Someone observed that it was a major pity that Rowling didn't trust anyone enough to sit down with them and talk through what she planned to do with t...moreSomeone observed that it was a major pity that Rowling didn't trust anyone enough to sit down with them and talk through what she planned to do with this final book. Because then the egregious inconsistencies (not only with the rest of the series, but within the book itself) might have been avoided.
And that's the crying shame. But then again, Deathly Hallows could never have lived up to the expectations that had been built around it. Taken on its own, this is actually a perfectly decent children's book. But somewhere along the line the potential offered earlier in the series was squandered and major opportunities missed. In my view, Rowling was so concerned with surprising us that she missed the fact that she picked the wrong sort of surprises - what seemed as though it might be a genuine "shades of grey" story turned into a rather traditional black-and-white tale, in which the big reveals are disappointingly small.
And yet I've read the last third or so several times, because, damnit, Rowling knows how to spin a tale. Pretty much from Harry's return to Hogwarts to the end this is a glorious non-stop roller-coaster that heads towards the inevitable conclusion with all the unstoppable force of an express train. If only she could have solved the first half problem (the format of spreading the story across a whole year was never going to work, and it doesn't) and the ginormous plot device that has to be shoe-horned in to enable the finalé to work at all, this could have been so much better. But alas. Ear wax again.(less)
More than ten years ago, I picked up a copy of this when it first appeared. And I mean "first" appeared - before it became a phenomenon.
And I read it,...moreMore than ten years ago, I picked up a copy of this when it first appeared. And I mean "first" appeared - before it became a phenomenon.
And I read it, and remember thinking that it was perfectly fine, but I'd read the same story several times before in different guises. Sure, Rowling had a good turn of phrase, and I recommended it to several primary school teachers of my acquaintance as being a great book for reading to the kids. But I thought no more about it, and loaned my copy to several people. Somewhere along the line it disappeared - boy, do I regret that now!
Anyway, it's still not great but, to its credit, it never tries to be. Instead, it takes a couple of traditional kid's story formats (unexpected magic and boarding schools) and crosses them in an undemanding fashion. Sure, when you actually come to examine it, nothing really happens in the book until the last twenty pages or so, and then it all happens at once; but that's partly Rowling trying to lay the groundwork for her world, which she doesn't do very well incidentally - some brilliant writers have dissected her world to a scary degree and found it badly wanting, whilst providing their own, far more rigorous, explanations.
And yet. And yet. I can still read it, even with the knowledge of the misteps to come, and yearn to be a student at Hogwarts... because, deep down, I think we all do.(less)
And this was where it all definitively went wrong. By this point, Rowling had hamstrung herself with a format that demanded seven books (when after Gob...moreAnd this was where it all definitively went wrong. By this point, Rowling had hamstrung herself with a format that demanded seven books (when after Goblet of Fire it was clear there was only really enough plot for one) and a structure (spread the plot over a whole school year) that was becoming increasingly ridiculous.
So the Half-Blood Prince has to content itself with pointless teen angst and first loves, whilst failing to advance the main story in any significant fashion; if anything it introduces even more contradictions into Rowling's world than before.
I didn't even find it as funny as OotP; there is no farce here to alleviate the gloom (which doesn't even begin to lift until about halfway through the final book.)
The only redeeming part is that climactic sequence, when there is a moment - just a moment, mind you - when you wonder if everything you thought you knew was wrong. But the rest of it is just filler. And not very good filler, either.(less)
Surprisingly (given that I only gave this 3 stars), I like Order of the Phoenix a lot. In terms of structure, this is Rowling at the absolute top of h...moreSurprisingly (given that I only gave this 3 stars), I like Order of the Phoenix a lot. In terms of structure, this is Rowling at the absolute top of her game, with a beautifully constructed farcical plot that builds towards a fantastic climax, with far too many great moments that mix comedy and tragedy well, and a much tighter integration that doesn't feel anything like as bitty as GoF.
