and those pincers clacking and clacking . . .
Anyway, Harry had to explain what we’d learned in there after he’d calmed me down (and I’d vomited in the pumpkins some more, and maybe called Hagrid some bad names). I was able to get the gist of it, that Hagrid is innocent, and that he didn’t open the Chamber of Secrets. And that — and this is the scary part — that THING in the woods is NOT the monster, but something WORSE. And it’s still on the loose. And Harry wants to go looking for it. Why I’m friends with him, I don’t know. I guess he is pretty fun, though.
Oh! And the REALLY crazy part! I think we might be about to figure out what’s going on. Just as I was falling asleep Harry yelled off something about the girl the monster murdered never leaving the bathroom, and it’s Moaning Myrtle. We’re going down there to try and talk to her just as soon as we can slip away from the teachers (and good luck with that).
[Archivist's note: entry ends here and does not pick up until two months later, well after the events surrounding the opening of the Chamber of Secrets had concluded, and thus does not suit our purpose here. For further insight into Mr. Potter's younger years (and Granger and Weasley, as well), however, they are fascinating and I highly recommend them.]
The following is an excerpt from a post I wrote about the first two chapters in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Could't post the whole thing be...moreThe following is an excerpt from a post I wrote about the first two chapters in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Could't post the whole thing because it's stupidly long -- if you want to read more, there's a click-through at the bottom.
CHAPTER ONE: THE BOY WHO LIVED
Certain things are always mentioned when anyone talks about why it is that so many people love Harry Potter so very much: the hero’s journey, the fish out of water thing, the wish fulfillment thing (very deliberately not using the word ‘escapism’ here), Harry’s dual role as an Everyman and as The Chosen One, etc. But something that I never really hear people point to in this context is J.K. Rowling’s voice as an author. This is especially astounding to me not only because it’s the very first thing that drew me to this book, but also because it seems to me that her voice is what holds the rest of it together — all those other lovely, constantly shifting pieces of word and story. Right from the very first sentence of the very first chapter of the very first book, it’s obvious:
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”
Even as a thirteen year old, this seemed different to me than the usual stuff I read. It was polite yet sassy. It was saying things that were maybe a bit over my head, things about being an adult, but which nonetheless were amusing and stuck with me. Every time that I’ve read it since, though it’s read a bit differently to me each time, it’s never failed to suck me in, to the point where if I accidentally pick the book up and read the first sentence, it’s often not until I reach the end of the chapter that I realize I’m still reading. I have done this on multiple occasions (including the first time I read the book — I found it abandoned on the floor of my sister’s room, picked it up, read the first chapter, and then stole it from her; I still don’t think she realizes I ever did that) . And the way she introduces the Dursleys! Uncle Vernon with his thick beefy neck, Aunt Petunia with her long skinny one, and both of them caring way too much about what other people think of them.
I have always loved that our first glimpse of Harry’s world is through the eyes of his aggressively normal Muggle relations, particularly the expansive Vernon Dursley. We know from later books (more on this in a bit) that while Petunia may certainly pretend a hatred and ignorance of the Wizarding World, she’s not exactly what she appears. But Vernon — yeah, it’s pretty much all on the surface with him. He kisses his priggish wife and chubby son goodbye, and then he spends the rest of his day alternately missing signs of the wonderful that occur practically under his nose, and pushing those he does see under the dusty rug in his brain that is reserved for Things That Cannot Be (“the get-ups you saw on young people!”). But cats reading maps, owls fluttering all over the place, people in cloaks, a whisper of the Potters . . . and then this:
“Mr. Dursley stood rooted to the spot. He had been hugged by a complete stranger. He also thought he had been called a Muggle, whatever that was. He was rattled. He hurried to his car and set off home, hoping he was imagining things, which he had never hoped before, because he didn’t approve of imagination.”
For as much as Vernon Dursley doesn’t approve of imagination, he sure does use it a lot — mostly to pretend things. In fact, both of the Dursleys are champion pretenders, pretending being the main way they get though their days. They pretend Petunia doesn’t have a sister named Lily, who was a witch who went away to Witch and Wizard school and who married a wizard; Vernon pretends here that nothing odd is going on around him, squashing down reality into little bite-sized pieces until it fits into his preconceived notion of What The World Should Be, until he can once again believe that he lives in a world where everyone is just like him. (I’m also thinking of an incident from the beginning of Chamber of Secrets when the Dursleys force Harry to stay shut away in his bedroom “pretending he’s not there” — this could actually describe their entire relationship with him, but there it’s just made more explicit than usual).
