"It's just - a way to go. There isn't only one way to go." I waved at his notes. "You're trying to find a road where there isn't one. It's like gleani"It's just - a way to go. There isn't only one way to go." I waved at his notes. "You're trying to find a road where there isn't one. It's like gleaning in the woods," I said abruptly. "You have to pick your way through the thickets and the trees, and it's different every time."
Well, this has been truely delightful. And completely different from what I expected.
There is a dragon mentioned in the description and the author is Naomi Novik of the Temeraire endlessology. So I had quickly concluded Ms. Novik had just half-recycled her dragon concept while pushing the result into the YA fantasy area. Zero point zero points for my plot anticipation skills. But some lucky badges for choosing to read the story spontaneously anyway (The Goodreads Choice Awards of 2015 might have provided the final persuasive nudge).
Would I be asked to write a short backcover text about "Uprooted", I would readily comply, wording it as follows: Imagine a clumsy girl with the unspectacular gift for gleaning held against her will in a Rapunzel-like tower near to the border of alternative versions of medieval Poland and Russia. Picture her captor, a youngish-looking, but old cynical wizard with the impossible task of keeping vast and spreading maliciously magical wood at bay. Look at that magnificent world-building and think of Baba Jaga, other East European legends and tales, of "Graceling" (Cashore) and of "Nausicaä in the Valley of the Winds" (Miyazaki)....more
These are perfectly fine three stars, really. The exciting and the creative moments definitely outweigh the annoying, the repetitive and the draggy onThese are perfectly fine three stars, really. The exciting and the creative moments definitely outweigh the annoying, the repetitive and the draggy ones. And the rather complex main characters manage to outshine the stereotypical goodies and baddies on the sidelines. I had a good time reading it even though the storyline - not the setting(s) - felt a bit too familiar/overused. And I do wish I had a magical coat like that. Thank you lots, dear Teccc!...more
Another book that has to go unfinished (after 108 pages).
In the beginning I had a good feeling. Although the characters behaved a little anachronisticAnother book that has to go unfinished (after 108 pages).
In the beginning I had a good feeling. Although the characters behaved a little anachronistically, which is completely alright for a fantasy novel set in an alternative version of an existing region, I liked them and I enjoyed the lush and exotic scenery - the food, the fabric, the means of transport. The 'problems' started with the onset of the road trip plot: The heroine flees an arranged marriage to an old, rich pervert and goes to search for her disappeared father outfitted with just one magical protection amulet, some food and a small bundle of clothes. After a few stops - the heroine gets permanently attacked by mythical creatures and accosted by sex-hungry geezers - I surmised the following:
The novel turned into something like a passive role playing game, where you press the 'fight button' and the game does the rest: All the moves, all the talk, all the staying fit and out of reach. The heroine had by pure chance read a book about supernatural monsters before leaving her home and can thus identify them, when they attack. But even that is not really necessary for the plot, for the multi-talented protection amulet immediately starts doing what it is meant to do : Smashing beasts and demons around, whacking potential rapists to pulp etc. After that the heroine cleans her clothes, rests her body and licks her wounds. Until the next incident.
"Who are you to say what the god of death needs or doesn’t need? Mortain is an old god and has no desire to be forgotten and fade from this world, whi"Who are you to say what the god of death needs or doesn’t need? Mortain is an old god and has no desire to be forgotten and fade from this world, which is why he chooses to bestir Himself in the affairs of man. [...] He will ask for sacrifices, but it is not your role to question. Only to serve with love and obedience."