And then she goes and wrecks it with a final sequence that is the first to be obviously influenced by her seeing the film adaptations of the earlier books (cf. wands being used like laser guns etc.) What ought to be a tense showdown in the Ministry turns into a cheap special-effects extravaganza that isn't even very well written - it's the first time in the series that you can really feel that deadline looming over her.
For me, it's at the moment the group leave Hogwarts for the Ministry that Rowling loses her way with the whole series. From there to the final epilogue, there is nothing that suggests Rowling really cares any more. She's pretty much established her destination and nothing is going to distract her, even though it is also increasingly obvious that the holes in her apparently carefully crafted universe are growing larger by the page.(less)
Even allowing for the awkward episodic structure, and the unbelievable huge double-exposition section at the end, this is easily my favourite of the s...moreEven allowing for the awkward episodic structure, and the unbelievable huge double-exposition section at the end, this is easily my favourite of the series.
Rowling knows we know the characters almost as well as she does by now, which means she can cut loose and have some fun for a change. And fortunately, given the inordinately long wait we had for this book, during which time the series became a global phenomenon, it all works.
I will admit to being one of those people who thought at first that it was too long. But there is genuinely almost nothing that could be removed that wouldn't impact the story in a negative way - from little details (introducing portkeys) to major plot points (Barty Crouch).
This may be the last time in the series that Rowling was evidently relaxed. The series was a success, so she would be able to finish it, the overall structure still seemed to be sound (the problems don't really start to show until OotP), the pressure of deadlines was temporarily averted and the characters were now old enough that she could start to have fun (before she remembered that the eight-year-olds were still there as well.)
Sadly, it was almost all downhill from here.(less)
For me, this is a book of two halves. The first part of the book doesn't suggest that there is anything special going on; indeed after the promise of...moreFor me, this is a book of two halves. The first part of the book doesn't suggest that there is anything special going on; indeed after the promise of CoS I was starting to wonder if there was any reason I should be sticking with the series at all.
And then Rowling pulls off one of the finest turn-arounds in literature (let alone kid's fiction!) A large chunk of her carefully constructed uber-plot is revealed, and it's a doozy. And she caps it by pulling off a time-travel subplot that comes as close as anyone can reasonably get to working.
I don't think the book is quite as nuanced or sophisticated as some seem to think (although it's quite deep for pre-teen fiction) but it repays the early promise. And the best (for me) was yet to come.(less)
To even attempt to review Tolkien's epic is like measuring the coastline - the deeper you go, the more there is to find (or, as the more cynical might...moreTo even attempt to review Tolkien's epic is like measuring the coastline - the deeper you go, the more there is to find (or, as the more cynical might put it, the longer it gets.)
And it's because it is so many different stories and, indeed, types of story, all melded together into one (at times unwieldy) whole. So, for example, you can read it as a poetry book. Skip all the narrative sections and just read the verse. You'll be surprised at how much of the narrative structure remains intact, and how the themes of loss, redemption, love and courage are still present. Likewise, I often tell people who got frustrated with the "hobbit stuff" at the start to skip straight past that and just read Aragorn's story instead, which is far easier to relate to.
So the shifts in tone and style are not signs of bad writing, they are deliberate echoes of the different mythic forms he used as his original model for creating the world of Middle Earth. And it's this underpinning that makes the book so special - his characters live in a world that has its own intricate mythos that they can casually refer to, almost as though they expect the reader to know the stories just as intimately. In the way that an author today could refer to, say, the story of Romeo & Juliet and expect the reader to know the basics, here Aragorn talks about Beren & Luthien in the same way - and we (as readers) realise that we have no idea who these people are - but that those characters do. And, more importantly, that that story has absolutely nothing to do (in plot terms) with the one we are reading (except insofar as establishing a parallelism for Aragorn & Arwen.)
