Valente has a beautifully sparse and evocative style that I respect and adore. It is also absolutely fitted to a western setting.
I thought this was aValente has a beautifully sparse and evocative style that I respect and adore. It is also absolutely fitted to a western setting.
I thought this was a brilliant retelling of Snow White. In this version, Snow White is the daughter of a rich, selfish, greedy man and the Native American woman he threatened into marrying him. The stepmother is a strict, cold woman who has made some sort of deal with an evil force. Snow White is hidden away by her father in near-isolation, taken out only for display. Snow runs away from home and proves what a tough, ferocious girl she truly is.
I loved all the twists on the legend - since Snow is half Native American, the stepmother cruely gave her the nickname “Snow White” to remind her what she could never be. The Hunter is a Pinkerton detective. The seven dwarves are seven tough-as-nails ladies in a town meant for escape.
The ending, though, I did not like. At all. Snow quickly becomes suicidal. The post-magical-slumber period is extremely confusing and rushed. There's a boy-from-the-mirror that is a result of the stepmother's deal with evil that I never quite understood. There's not really a prince at all (except maybe the boy-from-the-mirror but....no. right? or he is meant to be the prince except he's a really, really failed one?)....more
A dreamy little novella that tells the story of the life of Robert Grainier, a quiet, hardworking man who leads a hermit-like existence in the woods oA dreamy little novella that tells the story of the life of Robert Grainier, a quiet, hardworking man who leads a hermit-like existence in the woods outside a small town. He spends some seasons logging, but for the most part he doesn’t ever go far. Grainier is just an ordinary man living an ordinary life, mostly by himself. He had a wife and daughter, but they died in a fire while he was away logging. He never wants to marry again – he is at peace with his solitary life.
The story is more a collection of vignettes - sudden bursts of insight into Grainier's experience. It's not linear, either - a character who dies early in the book is alive later because the event takes place earlier in the timeline.
There’s also unexpected magical realism aspects, with Grainier seeing the ghost of his dead wife and the appearance of the Wolf Girl (a werewolf? A girl gone feral living among the wolves? A figment of rumor and imagination?).
It’s interesting that the novella takes place mainly during the 20th century (Grainier dies in 1968) although Grainier’s existence seems more like a 19th century one. Cars and movie theaters make an appearance (barely) – and it’s mentioned that Grainier watches TV when he’s in town. But Granier doesn’t even have his own radio. He’s living the same life he would have a century earlier. The 1900s-1960s were filled with some of the most explosive changes and yet World War I, World War II, the feminist movement, the civil rights movement, radio, electricity, everything, everything does not even make a dent in Grainier’s consciousness. He lives so far away from the rest of the world it’s like he’s a pocket of a time long forgotten. ...more
This is the conclusion of the Frontier Magic trilogy and it is just as quiet and lovely as the first two.
This series is surprisingly formulaic in howThis is the conclusion of the Frontier Magic trilogy and it is just as quiet and lovely as the first two.
This series is surprisingly formulaic in how each book plots. Eff spends time in the beginning in Mill City. Then there’s some magical crisis or concern or expedition out west. Eff goes on the expedition. There's lots of interesting wildlife and a great sense of place (Wrede makes this world come alive). Maybe some minor encounters along the way. And then the BIG MAGICAL CREATURE/EVENT occurs and Eff is pivotal in saving the day.
This time, there’s a joint Cathayan/Columbian (Asian/American) expedition to go further West then anyone has ever gone (and come back from) before. Eff goes, along with most of the other major characters – Wash, Miss Ochiba, Lan, William, Roger, etc. – and most of the time is spent mapping/exploring the West. Then at the end, there’s a big fight with a new magical species (rock dragons) which is a fake out because the REAL big magical bad this time around is the magical river that has been backing up with magic since The Great Barrier was put up. This magical damming is, I guess, what brought the magical bugs (book 1) and the medusa lizards (book 2) further East.
Eff really comes into her own in this one – she speaks up more, and is more confident of her choices. She is still fairly quiet and reserved and is in no way a firebrand. Although Eff really wants to go on the expedition to the Far West, she never advocates for herself that she should go. And when her professor continue to get stronger and more confident as she grows older, but picks her to be his assistant, she is surprised. I think Eff will she’s still young and not used to speaking up.
