A farting pony, a racially and culturally diverse cast, a mixed race main character as a young princess with a desire to be a champion warrior only foA farting pony, a racially and culturally diverse cast, a mixed race main character as a young princess with a desire to be a champion warrior only for her birthday, instead of a warhorse, she receives an adorable little pony. Sounds good so far.
Despite the positive female 'girl power' role model whose parents represent mine exactly with a black mother and white father, the cute illustrations (including a veiled warrior woman), the story didn't sit right with me. Yes, the fierce warriors being able to show their soft, cuddly sides at the appearance of the micro pony was nice and all, it just wasn't heartwarming or logical. Pinecone realising her puny pony had value when the warriors paid more attention to the supposedly adorable four-legged creature than her was a little sad.
Generally speaking, picture books don't usually confuse me. The time and place The Princess and the Pony is set is vague. Pinecone is holding a Viking helmet aloft on the first pages, followed by warriors of different times and places including a strongwoman (as opposed to a strongman), a falconer-ess from the Mongolian Eurasian Steppe and a one-eyed Robin Hood. Pinecone's home looks to be some kind of castle with wood beams and animal heads mounted on the walls. Then, at the champion competition, the warriors are in ancient garb while the spectators watching this mass brawl are all in modern clothing clutching foam fingers and popcorn. So this was a Rennaissance fayre and Pinecone isn't really a princess and her parents are in permanent fancy dress? Confused.
As for the brawl the spectators are watching, it was obviously too dangerous and rambunctious for Pinecone to join in with her … spitballs. Yes, you read that right, spitballs. In a fight with adults.
I appreciated the diversity, the feminist edge and the illustrations....more
'They didn't notice that all he wanted was a hug.'
A textured tactile cover and adorable pencil illustrations, but an anticlimactic ending ruined
'They didn't notice that all he wanted was a hug.'
A textured tactile cover and adorable pencil illustrations, but an anticlimactic ending ruined what I thought would be a resolution full of love and affection from the power of a simple hug.
Black sheep Felipe, the unloved and unwanted prickly cactus, is apt to harm anything he comes into contact with which limits the possibilities of who or what he can hug. Finally hugging a random crying rock just wasn't as heartfelt or as meaningful as I was expecting.
A better, more emotional ending would've earned Hug Me a higher rating....more
Waste of paper. No, that's not right. That's offensive to the artists as the illustrations were brilliant,but there may as well have been no words. SeWaste of paper. No, that's not right. That's offensive to the artists as the illustrations were brilliant, but there may as well have been no words. Seriously. Very little happens. At least very little that makes sense or contributes to plot progression. Only the last few pages have any real meaning with a humdinger of a cliffhanger that leaves you with multiple questions and countless theories.
We meet Dionysus and Prince lookalike Innana. We find out some superfans believe if they kill a god then they'll absorb their powers, which isn't true for everyone except Baphomet - maybe. Ananke seems to be manipulating the gods into making themselves vulnerable enough for her to kill them. (Is she stealing their lives to maintain immortality? Or is she 'removing' troublemakers?) Ananke deliberately told Bap not to kill other gods because he alone could absorb their remaining time on Earth to extend his own life, and of course, what does Bap do? He's on Ananke's to-kill list after he takes Innana's life. Baphomet's symbolic upside down crucifixion of Innana was interesting. That and Innana's forgiving Baphomet and warning him that stealing his life force will just prolong Bap's misery. It's also hinted that Bap is the one behind framing Lucifer for the judge's death. And finally our naive protagonist Laura is bumped off by Ananke after she turns her into Persephone.
Superfan Laura being murdered during the afterglow of becoming a god came as a shocking cliffhanger. Although I'm not sure I believe she's truly gone due to the god she became. Ananke could've killed her when she was still human, so why didn't she? Persephone travels between two worlds and is separated from her husband in the Underworld and reunited with her mother every six months. Might this have something to do with it?