It's a common flaw, especially in fantasy fiction, for the world to exist solely for the story that is being told; what makes Middle Earth so special is that, for all its inconsistency and implausibility, it really does have large parts of history that are nothing to do with The One Ring.
Tolkien originally set out to create a mythology for England. He ended up doing more than that - and for that we should all be grateful.(less)
This is a stand-in comment for the entire Myth Adventures series, as I don't intend to comment on all of them. Suffice it to say that Asprin maintained...moreThis is a stand-in comment for the entire Myth Adventures series, as I don't intend to comment on all of them. Suffice it to say that Asprin maintained an exceptionally high standard throughout this series, which gained a new lease of life when he started to collaborate with Jody Lynn Nye after an enforced absence.
Asprin takes the fantasy tropes and revisits them with some always amusing twists, but at heart the story is about Skeeve and Aahz, the always-reliable Odd Couple pairing who learn just as much from each other despite the "master/apprentice" set-up. And the supporting cast gradually grows into a remarkably entertaining team - Guido and Nunzio, Maasha, Gleep, Bunny, Chumley and, of course, Tanda are rarely wasted and each carves out their own niche.
My personal favourites of the series are Myth Conceptions (where the team of six take on an entire invading army of tens of thousands), Little Myth Marker (for the introduction of Dragon Poker) and Myth Inc. in Action (where the minor characters get their own chances to shine.)
If you like fantasy novels and aren't averse to a bit of good-natured slapstick, look these up.(less)
This does mean that if you've read the Tough Guide then the jokes are rarely surprising, but they are integrated into the story nicely, and there are one or two genuinely innovative things there too (Derk's obsession with animal genetics is perfectly pitched, and makes for a delightful sequel Year of the Griffin.)
If you've read enough hack fantasy then this will make you laugh out loud often, as the clichés come thick and fast, and yet the story is solid, with some unexpected twists that will catch you out. (less)
What Diana Wynne Jones does so well is to create self-contained stories that not only have a proper beginning, middle and end (although, as has often...moreWhat Diana Wynne Jones does so well is to create self-contained stories that not only have a proper beginning, middle and end (although, as has often been noted, not necessarily in that order!) but which have a sort of ouroborous effect - the tail eating the head in an apparently endless cycle that it is the job of the protagonist to break. Here, the cycle is far longer than in examples like Black Maria or Hexwood which makes for a fascinating chance to enable the central character to grow up, but the "missing memories" device means that she can make the contrast easily explicit. And the interplay between the past and future is handled in a more complex fashion than usual too (should we consider Tom a paedophile for his obvious interest in a little girl - or should we be looking at the entire cycle and consider the adult relationship as "rippling back"?)
It still suffers a little from the big finalé problem - when all the threads suddenly come together at the end, if you have lost track of any of them then the final showdown is almost incomprehensible. And the Coda is very strange indeed - although, having said that, the article here: http://www.redhen-publications.com/He... is a rather brilliant discussion of its implications.
One of those strange examples of a story set before another but which loses something if you read/see it first (others being things like The Magician'...moreOne of those strange examples of a story set before another but which loses something if you read/see it first (others being things like The Magician's Nephew and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.)
So this story is set a generation before Charmed Life and it follows much the same model: it's about how the greatest magician of the world discovers his destiny, resents it but eventually comes to terms with it.
One of the things I like about DWJ is her careful attention to detail in the plotting, something that is strikingly absent from far too many YA titles, despite the fact that children are often far more capable of picking up and following complex stories than a lot of adults. Here the opening chapters are littered with careful setups that get paid off later in the story, some blatant and others far more subtle. But when they do get revealed, you feel that sense of pleasure that there was no real cheating going on, no Deus ex Machina to explain things at the last minute (although perhaps the Tacroy plot doesn't quite work.)