Before starting this review in earnest I believe I have to come clean concerning three facts: 1. Although I have consumed some very fine specimens historical fiction is usually not my kind of playground. At the time when everybody else was adding Grave Mercy to their wishlists, it even failed to kindle my interest in reading the description. I came to read the electronic ARC because of the publisher’s awsome decision to make it available to every Netgalley member for a slim slot of time. The chance had simply been too good to pass. 2. I am part of that very tiny group of young adult fiction readers who regarded the label "assassin nuns" with weary apprehension instead of the urge to squeal and fantasize. The way I think categorizes people who are both faith-driven and bent on ending human lives on a regular basis as religious fanatics. I am not so fond of religious fanatics – no matter which god or idea they worship. 3. I stopped reading approximately around the 55% mark. That means, everything I am going to say about the story, the characters and the setting does not take into account the possibility of character development or tremendously unexpected twists of the plot.
15th century Britanny: Ismae has been raised as the younger daughter of a brutal turnip farmer, although she is the result of her late mother’s infidelity. Her being still among the living and defiantly bearing the sign of being a survivor as a huge read welt along her torso although her mother tried to abort her with poisonous herbs is due to the common believe that foeti who refuse to succumb to their mothers’ efforts to get rid of them have been fathered by Mortain, the breton god of death, himself and are indistructible and dangerous.
When Ismae is fourteen and has just been married to a younger and even crueller version of her father she gets abducted and thus saved by worshippers of the old gods/saints (In Britanny the seven leaders of the Keltic immigrants, who came from Britain in the 5th century, have been worshipped as founding saints, but Grave Mercy makes them 12 in number and older than Christianity). Having only met brutes like her father and her almost-husband Ismae unwaveringly chooses to become an obedient assassin in Mortain’s service instead of picking the alternative, which is leaving the convent as the wife of the good and gentle man the convent's abbess would set aside for her. Her schooling takes about three years during which Ismae spends much of the time she should attend fight, etiquette or history classes in the poison maker’s workshop because of her unique gift, which makes her immune against each and every poison. Yet, in spite of her comprehension of her country's political situation having holes as big as Normandy, in spite of her childish impatience, her lack of refinement and her inability to take care of the simple spy work that should precede a kill, the convent's fishy abbess singles Ismae out to accompany the blue-blooded Gavriel Duval as his mistress to court, where she is to find out if he is loyal to his country and to kill whoever is marked by Mortain. Level-headed Gavriel is not overly excited to have a coarse Handmaiden of Death among his travelling baggage and is pretty honest about his doubts concerning her being up to the job.
This would have been the moment I would have liked the story to take off. I would have extremely enjoyed a kick-ass heroine who shows the haughty nobleman what a little training and some awesome genes can do to a farmer girl. A dropped jaw and some groveling on his part for seriously underestimating her would have been a bonus. But no! Hot and haughty was perfectly right: His friends at the first inn on the road immediately uncover richly-clad Ismae as what she is: A barely educated, pouting brat from the country. They do not describe how they knew, but I guess it had been her gawking, her her accent, her lack of vocabulary, her rustic table manners or a combination of all four. Scenes like that make me squirm and wince. Assassins should – like thieves and spies and agents – be able to play any role, to blend in and be invisible or - if required - to shine and dazzle. They should be able to think, to understand subtle changes in a situation, to lay low for some time or to strike in the spur of the moment. Our star of the story, narrow-minded Ismae, gets quickly antsy and irrational, because apart from sticking a knife or some poisonous things into brightly-marked people there is nothing she is really fit to do. She makes some half-hearted attempts to find out things to write home about and to act inconspicious, but her clumsiness is painful to watch.
Some reviewers think that the overweight of political schemes may intellectually overwelm the action-loving reader. I was occasionally bored out of my socks, but I do not believe that happened because I am an action-junkie. I have read and enjoyed my fair share of character-, description- or problem-driven books. I think, for me it is like my friend Teccc expressed it so well: I felt severely cheated. There is a magically gifted heroine who went through some elaborate, specialized training. She even owns a wooden chest full of wonderful killing goodies. But when push comes to shove all that training and all the giftedness is practically useless. (view spoiler)[The heroine is given a magical knife that belonged to Mortain Himself, which effortlessly kills a person as soon as the skin is grazed (hide spoiler)]. Every low-class killer could do her job. My guess is, the author had too much fun planning her medieval, magical boarding-school – pardon me: convent – as a foundation for her debut novel. At the same time she already had the romantic and political outcome of the story fixed. Intertwining the novelty school idea with the spy plot proved to be a lot more difficult than expected, but it was too late to let go of either of her babies.