Taking Laura's parents' lives may have been a tactical move. Perhaps Laura's mother would take on the role of Persephone's mother Demeter. Upset at the loss of her daughter to Hades for half the year, Demeter brings on winter by withdrawing her power over vegetation growth allowing crops to wither and winter to take hold. Laura's mother may not have powers but she could turn the world against the gods after watching Ananke murder her innocent daughter.
We're told only twelve gods are remade. Cassandra turns out to be the twelfth, Urdr, the Norse goddess of fate and a seer of past, present and future as part of the trio of Norns. Notice Cassandra's name is that of the Greek prophetess cursed by Apollo to never be believed. Well, that happens here, too.
Laura is the thirteenth god. (How's that possible?) Being Persephone may explain why her presence is so readily accepted by the gods of the Underworld in Baphomet and The Morrigan since she's married to Hades, by the sky gods Baal and Amaterasu as she's the daughter of Zeus, the love and fertility god Innana as Persephone is also the daughter of harvest goddess Demeter, and finally Dionysus since she's his mother (and Zeus is his father, if you're wondering. Incest, yo!)
The Faust Act didn't exactly blow me away. I'm still frustrated with these characters. They feel shallow and superfluous. Except for Lucifer and she's dead. I miss her. Cassandra feels like Luci-lite and I'm not digging her angst. And Laura's desperation is off-putting.
Having the two characters with the most stage time whacked by the same person in the same way is repellent and repetitive. Whether you loved them or hated them, Lucifer and Laura were our main connections to this universe. By seeing the world through their eyes we grew attached to them. Who's left for us to care about?
A British setting (loved seeing the Excel Centre hosting Fantheon as they hosted fan event LonCon3 last year which I attended), a mixed race protagonist, plenty of non-stereotypical GLBT and non-white characters, vibrant illustrations and a fascinating mythology are all things I admire in the W+D universe. However, a jumpy narrative, the lack of plot progression and meaningful dialogue is difficult to tolerate.
Twelve gods, I think, were too many to adequately develop. It feels as if they're thrown into scenes or forced to converse with Laura just because they've had very little stage time and the audience hasn't had a chance to get to know them yet. This has slowed the pace of the story to plodding (I was so bored reading this) and plot threads have been too quickly resolved (who and why were snipers shooting at the gods?) which was anticlimactic or forgotten until the closing act (Laura's obvious god ability). The Faust Act did a lot more in 144 pages than Fandemonium did in 166.
Reviews of the next few issues of the comic aren't reassuring. It seems plot is completely absent in favour of telling back stories. If one of those is Ananke's then that might be helpful. Should my library purchase the third volume, I may skim it. The Wicked + The Divine's mythology is compelling but I'm not willing to waste money on it....more
As an autobiographical sequel to Fun Home, Bechdel's approach to analysing her relationship with her mother couldn't be more different to how she exAs an autobiographical sequel to Fun Home, Bechdel's approach to analysing her relationship with her mother couldn't be more different to how she examined the one with her father. If you have a problem with dry psychoanalysis, then you may struggle with Are You My Mother?
'I didn't understand why we couldn't just read books without forcing contorted interpretations on them.'
'I still found literary criticism to be a suspect activity. Once you grasped that Ulysses was based on the Odyssey, was it really necessary to enumerate every last point of correspondence?'
These two quotes from Fun Home perfectly describe my frustration with Bechdel's obsession with using psychoanalysis and countless dry quotes in academic-speak to not only figure out her feelings for her mother, but to decipher her sense of self. I began to lose patience for her long neurotic struggle which saw me condemn her many times for tedious self-absorption despite obviously low self-esteem and self-hatred and a feeling of being unworthy of love, affection and praise.
Self awareness may be important for personal growth but you also have to look outside yourself in order to understand who you are and who you want to be in the future.
