When the grim reaper shows up a few seconds early, Zane shoots him instead of using the gun on himself as he’dORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
When the grim reaper shows up a few seconds early, Zane shoots him instead of using the gun on himself as he’d planned. Now, instead of being dead, Zane is Death. He has to take over the office, riding around the world in his convertible pale horse collecting and measuring the souls of those who’ve committed equal amounts of good and evil during their lives — those who are “in balance.” In his new guise (complete with all of the accoutrements: scythe, hooded cloak, skeleton face, etc), Zane sets out to change Death’s image while dealing with his own personal demons.
This is a fun premise and I expected Piers Anthony to do a lot with it, but unfortunately I found On a Pale Horse to be mostly illogical, trite and, worst sin of all, just plain boring. Part of the problem is that it doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedy, a love story, or a heavy philosophical treatise. It tries to do all three (it should have been possible), but it fails at all three. The comedy, as usual for Piers Anthony, consists of puns, allusions, and light black humor. For example, when Zane asks Mortis (the pale horse) something to which the answer is negative, Mortis says “neigh” (that was the only one I actually laughed at). I enjoy puns in real-life dialogue (they indicate a quick wit), but they don’t often work for me in print and this is one of the reasons I don’t read Piers Anthony (I gave up on the first Xanth book after 4 chapters, but I tried On a Pale Horse because it sounded mature and interesting).
There were some things I did find funny — Death lives in a house that looks like a funeral home and answers fan mail, Satan uses his publicity budget to sponsor Hellathons, group plans, and billboard advertising, a soul’s balance of good and evil is computed like an income tax, and you should hear Satan argue with a female Irish fishmonger — but mostly I found the humor and cheesy dialogue to be juvenile.
The love story is juvenile, too. Zane meets and immediately falls in love with Luna, whose main attractions are that she is beautiful, well-dressed, serious, and likes the same kind of art as Zane. After only a couple of conversations which they apparently think are deep, they are in love, but the reader certainly doesn’t feel it.
The humor and the romance are silly, but the thing that really killed On a Pale Horse for me was that it tries to be thoughtful and enlightening as Zane attends a variety of deathbed scenarios that illustrate the unfairness, loneliness, guilt, relief, grief, and ugliness of death. In these scenes (there’s a long string of them), there is a lot of repetitive introspection and pondering and some “lessons” about the selfishness of suicide, the effects of incest or rape, the tragedy of an untimely death, the positive and negative aspects of war. Sounds like it could be profound, and I know it’s supposed to be profound because in the rather pompous and lengthy (one hour on audio) author’s note at the end, Mr. Anthony says “it is a satiric look at contemporary society with some savagely pointed criticism. It’s also a serious exploration of man’s relation to death… an ambitious hard-hitting social commentary.” Except it’s not. It’s rather superficially processed and it’s all stuff that most thinking adults have pondered many times before. There’s nothing new here, even for 1984 when it was published.
Just as one example, there’s a long scene in which Zane (as Death) enters a medical facility where machines are keeping dying people alive against their wishes. When he shuts down the power and they all are relieved that they can now die, he thinks he has greatly sinned and that now he’ll have to make up for it by doing more good deeds. Of course, we the readers recognize that his mercy is the good deed and that it’s not a sin to let people die naturally, but why hasn’t this occurred to him before, especially since he’s had personal experience with the issue and he’s been thinking about it for months? Luna tells him “I think sometimes you just have to sin in order to do the right thing” which is a profound revelation for Zane, but it makes me wonder why an adult who hasn’t advanced very far through Kohlberg’s stages of moral development was chosen to be Death. This sophomoric philosophizing might work better in a YA novel, but On a Pale Horse, with its succubi and other sexual references, is marketed to adults.
I was beyond bored with On a Pale Horse and the only reason I managed to finish it was so that I could thoroughly review it. Unfortunately, I was listening on audio and couldn’t skim. The reader, George Guidall, wonderful as he is, actually seems to slow down during the introspective scenes (I guess so that I can have time to process the heavy material?).
Another reason that the attempted weightiness of the story didn’t work for me is that On a Pale Horse is completely based on Christian theology. It’s okay that Anthony gets some of it really wrong (purgatory is not Biblical, and neither is the idea that criminals and children of rape or incest are unacceptable to Heaven), but what’s hard to overlook is that no mention is made of redemption, which is the crux of Christian belief (and a popular theme in fantasy literature). The whole point of Christianity is that Jesus paid the price for sin, so souls are not measured by the balance of good and evil deeds, but by whether or not they belong to Jesus.
