I didn't re-read Jack London for a long time, and when I did, last year, I had a surprise: one of my favorite pieces, and the one that is extremely poI didn't re-read Jack London for a long time, and when I did, last year, I had a surprise: one of my favorite pieces, and the one that is extremely popular and well-loved in Russia, Smoke Bellew is virtually unknown here. It is a later work, published in 1911-12, and Jack London himself called it a hack work, written for money. And yet, it is, I believe, great. I mean, I've read later London's novels that were over-blown, over-melodramatic and rather impossible. Smoke Bellew is none of those things. In fact, it combines the best of both worlds. It is a collection of short stories tied into unity by the same characters (both main and secondary), same time ( Klondike Gold Rush) and same place (Yukon territory). It escapes the the soggy plotting and other problems with novels that Jack London had – most critics agree that Jack London was much better with his short stories than his novels- and yet still allows for character development impossible in a short format.
At some point or other I read a lot of Jack London – short stories, novels, but it was a long time ago, so I was wondering how well it will hold. And it generally was just as excellent as I remember. The language was fine, though I had to figure out several slang phrases (remember, I read it first in translation). The main character, Smoke Bellew, is still good, the descriptions are still amazing and awe-inspiring and bring to life everything London is writing about.
In the first story, The Taste of Meat we meet with our hero, 27-years old Bohemian Kit Bellew, languishing in San Francisco, working (without pay) in a newspaper and hating it all. He is well-educated, cultured, and hardworking, but his uncle appears and berates him for being less a man. Kit doesn't feel like less a man, but he is tired of his life and wants to get out, so when his uncle jokingly suggests to go with him and his sons to Klondike, Kit happily agrees. Then he gets a journey full of physical hardship and joyful self-discovery; he meets his partner, Shorty, and a young woman Joy Gastell. He doesn't turn back when the initial goal was achieved, and went on, to the new interesting life in the Great North. He goes to Dawson city and starts the life most people live there – hunting, looking for gold, hunting travelling around. But also soon enough he gets to be the talk of Dawson thanks to his adventures.
Sometimes one may think Smoke (Kit re-named himself so) is a perfect person. He is intelligent and clever, he is kind and brave, he has a sense of humour and a poetic streak, he is honest and inventive, he is hard-working, he is a good friend... He is all that, but he also is a man of his time, and reading it now, a hundred years after it was written it feels like his main negative quality. One he couldn't overcome, of course. We can see it most clearly in his attitudes to the Indians and women: he is benevolent to them, but both the latter and the former are equally alien to him.
I have a very quaint feeling about women in London's stories – he creates strong, interesting, alive female characters, and then he doesn't know what to do with them. Both the author and his heroes, which left me more than often infuriated by the end of the story. Smoke Bellew stories have a few ladies in them, but they all are very memorable. It keeps true – there were much more men than women during Gold Rush in Yukon, and Jack London gives us the wide scope of women who were there – some were born there or came as children with their parents, like Joy Gastell, and were experienced old timers when the Gold Rush began. Some came with their husbands, or by themselves to mine gold, some worked as entertainers or in the service industry, as we say now – doing laundry and cooking for much better money than anywhere else. Some, of course, just lived there all the time. All worked. Not every one was nice and kind. None were a fragile delicate flowers that societal mores dictated they should have been.
And here lies, I think, the problem. London was describing women, based on the women he saw there, but he also tried to adhere to the feminine ideal of his epoch. Behold the resulting mess. It isn't noticeable where the character is episodic, like the woman-miner in “A man on the Other Bank” who is excluded from voting whether to hang Smoke or not (he is suspected in murder), and subsequently lets Smoke go, saying “If I am not good enough to hang him, I am not good enough to keep him”.
