Read this for my sci-fi book club, though it's really an urban fantasy/romance.
I enjoyed this quite a bit for what it is. Personally, I prefer my vamp...moreRead this for my sci-fi book club, though it's really an urban fantasy/romance.
I enjoyed this quite a bit for what it is. Personally, I prefer my vampires to have a bit more gravitas after their 400 years of life, and a little less Matrix-style athleticism, but suspending my disbelief the extra layer wasn't too hard. At least they don't sparkle, right? (Is there a step maybe one or two down from Deborah Harkness on the vampire dial?)
I also liked the Hyde Park texture; I haven't yet tracked down whether Neill is a U of C alumna, but she sounds a bit like one . . .
The love interests are fun, and Neill seems to have tuned in right away to the need for side characters to be full characters. There's plenty of setup for them to get play (um, pun somewhat intended?) in later installments, and there's some self-aware foiling of relationships against such industry standards as Buffy (for urban fantasy) and Pride and Prejudice (for romance -- it's sort of nice to see so many authors trying to define themselves against Austen's work).
In any event, the real delight of these books is the protagonist. Merit's struggle to embrace her newfound vampire status is the actual conflict of the first book, and it's fun to see something so character driven. This obviously works well with the romantic plots: who can care about her for who she is when she isn't sure, in the first place, WHAT she is . . . and in the second whether she's okay with it . . . and in the third whether she'll oppose it somehow. It's reminiscent of Hamlet's soliloquy, but with a style that's both fun and smart, crisp and light. Merit handles it with humor and grace, and takes herself just seriously enough for us to care about her.
The book has a few spots with some pacing problems, and the resolution of certain action sequences or political ploys can occasionally seem forced, but the world-building is excellent, and the larger concept of vampires "outing" themselves to begin establishing relations with humanity makes for a good backdrop, even if the vampires seem to have done it a bit too spontaneously for long-game, calculating immortals.
I'll give this four stars for being a fun intro to a good new series.(less)
This book struck me as masterfully crafted. Grossman's conceit can be summarized (as a friend puts it) as, "What if Harry Potter were set in an elite...moreThis book struck me as masterfully crafted. Grossman's conceit can be summarized (as a friend puts it) as, "What if Harry Potter were set in an elite private college full of world-weary post-teens, rather than a British boarding school full of children with all their wonder?"
That's an apt description for major portions of the book, and it dismays the reader more often than it delights. But it dismays in an honest, intelligent way: the notion of super-charged magical 19-year-olds, full of hormones and cynism, really is terrifying -- not least for what it might do to their souls.
This has the sobering effect of bringing back the college years and calling into question whether they were ever worth anything . . . but all of that disorientation is really a setup for the second major movement of the book (although I believe it's the 3rd or 4th "part" of the text).
There's something of a major set of spoilers to that, although they're heavily foreshadowed, given how tightly crafted the storyline is (Lev Grossman seems to follow the Chekhov's Gun school of writing: nothing shown is without purpose -- though this self-contained work seems more honest about that than Rowling's series, which often seemed to re-layer a second meaning over a previous event because the author had thought of it later).
Still, it's perhaps spoiler-less to say that Quentin, the protagonist, eventually has to learn how to live beyond his schooling, full of knowledge and power and things that are deeply significant and could change the world, but which nobody in their mundane reality takes any note of (so magic becomes an image for, among other things, your liberal arts degree!).
Then things pick up and get tucked into a larger conflict that was hinted at . . . but still populated by the young adult protagonists of Quentin's anti-Scooby gang, with all the weird baggage of their power and privilege. By the conclusion, the reader's left to make sense of a number of events that didn't turn out as neatly as they might, say, in a work of fiction. Again, the work has a deeply honest streak to it, and this dis-orientation seems to be the point.
"Enjoy" is the wrong word for this book, but I'm giving it (my rare vote of) 5-stars, because it broadened my sense of what might be done with the genre, and its reflection on beloved works of children's fiction (both Harry Potter and Narnia seem fairly directly implicated) offers a critique that's really thought-provoking; I doubt those series can be read post-Grossman without considering whether they fall short of the unapologetic integrity of his piece.