Eff and William’s romance is as quiet as the rest of the story. Wrede can write romance – Magician's Ward made me swoon so hard. But Eff and William barely interact! Although they’re on the same damn expedition for a year and a half! It’s clear that they both quietly adore and respect each other, but there’s very few, if any, “cute” scenes. They’re more like two friends who hang out when they can. I don’t know if this is just Wrede not putting much focus on the romance because her primary passion in this book is the world/setting, or if Eff is just kind of childish/immature when it comes to human interaction. Eff still reads like a fourteen year old, instead of a girl of around I think 19 or 20. The romance really wasn’t a thing in any of these books, and that is a tad disappointing.
Wrede really has created an amazing setting/world in this series and I do love exploring it. I honestly don’t mind that most of the time there’s little forward momentum in plot. I would actually like another trilogy (with maybe a child of (view spoiler)[Eff/William? (hide spoiler)]) that explores the Pacific. I want to know what monsters and critters live in this world’s Oregon!...more
EXCITING NEWS!!!:According to Russell's website (1) there is a sequel coming out entitled The Cure for Anger (2) Ron Howard is doing a pilot for a seEXCITING NEWS!!!:According to Russell's website (1) there is a sequel coming out entitled The Cure for Anger (2) Ron Howard is doing a pilot for a series based on this book for HBO. Sadly, all the actors I imagined for the characters are busy doing other things. Also, there is a love triangle between Doc/Kate/Wyatt Earp (but of course, Hollywood!).
And now for your regularly scheduled review
When this book was good it was very, very good and when it was bad it irked me.
This is the story of John Henry "Doc" Holliday. A Southern dentist who was sent out West for his health (he was dying by inches from TB, and the dry Western climate was better for his health than the South), he became a notorious gambler and gunfighter. Holliday was an enigma and Russell gives his character the rich complexity he deserves. He was genteel, intellectual, elegant, composed, but hard-tempered, honor-bound and self-assured bordering on arrogant. He was a scholar and a drunk. A healer and a gambler. A true Southern gentleman: loved his Mama, kind and respectful to the ladies, hospitable. He could be respectful and friendly to other races but still had a deep seated racism with his no-white-girl-should-get-too-close-to-a-colored-man and his firm belief in the Myth of the Happy Slave.
This is also the story of Wyatt Earp. An officer of the law, Earp was complex, too, but easier to figure out than Holliday. Also an honor before reason guy. A Determinator. Law-bound. Quiet, laconic, tough but fair. An honest and straightforward person and didn’t understand politics and other people’s murkier motives.
This book absorbs you into the Wild West and Dodge City. Even though the real Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp died a long time ago, I feel like mourning their passing because I feel like I know them so well after this book.
Russell is, as always, a masterful writer and a skilled observer of character. She is never less than brilliant. And it's been several months and I still can't get this book (and especially Doc Holliday) out of my mind. When a story sticks with you that well, you know it's a keeper.
However, I do have a few bones to pick with Russell.
First off, I don't like Kate, Holliday's lover. I will admit, I have this disease that infects fangirls and is particularly present in the Supernatural series fans. I...don't...like...female...characters...I...don't... think...are...good...enough...for...the...male...lead. GAH! I am so ashamed to admit it! I hate those people who are overly possessive of characters, as if a female love interest will deny them of an opportunity to get with the character. But that isn't what's going on here. I just don't like Kate and I don't like Holliday with Kate. The man is dying! Doesn't he deserve someone who makes him happy and not someone who constantly fights with him? Kate was a historical spitfire, so Russell worked with what she had. And I appreciate the Fallen Princess rationale (she had already lost everything once and lived in terror of losing it all again, which made her irrational, jealous, possessive and anxious). But...she was so frustratingly annoying. Maybe Kate would've been more likeable if Russell had shown more of Kate's good moments. More of the times when Holliday and Kate were happy and content and not when things so dramatically blew up. And I can understand some of what Holliday saw in Kate: she was clever and educated and charismatic. But...I wish he had someone else.
Another thing: this is not an ensemble piece. This is Doc Holiday's and Wyatt Earp's story. While I truly appreciate Russell’s ability to build an entire character in a few pages, this isn’t A Thread of Grace or The Sparrow when it’s really about a group and so a focus on a lot of people is expected. A semi-random tollkeeper's character is fleshed out at one point, and all I could think was I don't care. Get back to Holliday and Earp. There were just a lot of threads I thought could be pulled to put more focus on the central story. (Especially and always, Holliday and his bromance with Earp).