Of course, a savior would completely throw off Piers Anthony’s entire premise, which is that man must secure a place in heaven by doing more good than evil. In order for this to work, Christ must be excluded, but in that case it seems that it would be better to not use CHRISTianity as the basis for the story because it forces the premise to fail. Mr. Anthony knows that, he knows we know it, and he wants us to just wink it away so that his story works with all of the clever Christian puns and allusions. For the most part I was able to do that, and I could have been perfectly happy doing that if On a Pale Horse didn’t ask me to think. But when it asks me to seriously consider eternal issues and the nature of sin and death, good and evil, and Heaven and Hell in the context of a Christian system, then I have trouble leaving redemption out of the picture — my thinking is restricted and I don’t get very far if I have to omit key elements of the doctrine. For this reason, On a Pale Horse would have worked better as strictly a comedy
Coraline’s family has just moved into a new flat. Her parents are always busy with their own work and CoralineORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Coraline’s family has just moved into a new flat. Her parents are always busy with their own work and Coraline (please don’t call her Caroline) has no friends or siblings to play with. She spends her time exploring her new apartment complex and the surrounding grounds. She’s got some eccentric neighbors: two little old ladies who love to reminisce about their time on the stage and an old man who trains mice to sing and dance.
But what’s really strange is the extra door in Coraline’s flat. It doesn’t go anywhere. Coraline’s mom says it used to connect to the vacant flat next door, but now it’s bricked up. Except that it’s not always bricked up... sometimes it does go somewhere…
Coraline is a terrific little heroine. Curious and brave, but appropriately cautious, she sets out to discover what’s in the vacant flat. And though what’s there seems rather wonderful at first, Coraline soon realizes that it’s actually rather horrible. Not in a bloody gory kind of way, but in a spooky, spine-tingling, why-the-heck-is-this-so-scary kind of way.
Neil Gaiman understands creepy: buttons for eyes, long red tapping fingernails, long dark hallways, talking rats, trapped and soulless children… I’m not sure why, but just the thought of an “other mother” automatically evokes goosebumps — How incredibly disturbing! The eeriness is accented with excellently terrifying drawings by Dave McKean (who did the Sandman covers).
Coraline is excellent fantasy for sensitive but brave children who like to squirm. I read it to my daughters, and I’m sure I squirmed just as much as they did. My girls enjoyed Coraline’s adventure and maybe now they’ll even be a little less put out when Mommy is too busy to play....more
October (Toby) Daye is a changeling — half fae, half human. She’s been living in the mortal world, trying to aORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
October (Toby) Daye is a changeling — half fae, half human. She’s been living in the mortal world, trying to avoid nasty faerie politics, but she’s suddenly been thrust right back into it when a pure-blood faerie countess is murdered and Toby has to solve the crime before succumbing to a curse.
I don’t read a lot of this type of urban fantasy, so I can’t compare Rosemary and Rue to most of its peers — I can only compare it to what I normally read. Coming from that angle, my opinion is that Rosemary and Rue is a well-written novel with some fine world-building and characterization, but it’s not an excellent novel.
The world-building is quite extensive and heavily based on faerie lore. I loved the way that San Francisco was divided into faerie duchies. This was innovative and interesting and I learned a few things but, unfortunately, it often felt like we were walking the pages of a faerie encyclopedia because there were frequent descriptions and explanations of every imaginable fae creature: selkies, peris, pixies, sprites, redcaps, hobgoblins, etc, etc. This does make October Daye’s world feel real and vibrant and creative, but it was also a lot of information to give us which means less plot and slower pace. This is likely to get better in subsequent novels — once we feel established in October’s world.
I sympathized with October’s situation and found her likable enough, though I didn’t quite understand why other characters thought so highly of her. There’s nothing wrong with October Daye — but she’s not particularly compelling as a heroine. She made a few moves that were supposed to be brave, but I just thought, “Hey! What are you doing? That’s a good way to get yourself in trouble!” And guess what? Yeah, she got in trouble. Trouble is fine, but not when you should have seen it coming.
Toby’s voice is slightly sarcastic — not in a caustic way (thankfully), but in a flippant way. I know this is common with urban fantasy heroines, but it’s just not my type of humor. In fact, I don’t think I laughed or chuckled even once during this novel which means that there was no relief from the tension for me. I’d much prefer to have a grimmer novel that at least had some real humor to give us some bright spots (Joe Abercrombie’s so good at that). This is likely an issue with my own personality and humor preferences.
I also couldn’t relate to Toby’s attachment to Devin, the creepy caretaker of the changeling half-way house. I think this is what disappointed me most about Toby — she really should have been disgusted with him from the beginning, but she was half disgusted and half in love. Yuck. This is probably the main reason I couldn’t embrace Toby — I just couldn’t understand what she was thinking.