Even though I think Mr. and Mrs. Dursley are very entertaining on their own, all that excessive Dursleyishness makes what happens next seem all the more wonderful. After Vernon has finally manage to fall asleep, we meet Albus Dumbledore, who “didn’t seem to realise* that he had just arrived in a street where everything from his name to his boots was unwelcome.” Dumbledore is the living embodiment of everything the Dursleys work so hard pretending doesn’t exist. As soon as he puts out all the lights on Privet Drive with his ‘Put-Outer,’ we forget all about the Dursleys. And then the cat who’s been sitting on a wall all day, reading maps and upsetting Mr. Dursley with it’s non-cat behavior, turns into a severe looking woman who Dumbledore greets warmly. (“How did you know it was me?” “My dear Professor, I’ve never seen a cat sit so stiffly.”) The interaction that follows does a lot of heavy lifting in a short amount of time. By the time it’s over and everyone except Harry has left Privet Drive, we may not know exactly the details of their lives, but we do know exactly what kind of people they are, and we’ve barely met them.
We also learn the bare bones version of Harry’s story: that the reason owls have been flying around all day and people in strange cloaks ruined Mr. Dursley’s day is that someone called Voldemort has — unbelievably! — gone from the world, that Voldemort was unspeakably evil (to the point where people are reluctant to speak his name), and that according to McGonagall, Dumbledore is the only wizard Voldemort ever feared (“You flatter me . . . Voldemort had powers I’ll never have.” “Only because you’re too — well — noble to use them.”) We learn all of this in an organic fashion, piecing together the bits and pieces of McGonagall and Dumbledore’s, and later, Hagrid’s, conversation. She eases us into the story without resorting to clunky exposition. This is exactly how these characters would talk if this had really happened (WHICH OF COURSE IT DID). We get just enough information to understand what’s going on, and to tempt us to read further to find out more.
But the meat of their conversation isn’t in the veiled clues about Voldemort and Harry, or even the Wizarding World, it’s in the deep human emotions that these people display even from the very first chapter. It’s these same deeply felt emotions that clue us in to their characters:
“It seemed that Professor McGonagall had reached the point she was most anxious to discuss, the real reason she had been waiting on a cold hard wall all day, for neither as a cat nor as a woman had she fixed Dumbledore with such a piercing stare as she did now.”
While everyone else was out celebrating, McGonagall — who has to be the most stubborn, immovable woman I’ve ever read about — waited all day to hear news that was only going to devastate her. She is fierce and hard and very contained, and yet she feels things very deeply. It’s a really nice touch that when she starts asking Dumbledore about the rumors, that Lily and James Potter are dead, that Voldemort tried to kill Harry and failed, he can only bow his head. That he was only moments before yammering on about sherbet lemons makes his lack of words here even more notable. There’s real grief under there, grief he doesn’t have the words for at the moment, grief perhaps he doesn’t want to feel quite yet, and so he talks of Muggle sweets and scars shaped like the London Underground. And that’s Dumbledore’s character in a nutshell. Eccentric and kind on the outside, dark and unknowable on the inside. And then there’s Hagrid, a giant of a man who shows up on a flying motorbike with a sleeping baby Harry wrapped up in a blanket. Hagrid, wild and hairy, who gives baby Harry a big whiskery kiss before letting “out a howl like a wounded dog” at the thought of leaving him there. Hagrid, who McGonagall questions, but of whom Dumbledore says, “I would trust hagrid with my life.” (This statements tells us two things: 1) That Hagrid and his appearance are strange even in the world these people come from, and 2) that Dumbledore is the kind of man who places his trust in people the general world mislikes.)
The following is an excerpt from a post for The Harry Potter Medicinal Re-Read that I wrote about the first two chapters in Harry Potter and the Goble...moreThe following is an excerpt from a post for The Harry Potter Medicinal Re-Read that I wrote about the first two chapters in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If you want to read more, there's a click-through at the bottom. It gets real weird, though, just to warn you.
It was the summer of 2000, Scottsdale, Arizona. I was fifteen years old – skinny and gawky as hell, with braces and uncontrollably frizzy hair — and the only thing I could think about was the day I could finally read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I believe my obsession for the release of Goblet of Fire marks the very first time I ever participated in fan culture, or in any type of pop culture event, for that matter. My parents, who are both ancient and don’t understand fantasy or science fiction in the slightest, were completely nonplussed by my behavior and insisted that I behave like a normal human person.
I remember sitting in the waiting room of my orthodontist’s office reading a review of the book that I cannot find for the life of me (but which stated that Voldemort was too evil to be a good villain, so I immediately discounted it), and just absolutely dying from want. My father had picked up a copy of the book for me from Costco the day it came out, but my mother wouldn’t let me touch it until I’d finished my summer homework. It was TORTURE having it sit there next to me being so beautiful and full of mystery.