Point the third: the opening/closing were very rapid tell-don’t-show episodes that didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the book at all and were just weird. It’s like Russell knew this was a biopic so had to fit all of Holliday’s life in even if it rushed things. And for some reason she really, REALLY didn’t want to focus on OK Corral (overdone, maybe) so she breezed through it in two pages in KATE’S & the omniscient narrator's voice instead of Holliday’s or Earp’s. Talk about a waste.
Point the last: Russell hates love and happiness. I mean, I'm sure she doesn't really. But in books, her philosophy seems to be if it ain't tragic, it ain't done right. You know O.K. Corral is coming, you know Holliday has T.B., you know that everyone dies (eventually) and you know how they die because this is a fictional depiction of real people. If you want spoilers, just go over to Wikipedia and you've got everything you need to know.
But the way things went down, it's like Russell wanted to bleach any happiness. There's a (fairly random) scene of an alternative universe where Holliday marries a sweet local girl. Guess what? SHE DIES. Really young and before Holliday. Oh the knife! How it twists! This is just unnecessary. Even in an alternative world, Doc's happiness is pulled out from under him. Even in an alternative world Russell will not allow Doc to be free from tragedy.
Additionally, there was random breaking of the fourth wall where the entire point was for the narrator to make the book more grim to remind everyone that DOC IS DYING. OH YEAH, SO ARE YOU. SO IS EVERYONE. DEATH TOUCHES US ALL. FATE IS A BITCH AND SO IS HOPE. BWAHAHAHA, I AM RUSSELL, A COLD AND HARSH GOD. The guy is dying of TB, no need to remind us of how terrible and inevitable that is at every opportunity, Russell.
Lastly on this point, Russell is the Joss Whedon of fiction. Half of a couple ALWAYS dies. ALWAYS. If not the whole couple. I mean, not much of a spoiler in this case (Wikipedia, people!). But here, Russell decides to KILL BROMANCE. Not with actual character deaths (Holliday's and Earp's end times are locked in, fixed points in time). She does it by denying bromance ever existed in the first place. After Morgan Earp (Wyatt's brother) dies, Wyatt and Holliday go their separate ways and never speak again, because according to Russell, Morgan was the thread tying them together and without him they had nothing. No. Just no. Holliday won Wyatt THE GODDAMN HORSE HE ALWAYS WANTED. They are a historical Red Oni/Blue Oni, Kirk/Spock, spitfire/stoic, intellectual/street smart BROMANCE. ...more
If this is what Westerns are like, I need to read more of them. I saw the 2010 movie version and loved it and had heard the book was pretty good. So IIf this is what Westerns are like, I need to read more of them. I saw the 2010 movie version and loved it and had heard the book was pretty good. So I decided to try it out, and am incredibly glad I did. The movie stuck incredibly closely to the book, especially the first third, which was at places word-for-word (but such clever words, I didn’t mind experiencing them twice).
Mattie Ross gets my vote as one of the most badass heroines ever written. Of everyone in the story, she is the one with the truest grit (though Rooster Cogburn and LaBoeuf have quite a bit themselves). Mattie has a mission: hunt down her father’s killer and see him brought to justice. And nothing will stand in her way: not the fact that she’s a girl, not the fact that she’s young, not the fact that she’s inexperienced. Everyone tells her to stay home and let the professionals take care of it, but Mattie has the optimistic faith of youth and is bound and determined to come along and make sure the job is done right.
The characters have depth, the dialogue is generally smart and amusing, the heroine is wonderful, the plot is exciting. I tend to view Westerns as dime-novels (poorly written pulp). But this one was excellent. And I would recommend it as a gateway drug to other Westerns. ...more
Did not like – this is the same kind of exciting-plot-turned-boring-through-overdetailed-description book as Jamrach's Menagerie and Oscar and LucindaDid not like – this is the same kind of exciting-plot-turned-boring-through-overdetailed-description book as Jamrach's Menagerie and Oscar and Lucinda. I don’t understand how it’s possible to turn a story of a widow who killed her husband and is being relentlessly pursued by his vengeful and creepy red-headed twin brothers into such a dull trudge, but it apparently is. This kind of book routinely wins awards, though, so there are people out there who love it. It's just not for me. ...more