What the hell did I just read? One thing's for sure, I'll never look at my collection of My Little Ponies the same way again. (Yes, I'm an adult who still owns toys from her childhood. You wanna make something of it?) Horror, allegory, psychological insight into the monsters that are children...all I know is, I'm frightened, very, very frightened....more
Like a string of pearls- no, no, that's an imprecise description. Like matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), each tale within Scorpion Soup draws itselfLike a string of pearls- no, no, that's an imprecise description. Like matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), each tale within Scorpion Soup draws itself into another, leading the reader further and further down the rabbit hole until you find that you've been looped back to the beginning, where the first story took off. (Not unlike how some say time itself may behave.) Rich and lush, ensnaring the entire range of the human senses through Shah's skillful descriptions, Scorpion Soup invites you to sink into its silk-covered, spice-scented, desert wind-warmed embrace and forget your troubles for a spell.
Reading this collection of interlinked stories might confound some people as they do not follow the typical 'beginning, middle, end' format. Instead, just as one story reaches what would be its climax, it becomes instead the introduction for the next tale. And so on and so on. What is created is a patchwork of ambiguity – fluid, imprecise, unbounded. One might even say sensual. Yet for all their freeform nature, the stories do contain lessons and morals. Nothing strictly defined as one might find in, say, Aesop's Fables; instead, the lessons contained within must be teased out, mulled over, perhaps even come at as though they were epiphanies, scintillating through the mind in brilliant 'ah ha!' moments.
Part of the appeal and success of Scorpion Soup must go, if I'm honest, to the publisher, Secretum Mundi Publishing. As with the other book of Shah's I've read, Timbuctoo, they've crafted a marvelous tome, harkening back to the books published 100 and more years ago. The cover is printed with an antique map of Africa, in all its fantastic “Here be Dragons” glory, with embossed gold lettering on the front and spine detailing the book title and author. Inside, the pages are sewn in (sewn in!) with a burgundy satin ribbon (which matches the burgundy end papers) for a bookmark. As a bonus, with nearly each story a fold-out map has been provided illustrating a piece of geography matching that which is in the story. However, these are no ordinary maps. Instead, as Shah explains in his afterword, the selection of maps are replicas of those conceived and completed by the father and son duo of Willelm and Joan Blaue of Amsterdam in 1665, maps which were light-years ahead of any other cartography of the time. Maps which still contained elements of fantasy in the form of mythical creatures and expanses of empty space representing that which had yet to be explored. As Shah says, each map walks the tightrope between fact and fantasy and, as such, provide the perfect accompaniment to his tales.
Born of a culture renowned for its rich history of fables and legends and raised in a family of master storytellers, not to mention gifted personally with a vivid imagination, Shah has taken all the gifts his heritage, family, and talent have bestowed upon him and put them to excellent use in his writing career. His latest effort is no exception, weaving together fantastical, ingenious, and sumptuous stories into a single elegant and highly readable tale.
Disclaimer: I was given a hardcover copy of Scorpion Soup by the author in exchange for an honest review of his work. I am not acquainted with him in any professional capacity, nor I am affiliated with his publisher, agent, or any other entity associated with him....more
Who couldn't love this book? A vampire bunny wabbit, a talking dog and cat, vegetables drained of their juices and turned white? Come on! This is an aWho couldn't love this book? A vampire bunny wabbit, a talking dog and cat, vegetables drained of their juices and turned white? Come on! This is an absolutely adorable book and the start of an equally adorable series. A childhood favorite that's lasted into adulthood, it's a book well-suited for a child...or one who is still a child at heart (like me!)....more
I had a hard time slogging through this, as evinced by the length of time it took me from start to finish. The concept is good, in fact the plot is aI had a hard time slogging through this, as evinced by the length of time it took me from start to finish. The concept is good, in fact the plot is a tried-and-true escapist fantasy, it was just...dull.
First off, the main character, Ben Holiday, is, well, frankly, he's a woman in many ways. His behaviors and emotions reminded me quite often of the heroines in modern PNR fiction: "Oh, woe is me, I'm so miserable. I have a horrid sense of self-worth and everyone keeps telling me how important I am, how special I am, and I just can't, I won't believe it, at least, not until the last act when my obstinacy and sullen attitude has put everyone else in a position of danger and I wake up, stop being such a whiny bitch and take my rightful place as the true leader I was supposed to be all along." Yeah, that gets really annoying after the first few chapters and even more so when it's a man doing the whining. Conversely, Ben Holiday would also act like a complete Neanderthal when it came to female characters. This was most obvious in his actions toward Willow the sylph (half sprite, half wood nymph). He constantly rejects her, even when she tells him that his rejection will be detrimental to her and/or to him. For instance, she tells him to ask her father, the River Master (the sprite), for his permission for Willow to leave with Ben, as she's important to his quest. Instead, he sneaks off the next day at dawn without talking to the River Master about Willow and when she shows up later on (to rescue him, naturally), she tells him that because she left without permission, permission Ben failed to acquire, she's now exiled from her father's land. And he's surprised about that! What a dumbass. Then again, Willow isn't much better as a character. When she first meets Ben, she tells him she belongs to him, a concept which he doesn't accept (of course), but which she repeats on every subsequent meeting with him. If that isn't bad enough, most of the time she's around, she simply floats passively through the scene, as though she's there merely to do Ben's bidding or to get trampled on by his insensitivity. Which she pretty much is. Even during the rescue, when she gets to be proactive for once, you don't feel any sense of heroics from her, just a sense that she couldn't let anything bad happen to the man "she belongs to." The whole thing is irksome. (And, by the way, when did hairy women become sexy? Willow has long hair on her head, which is fine, but also lines of long silky hair, growing along the backs of her forearms and along the backs of her calves. I'm sorry, but yuck!)