Then there is Joy Gastell, who is a recurring character in the book and Smoke's love interest. She live in the North with her father since she was a little girl, but was educated somewhere else in the meantime. At the time of the story she is in her early twenties, an experienced Northerner who does everything men around her do, often better – we see it in glimpses, but it is clear enough. And it is enough to admire her together with Smoke. Which is why I hated that in order to get them closer together, London sent Smoke off to... another woman. The very last story in the collection is “The wonder of a woman”, and London, according to (here) tried to make one of his best. It is a really good story, indeed, but most likely you are cringing just reading its title, as I do, every time. Smoke and Shorty are captured by an Indian tribe that is lead by a white man. We were never told anything about this man – what is he, why does he hate the outside world so much, how did he become the Indian chief. We can see that he is cruel, but fair, that he orders to capture whoever gets in his radius of attention, but not clear why (to protect his privacy? To find a husband for his daughter? Out of meanness? ) and yes, he has a grown-up daughter, Labisquee, also white. He mother died long time ago, and she doesn't know anything about her. But she knows about love and romance – from the stories that another captured white man, who was telling her stories about Paolo and Franceska. So inevitably she falls in love with Smoke, and he learns about goodness and wonder of all women through her. At this point I got annoyed and my annoyance only grew with the story development. Mind you, Labisquee is awesome, she is not all goodness and sweetness by any standards. She also sees herself very much apart from the Indians around her, no matter that she shares her life with them, she hardly knows anyone else, and her father is actually the chief. So she is interesting complicated character, and I can't help feeling that she was served unfairly by being stuck in this story, instead of having a story of her own. And giving Joy Gastell more interactions with Smoke. And no nonsense about wonders of a woman.
Still, it is a very good story, and it makes me happy, all the shortcomings notwithstanding.
Now, to more cheerful aspect – reading this time I was paying attention to geographical moments. Remember, it all happened in Canada! I traced the may Smoke made from Dyea, to Dawson on the map of Canada that we still have on the wall, I poured over Google Maps of the regions. There is street view of Dawson, and lot of pictures of the mountains and vales, and forest, and rivers of Yukon available there. I finally realized why people were carrying all this weight with them – Dawson didn't have enough food supplies and a year-worth supply of food (grub) was the requirement of Canadian authorities – one couldn't be admitted to Canada without their own food. There is nothing, of course, in the book about crossing the border and dealing with customs and such, but I cheered at every mention of mounted police, Ottawa, or some other Canadian mark. There was no outright mention of it being Canada, still. Just Great North haunted by brave and glorious mounted police...
I am slightly embarrassed, because I liked it. Anyway, I am not blind, and the book is far from perfect. The most glaring flaw – POV is jumping betweeI am slightly embarrassed, because I liked it. Anyway, I am not blind, and the book is far from perfect. The most glaring flaw – POV is jumping between characters sometimes several times in the same scene – which is very annoying, even if I wasn’t trained by now to pick it up. Occasionally I had to come back and read a sentence again to figure out whose POV it is now. You get the picture. Then, the author occasionally goes overboard with descriptions and expositions, but I have to note, that it is not jarring most of the times.
Then, the situation is ridiculous and unbelievable. But, here goes praise: once I turned on me suspension of disbelief and dived into the story, I stopped caring about it. Because here goes what Amanda Brown did well. She wrote characters I liked and cared about – even if they started rather stereotyped. She dropped these characters into improbable situation and let them find their way in it. And it was nice. I loved that protagonists didn’t have a great physical attraction form the first sight, that they didn’t think about it at all, but made each other laugh and learn, and shared a companionship instead. And here is another thing I love: I think that the author has a talent for irony, and generally a god eye for funny. She mocks villains and secondary characters, and settings, and conventions, but she also mocks her protagonists without making them unsympathetic. That was what I loved in her first book, “Legally Blonde”. It is more ironic, and less fluffy and victorious than the movie, but the way the author pokes fun at Elle Woods, while sympathizing with her, is very dear to me. ...more
I liked it a lot, but I expected to like it much more. Unreasonable expectations? May be.
It is strange – reading a book everyone around read long agoI liked it a lot, but I expected to like it much more. Unreasonable expectations? May be.
It is strange – reading a book everyone around read long ago and loves. Well, it is never every one really, but enough to pick up the general attitude.
War for the Oaks is a wonderful book and I thoroughly enjoyed it, plus it is the urban fantasy, which at this point is my favorite subgenre.
But there were “buts”. ;)
The heroine is a great fun. It is hard not to like Eddie – but this is the problem, too. Why is she so lovable, where are her shortcomings? She doesn’t leave an impression of a Mary Sue, but she doesn’t feel to me like a real person. She is just a little bit unbelievably cool. Or am I too critical?
The plot itself seems rather predictable – or every plot after certain amount of books read seems so? I can’t say what will happen, but I can guess what kind of event will happen and how it all will work with great certainty. It is not always a bad thing – I absolutely loved the whole development of love between Eddie and the phouka, and even though I could guess, it didn’t spoil the fun.
