Another confection from Jasper Fforde, rich in acknowledged absurdities, snarky comments, and smooth social commentary. Again not quite up to the impo...moreAnother confection from Jasper Fforde, rich in acknowledged absurdities, snarky comments, and smooth social commentary. Again not quite up to the impossible standard of the first quartet, but a worthy addition to the oeuvre.(less)
I love it when magic has a great idea behind it, and using bells is just such a great idea. The whole trilogy is good, but the first foray into a new...moreI love it when magic has a great idea behind it, and using bells is just such a great idea. The whole trilogy is good, but the first foray into a new world is always especially delicious. Here, one of the great features is that the non-magical world is obviously, well, England in the WWI era. How strange! And how well it works!(less)
Not bad. This is a plenty engaging time-travel story. I agree with a disgruntled reviewer that the author uses the "little did he know..." device too...moreNot bad. This is a plenty engaging time-travel story. I agree with a disgruntled reviewer that the author uses the "little did he know..." device too much, but I was somehow able to overlook it.
What I liked: the overall time-travel idea is always fun, and the premise is not terrible: that at a time of great stress, our protagonist got transported to a time he knew well: 1897 Vienna. Then, like the Connecticut Yankee, he has to make the best of his situation and leverage his knowledge of the future.
Now, 1897 Vienna is really interesting, and that's what makes the book: we have music, including Mahler; science, including Freud; and the glories of the Hapsburgs gilding a rotting Imperial core. The book also handles he backstories well; we fill in the main characters' histories, which include a couple gripping baseball scenes.
But how does he do with the dangers of a time-travel plot? Self-consciously. Everything is painstakingly -- and alas, too transparently -- tied up and though through. Though the central problem of why this happens never really gets answered satisfactorily (and there is at least one hole I won't detail here).
Curiously, I found the obvious recent comparison piece, The TIme Traveler's Wife, much more satisfying. Why? I don't think it's in the plotting; rather, it's in the quality of the writing and the characters. Wheeler is interesting, but not deep. When we meet him at different times of his life, we don't even immediately know from how he acts how old he is. I hate saying that, since Edwards worked on this book for 30 years. But this book is more like a passable but not great young-adult book that has (tasteful) sex in it. (Yes, young-adult novels such as Rite of Passage have sex, but not as much as this one.) And psychoanalysis.
Even so, I liked it, I enjoyed reading it, and would recommend it to people who like time-travel stories and enjoy fin de siècle European history.(less)
I had high hopes for this book, and it has some splendid ideas. Ultimately, however, two things about it annoyed me so much I can't give it an enthusi...moreI had high hopes for this book, and it has some splendid ideas. Ultimately, however, two things about it annoyed me so much I can't give it an enthusiastic thumbs-up. I do see how this can be a matter of taste, and perfectly respectable readers could give this five stars. Bet here are my beefs:
Length and Plot. The overall structure of the book is that our protagonist, newly-resurrected urban sorcerer Matthew Swift has to destroy a chief bad guy (gamers will recognize him as a boss) who has rings of protectors and junior bosses to be gotten through first. There are puzzles to solve, preparations to make, setbacks to un-set-back, and then a big fight scene where the preparations pay off and we see cool magic. This cycle happens several times in the course of the book. And—it's just not enough. If you're going 500 pages, you need more. There are interesting digressions, a couple of them, but they are just not really compelling as sub-plots.
Too LushIf nothing else, Griffin can write beautiful, lush prose. The problem is that there's too much description, not just of settings, but also of feelings. Now I like good settings and characterization, and I like lush prose. But it needs to lead somewhere more than it does here. Griffin, for example, strings together long lists of seemingly-disparate lexical nuggets in order to show the complexity of something she is describing. This is a really great device, but it appears over and over, and I got sick of it. The problem is not the particular string of attributions, but that the tenth such string ceases to inform us about the plot or characters. And then there are the similes and metaphors. Again, more than we need.
An example. Our hero summons a spirit, and we get a bunch of description, including:
...His eyes were the amber of traffic lights, his breath the swish of traffic passing on a wet night; his skin has the colour of old chewing gum...