While bits of the psychoanalysis are spot on, things like poking yourself in the eye is just an accident, nothing more. 'Psychoanalytic insight, [Alice] Miller seems to suggest, is itself a pathological symptom.' I'd agree. Bechdel drives herself crazy trying to find meaning in every little detail. This only lets up towards the end when Bechdel falls back to the insertions of literary criticism reminiscent of Fun Home.
'An insecure parent who did not appear to be insecure, but who depended on the child behaving in a particular way. This role secured "love" for the child-that is, his parents' narcissistic cathexis. He could sense that he was needed.'Donald Winnicott
Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott appears to be Bechdel's hero when it came to the mother-child attachment, so much so that her cat is named Donald. He's heavily quoted throughout and is depicted as a nice man who was amazing with children though he had none of his own.
'It appals me to think how much deep change I have prevented or delayed in patients . . . by my personal need to interpret. If only we can wait, the patient arrives at understanding creatively and with immense joy, and I now enjoy this joy more than I used to enjoy the sense of having been clever.'Donald Winnicott
Winnicott's ideology frames Bechdel's insights and belief's into her maternal bond, although they didn't always feel relevant compared to the significant results of simply recollecting and interrogating the past in a basic fashion.
Alison's mother's reaction to a draft manuscript for Fun Home was not what Alison unexpected. '"...Alison is wrecking my life." She said she felt the dread she used to feel with Dad, of exposure and scandal . . . The crazy thing is I was hoping she'd say something about the writing, you know? That I'd impressed her!'
While Alison is desperately trying to seek approval and affection from her mother, she fails to take into consideration her feelings on the subject matter of her book or the fact that she disapproved of airing the family secrets in public under Alison's real name. To add to that, her mother wasn't used to the comic form as 'she thought there'd be more text and not so many drawings' and believed 'the self has no place in good writing.'
On memoir writers divulging the personal information of others without permission Bechdel writes, "Well . . . writers are kind of monstrous, aren't they? They don't have, like, normal human ethics." She herself transcribed conversations with her mother.
'Mom had told me that she felt I'd betrayed her by revealing things in the book that she'd told me in confidence. I'd thought I'd had her tacit permission to tell the story, but in fact I never asked for it and she never gave it to me. Our truce is a fragile one.'
By writing about her dysfunctional parents in order to understand them, Alison severely damaged her prospects of forming the type of relationship she wanted with her mother. A sad irony.
'I don't know why you can't understand me . . . Whatever it was I wanted from my mother was simply not there to be had. It was not her fault. And it was therefore not my fault that I was unable to elicit it. I know she gave me what she could.'
Alison uses her beloved therapist Jocelyn as a surrogate mother figure to absorb the good feelings Jocelyn had about her. 'Mom and I didn't hug or kiss goodbye. We hadn't touched in years.' It's telling that one hug from Jocelyn and calling Alison 'adorable' seemed to do more for Alison than the psychoanalysis.
Jocelyn's comment, "I think your mother has some resentment about being female that got passed on to you" has some merit. Bechdel's father preferred Alison to look like a stereotypical girl, to wear dresses, have ribbons in her hair, etc. Alison rejected this aesthetic instead going for the tomboy image instead. Her mother being seen to prefer her brothers over her probably reinforced the idea that anything "girly" was bad.
Virginia Woolf's influence in having said writing about her mother in To The Lighthouse helped put her obsession with her to bed, Bechdel declares writing Are You My Mother? she was able to do the same.
Want to know the possible roots of misogyny? Bechdel seems to suggest that womb envy may be one and there's also an implication of resentment towards women for the dependence we all had on them as children.
'Some of what [Winnicott] says is very of that era. "Penis envy is a fact." But then Winnicott "reminds" the audience that "male envy of women is incalculably greater . . . We find that the trouble is not so much that everyone was inside and then born, but that at the very beginning everyone was dependent on a woman. . . The awkward fact remains, for men and women, that each was once dependent on woman, and somehow a hatred of this has to be transformed into a kind of gratitude if full maturity of the personality is to be reached."