I'm grateful for the read, which felt like an education, even if I couldn't quite say in what.
A final note, the major characters are all brilliant students, and the writing occasionally dips into wonderfully precise and elevated terms, as if to reinforce the point that these young men and women are smarter and better than we are. The plot is dense and there aren't central conflicts -- part of the point of this work seems to be a cold reminder that growing up is hard and often thankless. The book's not a page-turner, and it will make you stop to think. More of "project fiction" than a beach read, but a very well-written piece that I'd be glad to recommend to a handful of friends at least.(less)
**spoiler alert** Harry's been due to have some worlds collide for a while, and this does a fine job of it. It's fast-paced (it takes place over its p...more**spoiler alert** Harry's been due to have some worlds collide for a while, and this does a fine job of it. It's fast-paced (it takes place over its promised 3-day setup), and proposes serious consequences.
The below will contain some general spoilers and presume you've read in the series.
After the Changes > Ghost Story > Cold Days arc, the series felt like it needed something a little lighter; a chance to catch its breath, and I feel like this book delivered. Sorry if that's spoilerish -- seems to me that you'll recognize the tone as you're reading. The heist theme is fun. The new characters are interesting. A few layers deepen in good ways without letting up on pace. One of the reveals on a new character is fantastic, and holds up a great mirror to Dresden. (Some of the conversations earlier in the book hold up good mirrors to him as well)
It feels like Butcher's playing a good long game; I think I've heard somewhere that he has a 25-book arc planned out for the Dresden Files, which sounds just about perfect. It feels like that will let him keep up the humor, cultural winks, and occasional tear-jerker moments while still delivering something with epic scale.
I'm delighted to see what comes next, and fairly satisfied with this volume; worth the release-day buy and the frenetic, stay-up-to-finish read. I missed a few other characters, but their absences made sense given the story arc.
I'm putting four out of five on this for now (I'm stingy). It's not that it isn't great -- for the best of the exploding genre of urban fantasy, you can't beat Butcher's Dresden. But I suspect that there are some gems in the series (Changes is certainly one of them), and I think this is masterful but not game-changing. Anyone have the release date on #16 yet?(less)
McDevitt is a smart author, and his characters have emotional depth -- and he's masterful in his understatement of that: often a single clause or sent...moreMcDevitt is a smart author, and his characters have emotional depth -- and he's masterful in his understatement of that: often a single clause or sentence will reveal the deeper layers of the interactions of a scene, and if you aren't paying attention, you can miss it. On the other hand, when I caught them, these moments often made me pause, shaking my head in admiration, and take a few moments to reflect both on what was happening and how well-crafted it was.
But the real delight of THIS particular text is the way in which it plays up the tension between science, religion, and human purpose (perhaps even human destiny?). The political landscape of the book is deeply personal, and no character is a pure villain -- not even the two dimensional ones referenced in the "newspaper headlines" McDevitt offers us from his future timeline at the end of each chapter. The wit and wisdom of Gregory McAllister, one of the novel's protagonists, provides a gloss at the beginning of each chapter, and most of these are on point. As a priest who enjoys the public discourse between science and religion (probably more than usually so for my profession), I was struck by how well McDevitt articulated these various perspectives. Every once in a while one was a bit ham-handed, but by and large, he's a man who's done his homework, paid attention, and written his observations with integrity towards all concerned. It makes for a fun and occasionally provocative read, and does some of the best work of science-fiction: to hold up a mirror to our own times and concerns through the metaphor of writing our science larger.
I'm giving this my rare 5-star rating, because I think it goes beyond simply being a masterful execution in the genre, to actually offering contributions to a number of disciplines and conversations. It's not quite a "must-read," but if slice of life, science fiction, or mystery novels are at all "your thing," this is probably a book worth your time. I can readily imagine non-sci-fi folks reading it.