What irked me apart from the heroine’s lack of skills and brains was her chaste prudishness and her being so affronted by having to act as a mistress: "Mistress. The word whispers through me, taunting, beckoning, laughing. That I will have to pose as such is almost more that I can bear." What is so despisable and complicated about pretending to be a mistress, when it is part of your job description? Or, what is so bad about being a mistress at all? By the time Ismae leaves the convent she is 17. She claims to have intimate knowledge about sex from living in close quarters with her turnip farmer dad. Yet she almost blows her own cover by being reluctant to do something harmless like snuggling up to her supposed lover at a picnic or having him stay in her rooms overnight. I did not think Ismae’s behaviour was cute. Only exceptionally annoying and lacking the much-needed farsightedness of someone of her profession. For me her different character traits do not make sense or add up.
The under fact 2 listed religious-fanatic-dilemma got a bit diffused by love interest Gavriel’s own critical stance about it. He repeatedly questions Ismae’s blind devotion to both her saint and her abbess and addresses the question if serving the country means automatically serving the country’s favored deity. Apropos Gavriel. Ismae uses a lot of her inner monologue to ponder about his loyalty – which the convent’s abbess thinks to be not real - and his motivation. But there is no way that he is not part of the good guys. Therefore the heroine’s fretting in that department gets boring quickly, too.
Is this the third time I used the word bored or boring? It doesn’t really matter. I did not feel well entertained and my brain did not feel busy. Even trudging through the remaining 45 percent felt like too much effort. Maybe the second volume, which concentrates on another young assassin, will be better. But I am not interested to make up my own opinion about that. I’ll just wipe the last trace of the first installment off my Kindle.
Kill, clean and out. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
*** The review may contain some spoilery concerning the first half of the plot ***
Finally over. *sigh*
That short outburst above had been my "review" r*** The review may contain some spoilery concerning the first half of the plot ***
Finally over. *sigh*
That short outburst above had been my "review" right after I had finished reading the book, and as far as my Goodreads.com account was concerned I planned to leave it at that. Now, more than three months later, I have accumulated enough emotional distance to deal with the story again.
I do not remember the exact wording, but when I was handed Alma Katsu’s debut The Taker in March, it came with the promise to be something like Die for Me aimed at the slightly older young adult reader. "Today" the line would probably use the words "A New Adult Die for Me" instead. The ambitious novel has unquestionably its merits and strong points, which I will come back to later, and will appeal to a certain target group – which I to my shame have not been able to label yet -, but it miserably failed the above mentioned pitch in both aspects: The only things The Taker has in common with Amy Plum’s successful paranormal romance are that it deals with the idea of immortality and that part of the plot takes place in Paris. And although two of the three narrators focus on the respective hero’s and heroine’s teenage years, I would never hesitate to sort the novel into the "regular adult" section next to dark books on the blurry edge to paranormal like The Gargoyle or thrillers about mentally unstable killers, who tell their own story in hindsight and drift off to their grandparents’ unhappy childhoods while they are at it. It should go without saying that I would never discourage a teen from picking up books from those shelves. I would say: Read what you want to, but know what it is you are wanting. And that is why I am sitting here to elaborate.
The Taker could be called a gloomy thriller, dark historic fiction or a book about alchemy and magic. But furthermost, as the title hazily suggests, in its core The Taker is a frightening study of obsession in different ugly forms. The story is arranged in three chronological, but interwoven layers told from three points of view.