Poet and radical lesbian feminist Adrienne Rich is another of Bechdel's heroes. 'The essay in which [Adrienne] Rich cites A Room of One's Own covers some of the same ground as Woolf's Book. Like, for example, the woman writer's peculiar challenge to cease being an object and start being a subject.' As a fellow feminist this makes me want to read Woolf and Rich.
In her struggles to write her memoirs Bechdel came across Freud's inclusion of an interesting quote on writer's block from poet Frederick Schiller.
"The reason for your complaint, it seems to me, is the constraint which your intellect imposes upon your imagination . . . you reject too soon and discriminate too severely."
Reading Are You My Mother? wasn't as an enjoyable experience as Fun Home despite being familiar with psychoanalytical theory. As a theme, it's overused and monotonous and certainly reduces the book's appeal to a wider audience, even fans of Fun Home. Prolonged angst over anxiety, depression and writer's block made it difficult to sympathise with Alison despite experiencing those issues for myself and recognising the symptoms. Although one moment of shared history did tickle me. 'I found I could soothe myself to sleep with a fantasy.' I wonder if other writers and bibliophiles did this as children, too.
As for the drawings, there's a change from Fun Home's blue-tinged imagery to maroon. I'm unsure if Bechdel did this intentionally to represent the stereotypical colours corresponding to the gender of the parent she's analysing. In any case, the warmer colour is easier on the eye....more
This is not The Hunger Games. I feel that distinction has to be made early on because I was very close to dismissing The Stars Never Rise as suchThis is not The Hunger Games. I feel that distinction has to be made early on because I was very close to dismissing The Stars Never Rise as such and putting it down because the beginning is the same, albeit more brutally realistic. A neglectful mother who is rarely seen or heard, a big sister who has to do everything she can to put food on the table and clothes on their backs while also taking care of her younger sister. The Hunger Games was "just" a dystopia, this is also urban fantasy. Demons are walking the streets wearing humans like clothes while quietly consuming their souls.
In a strictly controlled environment, Nina days away from her 17th birthday and 15-year-old sister Melanie have to be careful to obey the rules lest the all powerful Unified Church find out their mother is a crackhead sinner which would see them sent to a children's home. As it appears their mother won't make it to Melanie's 18th, Nina reluctantly plans to pledge a lifetime of servitude to the Church in order to keep Melanie out of an orphanage for the next three years. What Nina doesn't bank on is Melanie's rebellious nature culminating in an unplanned and illegal pregnancy that Melanie's desperate to keep despite the challenges ahead. (Understatement.) To make matters worse Nina accidentally kills her mother (there's alot more to it than that) and goes on the run, painted as a demon-possessed serial killer by the Church.
There are some striking similarities to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Church and state are one and the same after an apocalyptic event. Purity and virtuousness rule. Procreation is under strict control and punishments are lethal and very, very public. Propaganda is ever present and self-determination is pure fantasy.
TV show Dominion appears to share the same world with The Stars Never Rise. Demons seeking hosts to possess. The war against demons wiping out a large percentage of the human population with those remaining living in walled towns and cities, always on guard against the possessed.
Skimming much of the text for the first two thirds of the book to concentrate on the dialogue was the only way I could continue reading. Obviously I didn't miss much as I never became confused enough to go back to read it properly. Pacing is generally too slow and boring whereas the tense moments, more common in the home stretch, are when everything speeds up and suddenly every word is relevant and interesting.
Figuring out the admittedly riveting twists and turns before the characters was frustrating. All the signs about the truth behind the Church were there. Although Mrs Kane's plans for her poor daughters were a complete surprise.
[SPOILER ALERT: Who would expect a mother to breed and sell her children for mere personal gain? I also don't get the assumption that an exorcist can be possessed, wouldn't one cancel the other out?]