Cool, right? But a couple paragraphs later, we get this, in the midst of some action:
...His teeth weren't even solid, but lumps of pale, half-chewed bubble gum that formed sticky fingers between his blue lips. A wisp of breath that rattled like train wheels across shining new rails, a creak in his bones as he shifted his weight like the sound of a rusted gate banging in the wind...
Me, I just get tired trying to assemble all those images and attach them to the spirit in the scene. He's creepy-looking and rickety, we get that, but how much does it matter that the rails are new?
Then, in my annoyance, I get picky: why use chewing gum twice, huh? Skin and teeth, unless he's a gum spirit, and we have no indication of that. Then those rails. To train wheels really rattle across shining new rails, or do they more generally rattle along them, unless you really mean that our train is passig over switches or crossings, which makes the description of breath far too complicated. Fnally, that creak in his bones: the bones can creak like a rusted gate swinging, but if the gate bangs, that's not the sound fo bones creaking, is it? Ack.
Finally, because our hero is inhabited by electric blue angels, he goes back and forth between first person singlular and first-person plural (I to we) in the narrative. Although this reveals his inner multiplicity, it's too cumbersome and confusing, particularly when he is doing something with another character: when Griffin writes, "we entered the disco," we don't know whether Swift is speaking for the angels within, or reporting that he and his friend both entered.
Some good points: * The opening has that yummy confusion where you're dropped into the action in a strange environment, can't fathom what's going on, and get to come gradually to be able to follow the narrative. Goes on a little too long, inmy opinion, but I liked it. * The whole notion of urban magic is terrific, finding the magic in the city. Swift often, for example, draws power from electric systems; and the organization that arises from people living closely amid infrastructure creates its own peculiar magical enclaves, for example, the spirits of conversations that linger in the lines or the teleprtational resonances between suburban streets that seem identical.
Wow, an average rating over 4. I guess people have different tastes. Rothfuss gives us some interesting ideas about magic, but for me, the writing was...moreWow, an average rating over 4. I guess people have different tastes. Rothfuss gives us some interesting ideas about magic, but for me, the writing was weak, the voice bland. Also, although the form of the thing—basically, a novel within a short story—is unusual, that doesn't make it good. The amount of great ideas and gripping writing does not support the large page count.
Also, this is clearly, and irritatingly, the first of a series. And here's the thing: when you write a series, you're supposed to make each individual book stand on its own, at least after a fashion. Isn't that in the author-readoer contract? And this one is so egregiously not the whole story, it's irritating. It's really all exposition, showing us the hero growing up, trying to motivate everything that will come later. Explain all his neuroses, introduce us to the magic system, do the foreshadowing we need. That's all good, but I need some plot payoff, and I don't get it.
The biggest irritation: the writer's habit of saying, "if you've never [ been poor | been a musician | been whatever :]" then you won't understand..."(less)
**spoiler alert** I figured I had better read this to see what the fuss is about. The story moves along passably. Certainly not literature, but it's n...more**spoiler alert** I figured I had better read this to see what the fuss is about. The story moves along passably. Certainly not literature, but it's not supposed to be. The writer is obviously not very experienced (despite an English Lit degree from Brigham Young), yet has somehow captured the imaginations and dollars of a lot of readers.
And yet (I'm sorry Shahada! I hope we can agree to disagree!) I didn't like it. I have several big complaints:
Narrow This may be the biggest deal for me, and can certainly be a matter of taste. This book is all about wanting and longing. Bella wants Edward. We know that she is in love with him before she does. And that is The Only Thing in the book. Everything else is down in the noise: We know she doesn't like going to Forks but she does anyway. We know she likes sun. We know she brushes guys off. She can cook lasagna. Her mom is a flake. She took AP Bio. She has read a lot of books. But all these background things get only passing mentions. None of them affect her big decisions in any way, and we see none of them in any detail. The only thing that has impact is her clumsiness (for which we have no reason) and even that is shown shallowly. We hear that she trips, but we don't really get a vivid picture. As a consequence, Bella, our heroine, is one-dimensional.