As far as auxiliary characters, once again they were simply there to support Ben. I didn't feel any particular connection to them and while the wizard, Questar, had a backstory, none of the others really did. And it didn't feel as though that much effort was put into them. I mean, one of his retainers is a former man who's now a dog, having got that way through a magical mishap perpetrated by Questar. Really? That's it? A dog. Granted, a dog who wears glasses and a waistcoat, but, and this is where the creativity seems less creative and more lazy, a dog whose hands have conveniently not fully turned into paws, having stubby fingers at the end of them so that he may still do his job. Right off the top of my head, I can come up with five other creatures/objects the retainer could've been turned into, each of them presenting a more creative and intriguing angle to the plot than this one.
The plot was a quasi-quest as Ben, the new king of this magic kingdom called Landover, roams the land in order to get support for his rule. However, even though there's a big duel at the end and a few confrontations throughout the novel, for my part, I never felt any real tension as far as "I need to get the support of my people before the demon who's challenged me comes to spit me on the end of his lance." It all felt very meandering and casual, with no real drama or danger. And the thing which bugged me the most about Brooks' writing is that he's very repeat-y. In one paragraph, in which he's describing the appearance and situation of a particular valley, he uses the word 'valley' four times...in a three sentence paragraph! And he loved the word 'trailers' when it came to describing the actions of the mist which surrounded said valley; I can't count the number of times he used it. And why, when there are plenty of other, really great words to describe the ethereal, mercurial, fleeting nature of that particular meteorological phenomenon. I realize repeating a word isn't a national crime, nor is using a different word to describe the same object any better; however, a little variety can be a good thing.
I think the most disappointing thing about this book, though, is that it was sold to me as more a comedy than a straight fantasy, at least according to the blurbs on the book jacket. I adore a good comedic fantasy and I was expecting this to be along those lines. Sadly, it wasn't. I've never read any of Brooks' other works; I've heard he's supposedly a well-respected author. If that's the case, this book isn't an ideal introduction to his talent. Overall, it was a very dissatisfying read....more
Reading this made my inner child (who often escapes and runs amok as an outer child, but that's an issue to deal with another day) gleefully, squealinReading this made my inner child (who often escapes and runs amok as an outer child, but that's an issue to deal with another day) gleefully, squealingly happy. About the only thing that would've made the whole thing even better would've been the presence of unicorns. But that's just my horse-obsessed inner child speaking.
The story revolves around a very familiar theme, that of loneliness and not belonging and wondering if everyone would be better off if you just ran away. Believe me, as a teenager, I ran the gamut of these emotions, so I could fully empathize with Star, the protagonist of the story. As a black pegasus in a world where black pegasi aren't an everyday occurrence, Star feels like an outcast. Add in an ancient prophecy attached to those rare black pegasi, one of which is born every hundred years, which states that the pegasus foal will either unite or destroy the herds and become the most powerful pegasus in the land, and it's no wonder Star is either shunned or actively bullied by the other foals, not to mention many of the adult pegasi. As a final insult, Star doesn't fully belong to his herd: His mother had been driven away from her herd and was taken in by the Sun Herd, then died after giving birth to Star; the lead mare, Silvercloud, promised Star's mother she'd protect him, a promise she's kept all these years, to the detriment of her relationship with the herd's over-stallion, Thunderwing. So not only is Star concerned about his destiny, he feels guilty for destroying the lives of those protecting him. This makes for one sad, lonely little youngster. The fact that, on top of all these issues, Star is a pegasus who can't fly . . . Well, it's no wonder he feels depressed! In the end, Star comes through his trauma and finds his place in the world, but it's a bumpy road he has to travel before reaching that peak.
This is definitely not a light and fluffy book, an impression one might get upon hearing that it's all about pretty, pretty pegasi. But right from the start, in the first chapter, we deal with bullying and fear and the threat of death. From there the book gives us fighting between herds and even within the herd--fighting that ends in a lot of death--more bullying, physical violence, betrayal and vengeance, near-death experiences due to starvation and infection, a forest fire that kills yet more pegasi . . . you get the picture. But don't be put off and think it's too dark for a kid. Trust me, at heart kids are sociopaths, and I mean that in the most positive way: They're still forming their moral compass and books that show how things can go wrong, how life isn't always fair, but how things like love, compassion, cooperation, and sacrifice can save the day provide helpful guidance. Kids are plastic, elastic, and flexible; they can handle more serious issues that we adults might want to shield them from. But exposure to the darker side of life, even viewed through the lens of fantasy, gives kids a more well-rounded attitude and the potential to cope with any future issues that might befall them. They'll sympathize with Star and root for him even as they growl at Star's enemies, especially Brackentail; they'll cry when things go wrong and yelp for joy when Star finally starts to fulfill his destiny. In short, I can see both girls and boys devouring this book and any follow-up volumes.
I've noticed some people dinging the bit where Star's tears cause flowers to spring up in their wake, complaining it's too far-fetched and silly. Um, we're talking about a book concerning talking pegasi and a star on a hundred-year cycle that gives one particular pegasus a unique power. You're going to complain about the idea of flowers growing from tears? *opens mouth, pauses, shuts mouth and shakes head* Yes, Star's tears bring forth flowers, which I took as an obvious and overt sign that his destiny isn't written by an ancient prophecy. Star's destiny is one he will write every day, one of his own making. A destiny I'm eager to read about in however many sequels Ms. Alvarez decides to write (very, very many, I'm hoping)....more