The most recent layer shows us middle-aged, jaded small-town surgeon Dr. Luke Finley, who is divorced, lonely and extremely weary of his future in the unfriendly town St. Andrews, Maine. When a beautiful murderess is brought in by the Sheriff for the medical check-up that has to precede her police interrogation, he immediately falls so hard for the young girl and her weird explanations of being immortal and having done her companion a favor by ending his much too long life, that he risks everything to help her flee across the border in a "borrowed" car and becomes an accomplice without even looking back.
In the course of the middle layer killer Lanore McIlvrae tells Luke the story of her youth in a partly Puritan, party Catholic wood-cutting settlement in Main around 1809 and of her fateful move to Boston at the age of 17. All her life she had – like all the other girls and women in her village – been feverishly craving the undivided attention of rich and otherworldly beautiful Jonathan St. Andrews, who graciously admitted her to become his friend-like confidant, but who was too obsessed with himself and his unstillable sexual needs to bestow any kind of affection on her her or one of his uncountable married and unmarried bed-partners. No means to gain possession of Jonathan had been to dangerous, too evil or to stupid for Lanore, but eventually her parents had to send her to a Catholic convent in Boston to birth and hand over her out-of-wedlock offspring. Right off the boat she fell into the hands of immortal Adair's street hunters, who provided his drug-laden house parties with fresh, dispensable material, helpless girls meant to be fucked to death by the master of the house or his guests. Inexplicably to me – and to Adair's cold-hearted household staff as well – Lanore felt grateful and excited towards her kidnapper for deigning to to save her from bleeding internally to death by making her immortal, and strived hard to become his favorite mistress and to learn the art of seduction from him in order to be able to contribute to the household by luring in prey herself. In fact, her fascination with him began even before her life was out of the danger zone: "Despite my illness [she refers to her shredded intestines and her miscarriage], he had me that evening and I let him, surrendered to the thrill of his weight over me." Adair’s own obsession seemed to concentrate on beauty and perfection at first.
The deepest layer of the three-tiered story narrates the misery of his 14th-century youth in a third-person-point-of-view: His father, a Romanian nomad, sold his teenage son to a creepy, old alchemist employed by an entertainment-crazy Hungarian Count. Along with sympathetic Lanore the reader learns a lot about his complete loss of freedom, his utter loneliness, his purely sexual relationship with the physically and mentally disabled maid, his quiet hate for his unspeakably brutal, immortality-seeking master and his step-by-step foray into satisfying his sexual urges by sleeping with the mutilated corpses of village wenches, who his master regularly raped to death in his private dungeon and had him bury in the forest afterwards.
Yes, there is a lot of sex in The Taker. But, as already stated, the book is no paranormal romance and does not promote love. It doesn’t get very graphic, but it also does not hide anything: There are no glistening drops of fluid dancing on silky body parts to the rhythm of a sensually throbbing loin area. There are hiked-up petticoats in dirty barns, iron chains and primal screams in mouldy underground chambers, bruises and mortally wounded vital organs, there are forced threesomes and frantic, unexpected couplings in motel rooms. Although I can safely say that the romance-novel-style-overdose of sexual visuals is more often than not something I could do without, I would gladly exchange the corpse-groping and all the loveless abuse for some mushy minute-details-narration of how Lord X expertly leads Lady Y to her first orgasm ever. Honestly, I abhorred every single sexual encounter in The Taker, but I guess others might not. But what appalled and enraged me the most is the description of rape victims getting unwillingly aroused while being sexually abused and beaten to pulp. Partly the strangeness of Adair's sexual preferences is put a little into perspective when the secret around his narration's point-of-view (view spoiler)[which I, by the way, guessed much, much too early (hide spoiler)] is revealed, but, still, scenes like that do not sit well with me.
Another thing that stood between me and the ability to enjoy the book were the characters themselves. I did not remotely like any of them. I despised Lanore and her parents, Jonathan, Adair and his minions and certainly the alchemist, but I also did not get Luke, his unhealthy, illogical fascination with selfish Lanore, and his willingness to overlook that she is using him for her means in a very calculated way.