I think the only reason I didn't give up on The Stars Never Rise altogether is the shocking brutality. Sterilizing fifteen-year-olds, including Nina, for having a few non-lethal allergies because they could weaken the next generation, burning innocent children at the stake, the demeaning things Nina had to do in order to get away with stealing - disrobing and allowing herself to be groped. All of that kept me reading despite Nina's clichéd insta-love interest Finn. (At least there's no love triangle, like in Vincent's other works.) I'm not so secretly hoping that Finn's body hopping status means he's really a demon. Or in Supernatural style, maybe he's an angel. Since he grew up with Maddock, seemingly born with and bonded to him - perhaps he received two souls at birth instead of one.
While we're on the subject of souls . . . Everyday we're reminded that our population growth is out of control. Star Trek: Next Generation created a world where 60-year-olds die to prevent themselves from becoming a burden to younger generations. Today we have the problem of needing ever more taxpayers than the increasing number of pensioners in order to pay for pensions and elderly care.
Well, here the demons feast on the souls of their hosts and once that soul has been extinguished they either change hosts or become Degenerates, when the host bodies mutate into monsters described like the vampires from the Kate Daniels world. But that's okay, because there's a neverending supply of souls. Until the the day came when babies inexplicably started dying upon arrival into this world due to a lack of soul. To combat this, volunteers usually offer up their souls (and their life) for their unborn grandchildren and people aged 50 and over are automatically added to a community list should no family or friends of any age come forward. Sometimes there are no donors available and the babies die. Anyway, this regulates population.
With all of that in mind, there's only one logical conclusion. Human extinction. No one seems to acknowledge the fact that humanity is doomed. Countless demons eating up the limited supply of souls means a humanless world is inevitable. Unless this reincarnation process is broken by some miracle that no longer requires state sanctioned suicide to provide souls for the young, then this story isn't going anywhere. A handful of exorcists, i.e. Nina the Demon Slayer and co., won't be able to save our species. There will be no happy ending.
Deus ex machina is not something I enjoy, so where's the incentive to read The Flame Never Dies the sequel in this duology?
I've now read twelve works by Rachel Vincent. Political intrigue and edge-of-your-seat tension in her adult Shifters series were amazing. Unique worldbuilding certainly set the young adult Soul Screamers series apart from the pack, while also never shying away from the tough topics that entrance and haunt adolescents such as sex and drugs, and I can say the same about The Stars Never Rise. Gritty relationship drama is another special talent Vincent possesses although little of that is present here other than the weirdness when kissing your boyfriend means kissing multiple males (no girls so far) that he temporarily inhabits.
Character development feels a little . . . iffy. Melanie, Nina's pregnant sister, is a rebel determined to live her life the way she wants instead of how the Church wants. Falling in love wasn't expected. Clearly the pregnancy wasn't planned and certainly threw a spanner into the works, proving her guilty of both fornication and procreation without a license. This strong, smart fifteen-year-old has a fleshed out personality, others don't. Her sister Nina is the stereotypical fighter and protector willing to sacrifice her life in every way for her sister (and possibly Nina's only friend Anabelle). And Anathema, the small band of exorcists plus the disembodied Finn, seem to share a strong-willed yet affable nature apart from the slightly meaner but more practical Devi. Honestly, I couldn't always tell which of them was talking and I got that irrepressible do-gooder vibe you get from Jehovah's Witnesses on your doorstep that sometimes came across as creepy. I shouldn't be thinking that about the good guys. Bad guys, yes; good guys, no.
To sum up, excellent immersive rather than info-dumped worldbuilding, a diabolical political landscape and shocking twists and turns are the positives. But overall, the snail pace, figuring out the mysteries some time before the characters and the lack of forethought regarding the fate of humanity kind of dampened my enthusiasm somewhat.
If my library happens to stock The Flame Never Dies, I may read it, but I'm not going to go out of my way to finish this duology unless I see some stellar reviews, and maybe not even then....more