Sure there are still structure issues - there's a lot of effort taken to introduce the school characters and then they merely disappear completely, but I can also see that Christopher couldn't have his second set of off-world adventures in the family home and a boarding school works fine (and it sets up the Goddess quite nicely too.) And it seems to take Christopher a long time to realise what the Wraith is, although to be fair that's a standard literary trope. The sudden detour into Series Eleven right in the middle of a tense stand-off slightly undermines it, and then it is resolved a little too quickly for an idea that deserved a lot more attention. But for me these didn't feel like obstacles; if anything they felt as though there was a longer book struggling to get out here; but 25 years ago a children's book couldn't be 500 pages..!
Of course another reason DWJ scores is that her characters are so much fun. Christopher himself is perhaps a little bland, although the scene when he realises how pompous and stuck up he had been behaving is exceptionally good. But the rest of the supporting cast are beautifully drawn, with even the passing-through getting distinct personalities (who else would come up with Doctor Pawson and his mother?) and she does a fine job of depicting the worlds through them.
For me this is a strong entry in the Chrestomanci series, but I suspect that's partly because the ones actually about Chrestomanci are inherently more interesting than stories just set in the same universe (even though the universe is good fun.) Perhaps not as good as Charmed Life, but still an easy four stars.(less)
Perhaps my favourite anecdote about this book is that Neil Gaiman said that he had to rewrite American Gods because he got to the end and realised tha...morePerhaps my favourite anecdote about this book is that Neil Gaiman said that he had to rewrite American Gods because he got to the end and realised that he'd just rewritten this.
The real joy here is the slow-burning realisation of what is going on. The care with which Wynne Jones constructs the plot to ensure that the characters only appear on the appropriate "days" is only really apparent on a re-read, and the book is good enough to survive that without trouble. (less)
After the somewhat bleak late 70s era of Terry Brooks and Stephen Donaldson, the mid-80s saw the rebirth of the fantasy genre with Feist and David Ed...moreAfter the somewhat bleak late 70s era of Terry Brooks and Stephen Donaldson, the mid-80s saw the rebirth of the fantasy genre with Feist and David Eddings bringing a much more joyful (some might even say juvenile) approach to the form.
Midkemia and Kelewan are some of the few worlds to come close to the consistency and realism of Middle Earth (although that's largely down to it being a long-standing role-playing setting; heck, my own RPG worlds are more real than some fictional ones!) and the basics of the storyline (two characters become a great warrior and a great wizard and save the world from a great evil) isn't the most original in the world.
But what sets this apart from a lot of the field is the way Feist goes out of his way to help us understand both sides of the conflict at the heart of the story - he makes us see that this isn't just good guys vs bad guys, but that each side has their fair share of both - and even then, he rarely has someone act like a cardboard villain or hero.
Some of his later books have felt less strong (although I found the current series (the Demonwar) to be a powerful return to form) but he is never less than readable.(less)
This is a stand-in for the entire Xanth sequence, since it is currently running at 30-odd books and counting. And I love all of them.
Ultimately, this...moreThis is a stand-in for the entire Xanth sequence, since it is currently running at 30-odd books and counting. And I love all of them.
Ultimately, this is a series that you either "get" or you don't. And if you don't, then nothing I (or anyone else!) can say here will make any difference.
I don't like them for the writing quality. Even after all this time, Anthony still has trouble putting a sentence together, or making his dialogue sparkle or creating a convincing character (either male or female!) Not even for the puns, although they are rarely a disappointment (although lately he has taken to shoe-horning entire paragraphs of them together as though he wants to get them out of the way.) And when he uses one for a title, it's always a doozy: who else would dare to call a novel Stork Naked?!
It's for the ideas and the structures. One Xanth novel often contains more ideas than some novelists manage in an entire career. He plays with multiple character viewpoints in subtle patterns. He slips in forward and backward references to other novels let alone the current plot. He creates huge plot-holes for himself and then delights in tidying up the loose ends and inconsistencies further down the line. The list goes on. There are few authors who can write more than 30 books in one series (and this is probably only half of Antony's total output) and still find ways to surprise the audience.(less)