In addition, some of the facts that open Lanore's eyes are not logical at all, and the plot unnecessarily drags in places. I even contemplated giving up during the first third of the book. Plus, I felt as if the author wanted to mislead me in purpose by using elements that make the well-read fantasy reader associate "vampires": In the beginning it seems like Lanore has the ability to read thoughts and Adair's staff member Tilde is described as having sharpened teeth. But both hints turned into dead ends without a later explanation or apology.
Apropos end: The novel's ending points out dangerous things to come. Dangerous things Luke and Lanore remain unaware of. So you close the book with a lot of unease in your guts although you might not feel the urge to pick up the sequel. Do you like that? I definitely don’t.
Yet, I should not hide that although I easily anticipated most of the important plot mysteries, I think that the story-within-story-within-story structure has been well-planned and well-executed, that both historical eras seem to haven been well-researched and intricately depicted, that the writing shows talent and promise indeed. Savour, for instance, the novel's very first sentence to get a taste: „Goddamned freezing cold. Luke Finley’s breath hangs in the air, nearly a solid thing shaped like a wasp's nest, wrung of all its oxygen.“ That is beauty in the midst of mess, isn’t it?
The first volume in this series, The Girl in the Steel Corset, had been so much fun. It was kind of ridiculous, vapid, action-laden, a bit trashy andThe first volume in this series, The Girl in the Steel Corset, had been so much fun. It was kind of ridiculous, vapid, action-laden, a bit trashy and inhabited by superhero-comic-like characters, but unquestionably fun. A perfect guilty-pleasure-combination of steampunk, fast action, mystery and bodice-ripping "light" (It seemed to me as if the "ripping" scenes had been "ripped" out of the novel to turn the soppy romance into something young-adult-appropriate - whatever that is).
At a first glance the sequel - including cover and title - does not stray very far from the former, successful recipe. There are the same old supernatural, monetarily independent teens clinging to the same old love-triangles and I-should-not-confess-my-feelings-resolves, displaying the same old sets of faults and and playing around with fantastically steampunky devices (i.e. armor, mobile phones, weapons and transportation objects) that one of them constructs in the course of one night from thin air if they are needed to facilitate or liven up the otherwise thin plot.
There are tiny variations, though, which caused the pudding to taste stale and unbearably boring to me: The even stronger focus on the romantic problems and multiple inner monologues of the tormented parties and the lack of danger and pepper and mystery. Around the middle of the story I grew antsy, because nothing really riveting happened, because of the repetitions and because the characters proved themselves to be pretty see-through and black-and-white (view spoiler)[Am I right? Amazing Mei Xing is of the evil sort and in the end Jasper loves "Miss" Emily and Emily still loves both Jasper and Sam ... and perhaps an army of other supernatural hunks, too? (hide spoiler)].
I never would have thought I would consider not finishing this book. Yet, here I am, burying the file in a dusty folder in the depths of my Kindle and shifting the writer into the blind spot of my consciousness: As it is I do not see sense in trying one of her future works.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
When I decided to put Cold Magic aside, after 67% of very little pleasure and a lot of struggle, I felt pretty angry and offended. Angry, because readWhen I decided to put Cold Magic aside, after 67% of very little pleasure and a lot of struggle, I felt pretty angry and offended. Angry, because reading these 360 pages took a huge effort and did not dole out the tiniest reward. Offended, because the book, written by an author with quite some published writing to show as a proof for her skills, made me question my ability to focus, my ability to absorb and understand what I read and - for a short, shocking minute – the functionality of my Kindle’s page-turning buttons. I think I would have met the same experience with more detachment had I bought a glowingly praised debut cheaply at Smashwords. Probably I would not have stayed as long on board of the shipwreck, but I would have said with conviction: It’s not me. It’s the book. It’s unreadable, but it shows room for improvement. But how can I say that about a book which has 1.800 ratings that produce an average of 3.8 out of 5? How can I say that about a book that makes others buy the sequels for good money? You see my dilemma. But I refuse to take the blame. I rather dance the Cha-Cha with my fury as a partner. And because I do not want to appear as someone impersonating Rumpelstiltskin without a plausible cause, I am going to breathe in and breathe out and defend my sanity.