I vividly remember the moment I first opened it after being allowed to start. The experience of reading this book for the first time is seared into my memory. The clothes I was wearing, what chair I was sitting in, what the pillow I had in my lap looked like, the way the light in the room made everything look. I also remember the heat. Middle of July, it must have been at least 110 degrees in the daytime. But mostly I remember the feeling of falling in love, of never wanting that great slab of a book to be over. How it made my heart pound like no book I’d ever read before. How the final battle put me so on edge I had to get up from my chair and run around screaming like a complete lunatic. How I cried when it was over.
And that’s the stage I would like to set for you so that you will understand what happened next.
CHAPTER ONE: THE RIDDLE HOUSE
In the dregs of my senior year of high school, when pretty much everyone just wanted to be done with it already, my English teacher gave us an assignment which sounded cool at the time, but which I interpret now from the lens of ten years and having been a teacher myself as more like desperation to, please God, get these kids away from me. She came to class one day and told us we were all going to write The Great American Novel.
Of course, I set mine in England, so I’m not really too sure of the extent to which I actually grasped the assignment.
A couple of years after this, I read an interview that JK Rowling had given (which I of course also cannot find) where she pretty much stated that all writers start out their writing careers by plagiarizing their favorite books. I immediately felt this to be a true statement, not only because it makes logical sense (we all have to start somewhere), but because I had basically plagiarized much of Ms. Rowling’s work for my Great American Novel, and was only now coming to realize the ethical ramifications of what I had done. I was very glad to hear her talk about writing in this way, because it made me feel better about betraying her so horribly. The difference between 18 year old Ashley and 28 year old Ashley may not seem that apparent on the surface, but sweet baby Jesus is it obvious to me*. It’s a difference of maturity and means, not to mention skills and experience. As a teenager, I was woefully short of experiences, but man alive, did I have emotions.
*This is especially relevant right now as it’s my 10 year high school reunion this month, and I am very much not going.
I can’t remember for sure, but I vaguely recall feeling upset that I was being forced to write a novel for a high school English class, so I may have intentionally done what I’m about to show you. I honestly do not remember. I think it’s more likely that I had no idea what I was doing. Or maybe I did and I didn’t think it would matter because who the hell was going to read it anyway? We’ll never know. What I do know is that I dug up the first chapter (and my notes) of my Great American Novel in order to check the extent to which I plagiarized J.K. Rowling, most of which came from chapter one of Goblet of Fire, which is one of my favorite opening chapters in literature.
I've heard good things about Chuck Wendig, and I do enjoy his blog quite a bit, but I'd been reluctant to try his fiction. It sounded a bit m...more3.5 stars
I've heard good things about Chuck Wendig, and I do enjoy his blog quite a bit, but I'd been reluctant to try his fiction. It sounded a bit more gruesome and, er, intense than what I usually like to read. But when I read his Big Idea post on Scalzi's website, I knew I at least had to check this one out. I mean, cornpunk? Come on.
In Mr. Wendig's words, the idea for this book started out as a joke:
I blog five days out of seven at terribleminds and sometimes the blog posts come easily and other times they come like I’m trying to perform a root canal on a velociraptor and one of the times the blog post came easy was one where I talked about – and asked people to submit their own – SomethingPunk derivatives. You got cyberpunk, dieselpunk, bugpunk, and so forth, and I thought it’d be a whole sack of hoots for folks to invent their own silly SomethingPunk subgenres.
One of my suggestions was “cornpunk.”
'The yaddayaddapunks generally posit a world essentially fueled by the yaddayaddathing, right? Everything runs on steam in steampunk, cyberpunk shows a world ineluctably married to futuristic corporate computer culture, and splatterpunk reveals a future where everything is based on an economical ecosystem of gore and viscera. (Okay, I might have that last one wrong.) If you were to assign our current day and age a Somethingpunk name, you might think of it as “Oil-and-Cheeseburger-Punk,” but that really doesn’t have a ring. But. But! Everything is also based on corn. I think with a few knob twists and lever pulls, you could crank that up and offer up a crazy moonbat podunk dystopian future-present where all of Western Civilization is powered by corn and corn-derivatives. It’s all silos and cornfields and giant mega-tractor-threshers and it’ll be all “Great Depression II: Sadness Boogaloo.” And fuck me if this didn’t start out as a joke but now sounds completely compelling. I call dibs! I call dibs on cornpunk! And niblets, too! Corn niblets! I call dibs on corn niblets because they are delicious!'