This is a book in a series, but stands alone.(less)
McDevitt's very good. I'd say that two things stand out about this: one is that the plotting isn't ruled by the characters' sense of the possible. Rat...moreMcDevitt's very good. I'd say that two things stand out about this: one is that the plotting isn't ruled by the characters' sense of the possible. Rather, like a mystery novel, McDevitt seems to have set out the pieces in advance and then have the characters encounter them and try to make sense of them. However, the fact that this is being done in a sci-fi book, rather than a mystery (which typically begin with some criminal event that needs untangling), provides a grander scale and a set of more human, everyday responses.
The other thing that stands out is the depth of characters' reactions to events. McDevitt takes time to introduce us to each player in the story, and when something happens, he's pretty careful to tell us how each member of the cast responds. Some of these lines are incredibly concise and poignant (or delightful!).
The science involved in the book is a lot of fun, and is close enough to things that ARE established for the reader to enjoy reading along and trying to guess solutions.
I'm giving the book my five-star rating because it seems to stretch the genre for me. McDevitt's sci-fi is driven by wonderfully real characters, and the level at which the technology is integrated into their everyday lives is a cut above without making tech the star of the show. McDevitt also seasons the story perfectly with snippets of other public figures -- that is, his characters use the slang and cultural references of their own time perfectly . . . none of Star Trek's re-skinning Earth's references by simply adding an alien name in front (as blind as a Tiberian Bat, anyone?).(less)
Another fun book with McDevitt's unusual and insightful conceit of being a narrative written by the gal doing the grunt work for the genius hero. Chas...moreAnother fun book with McDevitt's unusual and insightful conceit of being a narrative written by the gal doing the grunt work for the genius hero. Chase Kolpath continues to be a great protagonist, and the book includes a fun change-of-perspective in one of the few situations in literature that obviously calls for it . . . and as expected as a number of the outcomes and reveals are, the book manages to spin out some great twists.
Part of the delight of these books is in how the actual themes are revealed to the protagonist pair over time, so I won't go too much into the plot. But I WILL say that the mystery elements will reward those who take notes! I plan to continue reading McDevitt, and not just because Alexander Benedict has a great last name.
Four stars for a great execution and some new thoughts in a crowded genre.(less)
I "read" this in audiobook form, and I think that's probably its best format. Reader William Dufris does a good job capturing various voices and draws...moreI "read" this in audiobook form, and I think that's probably its best format. Reader William Dufris does a good job capturing various voices and draws you into something like the best of golden-age sci-fi television with the character voices. The choppy speech of the Lemurians makes me occasionally uneasy, sounding a bit too much like some sort of racial speech parody, but mostly I was able to suspend my disbelief.
The pacing of this novel is slower than the first, and the plot mostly serves to establish a heightened level of threat. The various attacks involved on the various sides make sense, and it leaves a promise of further action to come. I was a bit disappointed; the first novel seemed a bit better. I do plan to continue the series in audiobook form; it makes for relaxing company on long drives or at the gym, where I prefer to have something a bit lighter and more entertaining.(less)
Stayed up late to finish this book, which was a refreshing reminder that good science fiction doesn't need to be about the size of explosion futuristi...moreStayed up late to finish this book, which was a refreshing reminder that good science fiction doesn't need to be about the size of explosion futuristic weapons can accomplish. I'm not conversant enough in the genre to situate it as "golden age" or "high science fiction," but I would say that it is elegant in its execution. The space travel and astrophysics seem grounded in reality (again, I'm no expert), but the real treasure in this book is that the social impacts of both philosophy and technology are seamlessly integrated into how the characters respond to the events around them. There's no apology for it, either; the protagonist writes as if to her own contemporaries, rather than with any awareness that she has to provide exposition for us back in our age.
The same is true of her character; she doesn't evince any need to self-disclose for pure exposition's sake, and as a result, she comes off much more real. It was interesting that Jack McDevitt chose to write as a female lead, and that the character isn't the hero of the events of the book (for all that she does most of the work).
To offer a (minor) spoiler, the story itself is something of a mystery regarding a lost human ship and its colonists (I gathered more info than this from the back cover). It's got good pacing and drama, and the responses the protagonist pair has to the search are deeply human. Great stuff.
I'm grateful for the recommendation that brought this author to my attention, and I'll certainly be reading more McDevitt. I'm giving this my four-star rating for a great execution of a work that stands out to me in a crowded genre.(less)