I used to say that to me an enjoyable story begins and ends with likable, complex characters and a believable setting. To my own astonishment I have to step back from that opinion now. For I liked paranormally gifted Catherine "Cat" Hassi Baharal, her cousin Bee, enemy and love interest Andevai Diarisso Haranwy, a powerful cold mage (view spoiler)[and Cat’s newfound brother the easy-going, shapeshifting ladies’ man Roderic (hide spoiler)]. And I admit that there are a lot of great ideas thrown into the world mix: A very alternative, slightly steampunky version of Europe, magicians, whose presence kills fire, a parallel spirit world, sabertoothed werecats, dragons, feathered lizard-like trolls. The combination should unquestionably trump superhuman jerks pursuing brainless, insta-love-seeking girls in front of a cardboard backdrop any day. It does not. For Cold Magic is not a story. It is a mess that needs to be chucked or rewritten from scratch.
Like most of the fantasy readers out here I am bored by long monologues meant to introduce the unfamiliar, fictional world and its inhabitants. I also find books that treat the reader like an old acquaintance, who is already in the know, pretty difficult. When I was reading Cold Magic I came to the point at which I desperately wished for the arrival of an enormous info dump to finally get me on track or for a scattering of some new and helpful puzzle pieces to add to my inner picture. Both wishes remained unfulfilled. In almost each chapter the same incomprehensible, unstructured information about the last millennium's world politics, the wars, the Hassi Baharal family, their niche in the world as spies, messengers, sailors, wandering scientists, sociologists and whatnot was repeated in different words, sometimes even by different means, like in a letter or as a part of a diary. But each repetition remained lacking, vague and foggy. If I were a drug user, I would surely have double-checked my dose. Instead I checked myself for lack of sleep, for symptoms of a beginning cold and for symptoms of beginning dementia. I hated these self-directed doubts, really hated them. And I have no reasonable explanation for the novel’s lack of structure. Maybe the author taught a beginners' creative writing class, threw the same keywords at each of the participants, had them write her heroine’s background, liked all results equally well and promised to use them all at some point of her next book? That cannot be, can it? But strange ideas like that flitted through my brains and messed with my sanity.
The aspects that made me look closer at my Kindle’s buttons were repetitions in the plot. I know that a normal road-trip plot contains some routine essentials: Scenery, clothes, food, sleeping arrangements. But a narrator could cut them short, if nothing important is to be conveyed by elaborating on them. For example, in each of the inns the carriage stops at the heroine is greeted by a detached, but matronly person and is then waited on by a red-haired, silent, young girl who brushes her long, black hair and praises it. Eventually I stopped reading in order to find out whether I really had made reading process or whether my Kindle had jumped to a scene I had covered some time before. My Kindle worked just fine. The book didn’t. And, as far as I know, there was no surprise reason presented later - like a flame-tressed wonder girl who could portal from inn to inn. Accordingly it is just senseless almost-cut-and-paste to emphasize how boring and monotonous a cross-country-trip can be? Or is it sloppiness?
In addition to those repetitions there is a lot of redundant rambling and straying from the straight, narrative path. Little Cat-Riding-Hood stops to pick flowers and chat with random wolves whenever she pleases, while the baffled reader stands aside nervously clutching grandmother’s lunch basket.
So, no. It’s not me, who is damaged. It’s the book. I am sure. And I believe that every reader who did not experience my discomfort has just been graced with a superhuman ability to effortlessly combine scattered puzzle pieces, find the odd herb among the weeds and straighten tangled stories in the back of her mind. Contented readers, you have my full admiration. Ordinary readers, you now have my warning. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more