Even with a 1-D protagonist I could have a better time. In many genre books, we readers at least get to learn something new. Not here.
So what do we have time for in this novel? There is value in giving this huge beyond-crush infatuation the pages and time to flower. Excruciatingly. Slowly. So. We. Know. Her. Every. Thought. But I am reminded of a draft of a novel I once read in which the first-person protagonist was suffering from clinical depression. It was informative to really feel what it was like not to want to get out of bed in the morning, to see the world in taupe and gray, for everything to taste like cardboard. But beyond a hundred pages or so, well, it was depressing.
Shallow Even though we spend too much time in Bella's head listening to her agonize, we don't even know why she is so obsessed with Edward. He's gorgeous, sure. That could drive you over the edge for a while, but she is willing to give up her life for this. She agonizes interminably about so many things; what makes her so certain for such trivial reasons? She's not stupid.
But she is passive. Passive and weak. Her big stand near the end of the book is essentially to offer herself up for sacrifice. This may seem like a strong choice on the surface, but really, it's the easy way out: we haven't seen her like life very much. She is a depressed teen, and wow! If I'm dead, everybody will be safe! She can commit suicide for love! What a deal!
But of course the guy rescues her. Hardly anybody's feminist model.
Poor Editing Okay, maybe I shouldn't complain but here we go: p 142 (this edition, mid-chapter 7): "I ate breakfast cheerily, watching the dust moats [sic:] ..." Come on people, motes. It's stuff like this that makes me lose confidence in the author (who probably made the mistake in the first place) and the publisher (who didn't care enough to find it and fix it). I mean, this wouldn't happen with Marisha Pessl, right?
More serious lapses occur as well. On occasion, the author forgets that it's a first-person narrative and lets omniscience creep in. This is just careless, and somebody should have caught it. Of course you can mix these stances, but if you do, you should set it up better than Meyer does. One wonders if Meyer noticed and if so, whether she cared.
Maximum Capacity But Meyer commits more serious infractions, particularly in the age-old area of maximum capacity. The principle is that characters have to be as smart, wise, thoughtful, strong, whatever, as they can be. Characters can be limited, of course, but it violates the code of dramatic prose if, for example, a smart person does something stupid.
And that's what we have here. In particular, our heroine, Bella, repeatedly decides to do things on her own, keeping secrets from people who can help her, when she could take care of things more easily by opening up. We get reasons why she keeps these secrets, but they are lame, lame, lame. It's especially egregious in Chapter 21, when she gets the phone call from the Bad Vampire (James) asking her to ditch the Good Vampires (Alice and Jasper) or Bad Things will happen to her mom. She has to promise not to tell them. (We have all seen this scene a million times in kidnap stories: "any cops and da broad gets it.")
But why does she even try to keep the secret? The GV's are smart and hugely capable, and have demonstrated how they want to keep everybody safe. So why the hell not tell them and get their help?
The problem, it seems to me, is that Meyer knew she wanted a scene where Bella has to face James alone, so she had to invent a skein of reasoning to make it work. The writing lesson is: this usually doesn't fly, at least not without more drafts.
Another example: in an earlier scene in which Bella convinces them to let her go to Phoenix (the one in the Jeep) you can almost hear the author's gears turning, there are so many twists to the logic. It's clear that the dramatic goal is not to let the story play out, but to get Bella to Phoenix. And there readers like me lose confidence that the story comes first.
Dashed Hopes As a writer, don't let your reader down. In my case, I kept hoping for various things:
• More interaction with the coastal folks, who could either impart some wisdom or create bigger problems.
• Any conflict to interrupt the basically linear progression of Bella and Edward's love. She gets more and more in love with him and less and less frightened throughout. And as we learn, it's the same for him.
• Something to explain Bella's morose alienation, her immunity to Edward's telepathy, and her great attraction for him. My favorite, which I think would have been great, would be to discover that she has a streak of vampirism herself (mutation? genetic? a throwback?) and never knew; exposure to vampires helps her find herself. Why, it could all have been a plan hatched by her parents...(less)