In all likelihood this 'review' of mine will not turn out to be a helpful contribution for those who are still on the fence concerning their own possi...moreIn all likelihood this 'review' of mine will not turn out to be a helpful contribution for those who are still on the fence concerning their own possible future enjoyment of A Corner of White. I assume it will rather represent a futile attempt at explaining my wholly unexpected decision to let go of the story after only 145 pages without having unearthed particularly annoying or offending or even mediocre aspects that would lend a sufficient foundation to my reluctance to pick up the beautifully covered hardback after putting it down at lunchtime.
See, although Moriarty's Ashbury books scored only four-star-ratings from me, they all contain a smaller or larger amount of some secret, magic ingredient which I crave and adore in fiction. I seldom shed tears when I am in the company of books, yet I bawled my eyes out when I was reading The Murder Of Bindy Mackenzie. I simply loved that crazy mix of e-mails, court room materials, letters, diary entries, history book excerpts and refrigerator notes in the other volumes - especially because of the distinct voices, the occasional hilariousness, the dashes of mystery and the wonderfully normal characters.
I had already mistakingly expected another fully satisfactory, almost perfect book, when I bought a brand-new copy of The Spell Book of Listen Taylor, which also disappointed me in a major way. But in hindsight I explained my lack of enjoyment with the fact that that book had been written and published for an adult audience as I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes before it was dusted off and forcibly reshaped into something the Ashbury-reading crowd might spend money on - girly covers included. Moriarty's 'real' young-adult-centered output would continue to be on the brink of flawlessness, I assured myself.
And thus I put A Corner of White on my wish list at a time when the available information did not amount to much beside the 'Kingdom of Cello' as the location, and when the probability of the book being eventually born sounded as unreliable as Stephenie Meyer's long forgotten statement about the cannibalistic mermaid saga she planned to write as soon as her creative well restarted to sprout sellable sentences. I managed to make myself wait for the international edition instead of spending a fortune at the Fishpond and I never resorted to epilepsy-inducing .gifs or the internet equivalent of ecstatic shouting, but believe me, I wanted to read Madeleine's parallel world experience pretty badly.
Today I finally curled up with that coveted 500g of printed paper and started to read - confident of the extraordinary superb time lying in wait for me. Friends of mine had used promising words like weird and whimsical in their reviews, expressions that happily rolled around in my mind like dogs in a puddle.
Unsurprisingly I did like Madeleine, I rediscovered a flavor of Moriarty's signature wacky mothers in Holly and I took pleasure in finding out the parallels and the differences between "The World" (ours) and "The Kingdom of Cello" (a place equipped with electricity and other recognizable means of civilization, but also prone to partly dangerous 'Color attacks') , which severed all passable portals or cracks between them and us about 300 years ago. The boy from Cello, Elliot, who lost his beloved father to a vicious and violent Purple - or to a boost of marital infidelity as some neighbors are secretly assuming - was the kind of hero you cannot help rooting for, too. Plus there were Cambridge, UK, some pleasantly weird teachers and their teaching methods, a father-daughter-problem begging to be solved and two far-from-bland side-characters, Jack and Belle (view spoiler)[- although I was not fond of Jack's wart on his middle finger. He can keep his coarse hair and may even grow a row of buck teeth, but warty-handed teenage boys are gross in my opinion (hide spoiler)].
All these seemingly fine prerequisites, all the skillful writing and all the originality did not save me from gradually losing interest. My enthusiasm slowly tickled out of me until I did not care particularly for either Madeleine, Madeleine's game-show-addicted mom and her lack of trivial knowledge, Elliot, Elliot's missing dad, the Butterfly Child, the Color victims, Cello's anti-monarchy movement or the still to visit magical, dragon- and werewolf-infested north of the country.
I realized my loss of personal involvement only when it was much too late to do something about it. I feel inexplicably sad, because my expectations had been so high and so solidly founded. I feel cheated by my own mind, because I cannot and do not find fault. I know, I could ignore my boredom and resolve to go on reading, but unfortunately I did exactly that just yesterday, when I had to admit that Lips Touch: Three Times and I did not match in spite of my deep admiration for Daughter of Smoke & Bone. In short, I do not have enough determination to repeat the experience so soon.
So, is it just me or is it a mixture of misplaced expectations and unfortunate reading constellations? I do wonder.
The only cure for book-caused self-doubt I know, however, is reading the next book. And I'll do precisely that as soon as I can. Cross your fingers and wish me luck!(less)
*** 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...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" 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?