I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version which was read by Mary Robinette Kowal. Ms. Kowal did a truly excellent job with Toby — it was perfect. However, I must say that her voices for most of the other characters where cringe-worthy. Her male voices especially were unpleasant and several of the voices that were supposed to sound ethnic were just strange. Ms. Kowal is an accomplished voice performer and her voice for Toby was wonderful, so I’m willing to believe that these strange voices were chosen because of the faerie theme. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another audiobook performed by Ms. Kowal, and I certainly plan to try her own novel which releases in a few weeks.
In the end, I think Rosemary and Rue stands up pretty well (probably better in print than audio), but it’s nothing particularly exciting....more
Mikhail Dubrinsky is the leader of the Carpathians, a powerful race that is dying out due to lack of females.ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Mikhail Dubrinsky is the leader of the Carpathians, a powerful race that is dying out due to lack of females. Raven Whitney, a human, is vacationing in the Carpathian Mountains after using her telepathic skills to help catch a serial killer. Raven senses Mikhail’s distress and the two of them realize they have a connection to each other. Raven may be the life mate that Mikhail thought he’d never find and she represents hope for the Carpathians.
Ugh. I really hated Dark Prince and, though I tried to stick it out, I finally had to put it down after three chapters of torture. The first problem is the characters. Raven is everything you expect in a romance heroine: slender, small bones, tiny waist, big high breasts (how often does that combination happen naturally?), big blue eyes (“brilliant sapphires”), long thick lashes, skin like satin, full soft mouth, “a wealth of raven hair tumbling down her back to draw attention to her rounded bottom” (Ugh!). Raven’s physical features are described over and over and over. The phrase “her slender…” (fill in with “arm,” “body,” “form,” “wrist,” etc) was used 25 times (assuming that Amazon has the entire print version searchable, I’m not sure). Every man wants Raven, yet she’s completely unaware of it. And totally innocent. We’re told that Raven is also intelligent, but I saw no evidence of that.
Mikhail is everything you expect from the brooding blood-sucking type: tall, rich, important, dark, broad-shouldered, chiseled features, arrogant yet passionate and, for some unknown reason, completely infatuated with Raven. Not only does Mikhail look great, but he sounds great, too. “Black velvet seduction was in the molten huskiness of his voice.” (Ugh!). By the way, the word “velvet,” which applies both to Mikhail’s voice and Raven’s creamy skin, is used 32 times in a 447 page book which calculates to, on average, one “velvet” for every 14 pages. With that much velvet, I could reupholster my living room.
This kind of stuff offends my ears (I was listening to this in audio format), but this isn’t the worst of it. What I really hated was that these two meet telepathically and speak about 3 paragraphs to each other while Mikhail spies on her when she’s alone in her bed in a white lace push-up nightie (how many antisocial young virgins normally wear those to bed, I wonder). Suddenly he becomes outrageously jealous at the random unwarranted thought of Raven with another man: “Rage shook him, raw and deadly.” (Ugh!)
Then he claims ownership and control of Raven and starts bossing her around, calling her “my woman” and “Little One” (this title is used 132 times in a 447 page book — you do the math). Despite Raven’s protests (“Don’t try to intimidate me, Mikhail; it won’t work. No one tells me what to do or where I can go.”) He manages to get her exactly where he wants her to be and she seems to be rather ineffectual against his manipulation. Though we’re told she’s intelligent, she seems naively unalarmed when Mikhail says these sorts of things (which make up most of his black velvet seductive speech):
* Do not disobey me in this, Raven. * You will drink. Obey me in this. * Obey me at once. * Why do you defy me? * Do not try to leave me, little one. * Stay! * Do not try to leave me, Raven. I hold what is mine and make no mistake, you are mine. * You need to sleep. * You are not nearly as afraid of me as you should be. * You will never repeat this foolhardy act again. * I will not tolerate any foolishness that might put your life in jeopardy…. I will not lose you.[he’s got his hands around her throat here] * American women are very difficult.
These examples are all in the first 60 pages of the novel when they’ve known each other for one day. This is Mikhail’s courting behavior. Raven’s “foolhardy act” was to take a walk in the woods around the resort while on her vacation. Apparently American women are very difficult because they like to choose their own activities while on their own vacations rather than obeying handsome violent strangers. After this conversation, he carries her off to his lair. And she’s not kicking and screaming. Does Raven think that Mikhail will become less demanding, controlling and possessive after the courting is over?
Well, I couldn’t stand it, so I gave up. I don’t like Mikhail and Raven and I don’t want to read any more about their twisted relationship. How any self-respecting woman can think this is sexy… I have no idea....more