Well, I was pretty much done for after reading that. Even if I didn't end up loving the book, he'd piqued my interest enough that I pretty much needed to read it right away. I didn't end up loving it, but I still think it was worth it.
Here are my main thoughts about Under the Empyrean Sky:
1. For most of the book, the story falls victim to the standard YA dystopian plot arc. If you've read any amount of YA at all, you can probably guess where most of this is going. This mostly applies only to the worldbuilding.
2. HOWEVER. That standard YA worldbuilding is almost entirely covered with a thin layer of Wendig's own special brand of whatever it is he's got going on in his head. The cornpunk thing was by turns mind numbing, intriguing, and horrifying. He's created a nightmare world out of Americana: farmland, corn, the Heartland . . . they're all cursed in this book, and it's bleak as fuck. It actually reminds me strongly of a dystopian version of The Grapes of Wrath.
3. Relatedly, one of the reasons I wasn't feeling this book in the beginning is that it did remind me so strongly of The Grapes of Wrath, a book which I do not like. In fact, for whatever reason, I really can't stand books or movies that are set in and around the dustbowl and the Great Depression. I hate them. So that definitely affected my reading of this book.
4. Though it was well-written, and the characters were three dimensional and interesting, I didn't actually like any of them, so it wasn't really that fun to read about them.
5. The ending really picked up and once a certain thing happened, I was interested in seeing where else Wendig would take his story, now that he's got the intro bits taken care of.
All in all, worth checking out even if it wasn't necessarily my thing -- it's DEFINITELY better than most of the YA shit that gets published these days. And who knows, maybe someday I'll be brave enough to try some of Wendig's adult fare. Although I doubt it. In her review of Double Dead, SJ mentioned that one might need brain bleach while reading, and the need for brain bleach is a pretty strong deterrent (I don't really like zombie books, either).
Anyway, Wendig seems cool, even if his books sound like they'll give me nightmares, even his YA ones (seriously, guys, corn everywhere like a virus, people going sterile and getting tumors all over the place . . . gag).(less)
For YA, The Winner’s Curse is very good. And if that just isn’t a ringing endorsement!
I’m to the point now where I only read YA books if they come hea...moreFor YA, The Winner’s Curse is very good. And if that just isn’t a ringing endorsement!
I’m to the point now where I only read YA books if they come heavily recommended (or if they’ve been lauded as so terrible that I just have to read in order to satisfy my insatiable curiosity). And The Winner’s Curse came pretty heavily recommended. I follow a disturbing amount of YA book bloggers, and they all LOVED this thing. (Of course, they also all seem to be convinced that it’s fantasy, and not just ‘fantasy’ but ‘high fantasy’, and it’s VERY NOT. There is no magic here whatsoever, folks. No made up races. No fantastical creatures. I miiiiiight be persuaded by a very strong argument to categorize it as fantasy because it does take place in an entirely made-up world, but high fantasy? Hell no.)
For those of you not familiar with game theory (so: like me before reading this book, and also: like me after reading this book), the ‘winner’s curse’, in brief, is “A tendency for the winning bid in an auction to exceed the intrinsic value of the item purchased.” Even though this concept was developed specifically in relation to auctions, it applies elsewhere in situations where ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ are relevant terms. And as I discovered while reading this book, it also works wonderfully as a metaphoric cousin to the idea of the Pyrrhic Victory. Both terms refer to the idea that while one may be the technical winner in a situation, the price paid for that victory becomes a burden, because the value received does not outweigh the cost.
Enter this book. Our main character is Kestrel, the seventeen year old daughter of a famous General. Kestrel comes from a country that conquers other countries in order to build a glorious Empire. But they don’t just conquer the countries they fold into their empire. They take those countries from their previous citizens entirely, co-opting their homes, their possessions, and their lives. It is an empire basically built on slavery. The story starts at a slave auction, where due to circumstances, Kestrel ends up purchasing a slave named Arin (circumstances are always a danger for characters in novels like these). Despite Arin’s position as her slave, the two end up forming a close bond, but then of course it all blows up and reverses and there’s violence and war and panic.
This book does have a romance, I thought it was a believable one. Their dynamic is one that’s built on mutual respect, but hindered by their positions. The book was also filled with believable war scenarios and political maneuverings. It also had a nice pace, no wallowing or brooding to speak of. The world was a little thinly drawn, but I didn’t honestly expect very much more than we got for this genre. It’s been a couple of weeks since I read it, so my enthusiasm has dimmed a little, but I will definitely be checking out books two and three, if only to see where she takes the whole concept of paying too high a price for your victories. It’s something that both Arin and Kestrel have to deal with in this book, and I think it makes a really nice base to build a series on.(less)