One of the things that is really pleasing about the Temeraire books is how, while I see some smaller plot developments coming, Novik sets up huge unex...moreOne of the things that is really pleasing about the Temeraire books is how, while I see some smaller plot developments coming, Novik sets up huge unexpected reversals of stakes, and does it so far in advance you have to admire the craftsmanship as well as the effect. This book goes in quite an unexpected direction from the last one, and takes us out of the Napoleon tunnel vision we might have been settling into.
I admit I was trepidacious when I realized the characters were going to Africa. Some otherwise charming historical fantasies I've read have fallen down when they've taken their Western European characters to the Middle East or Africa. It's very difficult to write believably period characters who stay likeable, while being honest about colonialism. To be honest I've seen authors fall into Orientalism and patronizing cliché more often than the reverse. Novik, though, did an admirable job, I thought. She depicted the ignorance and misunderstandings of the Europeans, gave enough imagination and empathy to our heroes to allow them to understand other perspectives, didn't manufacture or force common feelings, forgiveness, etc...and of course, it is incredibly cool to see an African superpower in a fantasy novel!
Novik really thinks through the implications of her worldbuilding, ethically, economically, historically -- and this book is not the first time she's taken a potential hole or question in her setup straight on and made it plot. It's satisfying and well-done.(less)
I was expounding on my love of Dracula to my poor long-suffering mother yesterday, and realized I should probably confine my effusions to a more opt-i...moreI was expounding on my love of Dracula to my poor long-suffering mother yesterday, and realized I should probably confine my effusions to a more opt-in format.
I first read Dracula as a teenager, breathlessly turning pages of a library edition late at night while coyotes howled around the little bungalow where I was staying alone. Even as an adult, in less conducive conditions, the story holds up for me.
It is in deadly earnest, and the emotions are grand, the stakes high: if you can't put your cynicism aside, it probably isn't for you. It builds slowly, accumulating unease and unearthliness, until you reach the first vertiginous climax -- and then again, you return to normalcy, waiting to be slowly, sickly drawn to the next dramatic break in the fabric of the world. It takes a while to reach a breakneck pace, but it's well worth it.
I'd call Dracula an anxious book. Not just tense, or thrilling, but profoundly anxious. As a teenager, I found the Victorian anxiety about carnality and sex dripping from the pages interesting: Jonathan's revulsion from the incongruously lush lips of the Count, the menace of the castle ladies, and above all the hectic loveliness of Lucy. It's a terrifically clear look into the Victorian psyche, bringing the cultural subtext so close to the surface it pulses like an exposed vein.
As an adult, I've enjoyed the other thematic obsessions: the clash of science/technology/modernity with magic/superstition/occult; the West versus the East; the train and the typewriter set against ancestral earth and the evil eye; the pagan versus the holy; eternal carnal life at the cost of the heavenly beyond.
Perhaps others who aren't English majors, history readers, or obsessed with Victorian foibles and fables won't find those contrasts as compelling as I do, or greet the intrusion of shorthand, typewriters and railroad time tables with the same affection. But these themes play out on characters we care about, for all their occasional preciousness: the slightly fussy Jonathan, the garrulous Lucy, the careful and self-reliant Mina. They play out in deliciously high drama, memorable scenes, iconic images. A hundred years of progress and easing (or replacement) of cultural neuroses can't rob Dracula of its charm, its pathos, or its terror.
P.S. To audiobook readers: A multitude of unabridged productions exist, many of them with multiple readers to bring the diaries and letters of the various characters, male and female, English and Dutch, to life. I have bought, and often return to, the Brilliance Audio version. Most of the readers and accents are quite good, although Michael Page, who reads Seward's journals, is as usual scenery-chewing. I haven't tried the Audible original, chock full of famous names, so that might be another option -- but I do recommend getting one with multiple narrators, to really do the epistolary style justice. And do listen to samples -- there are some very fake English accents running around claiming to be Jonathan Harker of Exeter.(less)