Oh, and the phouka is beyond adorable. ;)
On the other hand, I quite loved Willy as well – he possess two qualities that I value: desire to learn and curiosity and the ability to change. That’s why I was didn’t like that he died – he just started to change – and I would love to see the progress.
His death brought me thoughts about the characters’ death in general. The death in fiction is always happens by the author’s design, even if the author is following the story and its demands. How the death in fiction may be written (filmed) so it wouldn’t feel contrived? Sometimes it happens – death doesn’t necessarily feels natural, but I don’t think about author, I think about characters, and sometimes I keep thinking about the author, and what the authors means by it – which create the impression of the death for the sake of plot, not the natural part of the story.
For the positive example I can refer to The Sandman – there we enjoy Death’s company ;)
The clothes are described with amazing precision, and the eighties’ clothes sound so funny!
The music is confusing, too. I wish I could hear it – the music on paper is too complicated, it is something I cannot quite imagine, and for the most of the book I felt the characters are speaking a strange language that I should have understood but cannot. ...more
I have very mixed feelings about it. It is the type of quirky fantasy with a bit of romance that I should fall in love with. I didn't, and I feel uncoI have very mixed feelings about it. It is the type of quirky fantasy with a bit of romance that I should fall in love with. I didn't, and I feel uncomfortable about it, as it failed me even though it didn't owe me anything, but I am still annoyed.
1)a strong sense of deja-vu made me realize that the heroine, Alexia, is a brain twin of Amelia Peabody (of Elizabeth Peters' Egyptology mysteries.) The Britishness, the proud spinsterhood (that don't survive the end of the first book), the sharp mind, the assertiveness, the lack of conventional beauty... I adore Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson, but I am not sure how many of her I need for my enjoyment. It has just occurred to me that both Amelia Peabody and Alexia are literary descendants of brilliant Marian Halcombe of Woman in White. Now, that's one lady whose adventures I'd love to follow...
Alexia and Lord Maccon work together as a romantic pair, but they felt to me kind of “meh”. They are probably the homage to Peabody and Emerson, but I feel that they are clones, and I'd rather re-read “Crocodile on the Sandbank” by Elizabeth Peters in the fifth time.
2)My major gripe is with the soul stuff. The book is called “Soulless”, and I kind of expected more exploration of the matter. What is the soul, what does it mean in that Universe? It is said that Alexia doesn't have a soul, which she was told at 6, and she read Greek philosophers to acquaint herself with the moral implications of that fact. But the thing is – it all falls empty, a tantalizing promise that never gets fulfilled. Alexia has a pronounced effect on supernatural beings, an effect that is attributed to her lack of soul. Except this is the only effect, and I reasonably suspect that either the soul here is something different from I am used to consider it, or the basic theories of her world are wrong, and Alexia does indeed have a soul, and her soulless effect is caused by something else. It might be explored further in the next books, but I was waiting for more soul stuff from the book that is called Soulless. After all, it would have been interesting whether good manners can be a person's moral compass. How love would look like without the soul in that world? What is the soul, anyway? Those are all questions I asked myself when I picked up the book, but I didn't find them – not even the questions themselves there.
3)Reading went much slower than I expected, and at the culmination I was frankly bored. Not a good sign.
4)I love omnipresent point of view and the narrator's voice separate from the author and the characters, being reasonably old-fashioned and raised on 18-19 century novels. I applaud the return of the narrator to modern stories, even if it is done to simulate the old time feel. But. But there is one giant difficulty: I need to love that narrator and don't want to smack it. Here so far it feels too twee, and I mostly grow annoyed. I still hope to befriend it as soon as I get used to the tone.
5)What did I like? I liked the world, the atmosphere, the new and different take on vampires and werewolves, and their effect on human history and politics. I liked the scientific ideas of the supernatural. The world, of course, pretty much didn't exist beyond British Isles and North America, but that goes with the mores of the time, and a topic for the following books, anyway. I wrote previously that I was tired of vampires, and I still am, but I wasn't here. The ecology of supernatural beings among humans was very different and very interesting from what we are used to.
So, when all is said and done, my resume is that it is why it fails for me personally, I can recommend it for my friends, or for any lover of romance and Victorian fantasy. I won't guaranteed that you fall in love with it – I didn't, but it is a glimpse into a curious world. I will be checking out the second book as soon as I dog through my immediate to-read pile.