"He stuck his shovel defiantly in the ground, then took off his little red hat and held it in both hands. 'You have a name?' 'Twinkle.' 'Twinkle,' I s...more"He stuck his shovel defiantly in the ground, then took off his little red hat and held it in both hands. 'You have a name?' 'Twinkle.' 'Twinkle,' I said slowly. 'The Destroyer,' he added. 'Your name is Twinkle the Destroyer?' He nodded. 'Of course it is. Why wouldn't it be? Okay, Twinkle the Destroyer, I take it you guys have been popping my tires?'" Who doesn't love fierce, little garden gnomes named Pip the Briger of Pain, Gnoman Polanski or Twinkle the Destroyer? And who doesn't think that Lish McBride’s dialogues between her mellow necromancing hero Samhain LaCroix and multiple, wackily paranormal or frighteningly normal creatures like Pello the dread-locked, beer-bellied, leery satyr, who enjoys to attend council meetings clad neither in glamour nor in anything else that restricts his manliness, huge, vegetarian, strangely sexy bigfoots bursting with mating pheromones, vampire dandies with parasols, popker playing minotaurs, the human underdog Frank, the weregrizzly Ramon and ... last but not least the most interesting pukis in literature, James Montgomery, are prizeworthily funny, clever and naughty? Well I, for my part, I do. A lot of scenes in this sequel to the exciting and entertaining "Hold Me Closer, Necromancer" provided me with blissful moments of mirth.
In spite of that I believe the novel to be superfluous as a novel. Usually I am one of those readers who make a wide berth around short-story anthologies and anouncements of prequel 0.7 and sequel 1.5.2. But in the light of the material presented in "Necromancing the Stone" I am sure a couple of shorts titled "How to Mailorder a Chupacabra", "Bare-Assed Hiking with Pello", "Social Security for the Sexy Bigfoot", "Puking on a Pukis", "The Day Frank Became an Honorary Gnome" or "High on Goddess Juice" would have done the trick very nicely indeed.
See, the problem is the real plot. It is simply not enough around of it to fill a whole book, and the arc of tension – if you insist of looking for one – resembles rather a limp fishing line than a taut string of a bow ready to snap. The narration is split up more or less betweeen Sam and the evil, evil, evil, evil necromancer Douglas, who is a bit dead, but preparing to resurrect and reclaim everything ... and certainly to take revenge, but who has magically stored a fragment of his soul in a object (see title), which is in unsuspecting Sam’s hands but is needed in Doug's to get the action to full throttle. So there is a warning (*yawn*), some dreams, that reminded me of a young Tom Riddle, a little murder (*yawnyawnsob*), some bonding, some council-this-and-that, some re-woeing of Bridgin, the pigeon – ehhr, no, werealpha-in-spe -, and a flashy 5000 Watt bulb anouncing the final solution of the final kind-of-battle precisely at the 39% mark. That meant: enough potential to drive me nuts with boredom between the giggles.
I am not sure whether I want to read the third volume or not. But I do not want to miss out on any new attempt the author throws on the market in the future. For she is a talented one. I won’t go back on that. (less)
Matteo Alacran had been harvested from a cow. He is one of the clones of El Patron, a wealthy and very old poppy farm owner, who had carved out a stri...moreMatteo Alacran had been harvested from a cow. He is one of the clones of El Patron, a wealthy and very old poppy farm owner, who had carved out a stripe of landscape between the USA and Mexico to found his small drug-based kingdom Opium, where his and his fellow opium lords' word is the law: The opium, which is grown by eejits, a cheap, human workforce rendered helpless, willfree and robotic by microchips inserted into their brains, makes them practically invincible.
Matt is a perfect - in every sense - example of El Patron's power: The cloning laws dictate that every harvested clone has to receive an injection that mentally disables "it". Yet Matt has been lovingly raised in seclusion by the estate's cook Celia, receives private music and science lessons, after his existence has accidentally been revealed to the repulsed house servants and scheming El Patron's relatives, and is even allowed to entertain the powerful, ancient man he mirrors, who occasionally feeds him cookies and childhood stories.
But of course his painful experiences with hateful reactions have made Matt wary: Will everything stay this way forever? What is the purpose of Matt's excellent education and of Matt at all? What about Celia's haunted look and bodyguard Tam Lim's hints? And what about his friendship to Maria Mendoza? Will he still be allowed to see her when they have grown up?
The House of the Scorpion is more or less a young adult cross between Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey. All three books belong into the category of tales that were shocking - in the positive sense. But while the lack of resistance and the calm acceptance of their fates of the characters had been the factors responsible for the big, cold lump in my guts when I was reading Never Let Me Go, Nancy Farmer shocked me with her cloned hero's well-preserved ignorance, his youth, his innocence, his struggle to discover his identity and his possible worth or worthlessness in comparison to his naturally born peers or the cattle-like eejits, and his efforts to hold fast to those people who refuse to everlook the human being in him.
I recommend this book and I thank Flannery for her recommendation. The time I spent with this story has really been worthwhile.