So we meet a girl on brink of an adult life, who suddenly learns that she possesses unique strength and skills – and a destiny tI do not regret it. :)
So we meet a girl on brink of an adult life, who suddenly learns that she possesses unique strength and skills – and a destiny to kill vampires. She doesn’t mind killing vampires, but she would rather have a normal life – with balls and entertainments, beautiful gowns and dances, and with handsome men who would want to marry her. Sound familiar? Duh!
She is not the Vampire Slayer, she is the Venator, and she is not the chosen one, though she has the potential to be the best. Her name is Victoria, and she lives in Regency London.
I have to admit, the first pages were like an old game of “find 10 differences in these pictures”. After a while, the story found its stride and sucked me in with its setting and the characters and the mythology.
The setting is so familiar and comfortable for us Regency epoch. Vampires don’t seem to be out of place there, but it is amusing to see how the presence of vampires influences a typical Regency romance. Apparently, it is much harder to hide a stake in a empire dress, and big purses are not yet in fashion, so our heroine has several stakes in different colours that her maid hides in a fancy hairdo. I think it was the blue-colored staked that won me over.
The characters grew on me fast enough – Victoria, her grandmother Eustasia, Marchess Rockley, maid Verbena, gloomy Italian guy Max, mysterious guy Sebastian…
Rockley is that perfect Regency hero that we are used to seeing as the ultimate reward for the heroine. And he really is that good. He is handsome and rich, and brave and generous in spirit… However, he has all the historically appropriate values. How would he react to his chosen bride hunting vampires at night? Hmmm….
Victoria herself is just a product of her time, yet she takes everything that happens to her in the stride. Well, more or less. She is brave, stubborn, reckless, smart, she makes mistakes and learns from them. And she really enjoys dancing.
One more thing I liked about this story is the vampire mythology. Let’s face it, Buffyverse mythology has more holes in it I can count, which I all forgive, because the story works for me on emotional and metaphorical level. This story has much less holes in it. It’s vampire myth is based on some Christian apocrypha, on the legends of Judas, and in this context vampires’ dislike of Christian symbols actually makes sense.
Another thing I liked that Victoria’s strength is a part of a legacy, and as such is in her blood. But when handed this destiny she still can refuse to follow it and forget all about vampires. On the other hand, one can be unrelated by blood, and still to choose the destiny of a Venator....more
Well, I finally picked the DVDs from the library and watched it. And then I downloaded the book from Gutenberg project site and read it.
What can I sayWell, I finally picked the DVDs from the library and watched it. And then I downloaded the book from Gutenberg project site and read it.
What can I say? I loved the book much more then the series, although I am glad I watched the series first. I loved the actors, especially the main characters, and I was glad to be able to put faces I liked in my head when I was reading.
The larger part of the series I was mostly meh. Of course, Mr. John Thornton (as presented by Richard Armitage) broods as the best of them, and I am very appreciative of a quality brooding, the whole as three episodes seemed to consist of walking and brooding and class struggle, and not much else. However, the fourth episode, mainly the ending, redeemed it all.
The book did not suffer from silent walks and long scenes where nothing happened - it had them, for sure, but it didn't suffer for all that. :) In fact, I was surprised just how engaging the slow beginning was - in contemporary fiction I would have been very annoyed if nothing much happened by the second chapter - but here everything flowed with the slow pace and yet I wasn't able to put the book away. The slow walks were not tedious but full of thought and passion. The looks have actual meaning, and the class struggle wasn't much of a grey mass affair as it was in a series. The Higgins family though are equally good in both book and TV form, but reading their accent was more tiresome than listening to it. :)
The ending, though, I loved it in book several times more than in the series. I guess it is just Victorian usage of familiar words, or that I am that much of a word person, but the book ending was damn hot! and very very satisfying. ;)...more
I was longing for something light, fluffy and cheesy, so I got myself Insatiable by Meg Cabot. Happily, I was able to get it from the library - imaginI was longing for something light, fluffy and cheesy, so I got myself Insatiable by Meg Cabot. Happily, I was able to get it from the library - imagine that, only a month after release!
Anyways, it is all that promised - light, fluffy and cheesy. Except I couldn’t read it - I am so over vampire romances. (Yes, Whedon’s vampires are a huge exception to me.) I liked the beginning when it seemed more of a quasi-vampire story, but as soon as love started I got bored. So I jumped ahead, and well, there are really good pieces there, but also there are quite a lot of vampires. And I am just that tired of them and their problems. (I LOVED reading everything about vampires when I was a teenager - duh! ) One thing that I really loved was the notion that a vampire always want to kill you dead - especially when they love you. And being dead sucks. Out of all the characters I now remember - and therefore think it was the most interesting character - the vampire hunter. He is a good guy, but annoying and psychotic, and you enjoy seeing him suffer, even though you want his side to win. About the girl of the book, I cannot say anything at all. Except that she has a healthy disgust for vampires until she meets the best of them. And her head is a mess. Which makes her super-special.
No, it is a good summer read. Two weeks after returning it to the library I cannot remember anything more substantial than a Marc Jacobs’ tote that the heroine coveted. And the fun fact that the events took place fifteen streets south from where I live at the moment....more
The Perilous Gard I loved without reservations, and I cannot find anything there that I wish would be different. It is not the best book ever, but asThe Perilous Gard I loved without reservations, and I cannot find anything there that I wish would be different. It is not the best book ever, but as it is, it is just right.
The language flows smoothly, occasionally reminding us that it happens in XVI century, and not in XX with a certain turn of phrase, or a word naming something we don’t have a use for, but never descending into ElizabethanSpeak. I can – with difficulty –read actual Elizabethan prose, but have no patience for nowadays remakes – even the closest to authentic. Elizabeth Marie Pope sets the time with just enough historical details and just right linguistic means.
The characters – main and secondary – are imperfect, but interesting. The main characters are adorkable and squishy. I mean they made me care about their doings and cheer for them and smack them with the herring in some cases.
The Fairies are interesting and believable. Well, as believable as fairies can possibly be. I loved that Kate is trying to find a reasonable explanations for their doings and I loved even more that her explanation is as close to reasonable as possible. I was in a good kind of shock learning that they really do live in caves and hollows of the hill, not in a magical land or any kind of wonderful palaces. It made sense – as their pride in that way of living. Lady inspires curiosity and awe and animosity and sadness at the same time.
And finally I would like to note the perfect mood in the book – just dark enough with the sparkles and the lightness that is coming from the characters themselves....more
It got me immediately when the characters started discussing Hegel - and then it was getting better and better: main characters I love, revolutionaryIt got me immediately when the characters started discussing Hegel - and then it was getting better and better: main characters I love, revolutionary underground, mystery and intrigue, Engels (actually as a character in the action), more Hegel with Kant and Hume, and the lovely XIX-century epistolary style.
The genre is impossible to define - it is not fantasy, not really a historical fiction or a philosophy textbook... But then, probably all really good book defy the strict genre definitions.
Reading about Engels - as the regular character - seems kind of strange. They (I rarely can think of him in singular, without Marx attached as a Siamese brain-twin, even though I read each of them separately) feel like an older relative - that you know were young and did what all humans do, but never think about it. they are way too memorial. And this is one of reasons I enjoy seeing Engels there so much.
The main characters (Susan, Kitty, James and Richard) are delightful, and I savor every moment with them, too. They are far from perfect - they have their quirks and vices and secrets, and they can be difficult, but they are never annoying and flat. ...more
I loved this book, and what I liked the most was the same I liked in all Huff's books I read: cool and likable characters, snappy dialogue, vivid imagI loved this book, and what I liked the most was the same I liked in all Huff's books I read: cool and likable characters, snappy dialogue, vivid imagery and sharp details. Details make me relate to the world Huff's characters live in and feel quite at home - whether it was mentions of some Canadian realities, brands or problems, or pop culture ones (like Joss Whedon and World of Warcraft).
So, what is about? A young woman that inherits a junk shop in Calgary from her grandmother, her gigantic magical family, her insanely powerful aunties that rule the family and would be ruling the world if they were not too nice for it 9so they just make the world to accommodate to their wishes), her cousins, her lovers (mostly the same cousins), her love, her growing up, dragon princes, fate of the world in one Canadian city, and everything else in between. The scene with hunting evil monkey paw through the shop reminds me powerfully of some mummy hand scene, and it is also a bonus in my opinion.
There is a system of magic that we don't get a full picture or detailed explanations, just glimpses - the females' roles and powers are divided by their maiden/mother/crone status, men are literally AND figuratively horny, and there is sex. It sounds cheesy and may turn someone away, but in the story it made perfect sense to me.
The story is finished, but I hope Tanya Huff will return to this family and the rest of the characters. There are a lot of fun cousins to write about. And then, of course, there are dragon princes - gorgeous, powerful, bored, clueless... I'd love to see more of them, too....more