First of all, if you haven’t heard yet, Neil won the 2008 Newbery Award for this book. He had an awesome “acceptance speech” that leaked from Twitter...moreFirst of all, if you haven’t heard yet, Neil won the 2008 Newbery Award for this book. He had an awesome “acceptance speech” that leaked from Twitter to the rest of the world:
FUCK!!!! I won the FUCKING NEWBERY THIS IS SO FUCKING AWESOME.
It may not be the most appropriate thing for the winner of a young adult fiction award to say, but it is totally Neil. In fact, he has a really amusing story on his blog about receiving the call from the committee:
You are on a speakerphone with at least 14 teachers and librarians and suchlike great, wise and good people, I thought. Do not start swearing like you did when you got the Hugo. This was a wise thing to think because otherwise huge, mighty and fourletter swears were gathering. I mean, that’s what they’re for.
If for no other reason, I’m quoting that to justify swearing, because he’s absolutely right: Moments like that are why those words exist.
Anyway, my second point is that you should know by now that if you’re looking for a strictly objective review of a Neil Gaiman book, then you should stop reading now. Because while I can say that this book isn’t quite on the same level as either Stardust or Coraline, it’s still a very Gaiman story, and it still ranks among my favorite of his books. The book is essentially a loose collection of short stories based on the life of Bod (short for “Nobody”), who has been taken in to be raised by the resident ghosts of a graveyard. Why? The rest of his family was murdered, and they arranged for the rest of the ghosts to adopt and raise him shortly thereafter. Each chapter-story is centered on Bod at a different age, so we get to see how he grows up in such an environment. It’s possibly the oddest coming-of-age story I’ve read, but it works, and Gaiman is such a skilled writer that even the plainly-obvious denouement makes perfect sense.
Is it dark? Yes and no. I mean, the book starts off with a murder, and an infant crawling away from the same fate. It’s set in a graveyard, full of friendly ghosties and horrible ghoulies. The main character has the same abilities as the ghosts, but he’s still human. But after the first chapter, you accept all of these facts and fall into Bod’s world and life. It becomes just a setting, and the story takes on a life of its own. Bod struggles to be normal in a world of oddities, and isn’t that the subject of just about every YA novel?
I’m glad that Neil has won the Newbery Award. The stories he writes, which are typically full of mythology, legends, and fairy tales, are the perfect subject for young-adult fiction, and a lot of the popular YA stories are fantasies, anyway. I would have been extremely stoked had he won it for Coraline (which I find to be an immensely better novel than The Graveyard Book, as much as I like them both), but if you’re going to award it to a young-adult fantasy writer, then Neil Gaiman is a good place to start.(less)
If ever there were a book that screamed “No Brainer” at me, as far as whether or not I would read it, this is it. The blurb on the cover made referenc...moreIf ever there were a book that screamed “No Brainer” at me, as far as whether or not I would read it, this is it. The blurb on the cover made reference to The Phantom Tollbooth. Another on the back made reference to both Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker, and one on the inside front cover of the book mentioned Lewis Carroll. I mean, that’s a list of my favorite book, one of my favorite writers, and a writer who has continually astounded me with his imagination. How could I pass this one up?
If I had to pick just one of those comparisons, though, to best describe the book, it would have to be Clive Barker. Anyone who’s read his Arabat series is going to find some similarities here. There are some dark moments and some wild creations in Un Lundun, and I found myself thinking of Barker’s imagery during much of the book. I can see some of the comparison to The Phantom Tollbooth (there are some puns come to life throughout the book), but the one to Gaiman is a little less convincing. But regardless, this is still an enjoyable book.
The premise behind the book is that, behind London, there exists a world very much like London, but also very much different from it. There are different ways to pass between the worlds, but suffice it to say, the London side of things is the London that we know over here, while the Unlundun side is where you find the fantastic creatures and the wild magic. Deeba discovers Unlundun when her friend, Zanna, finds her way over there through the help of some strange happenings due to a prophecy that Zanna will be the one to free Unlundun from the tyranny of the Smog. And, just to be clear, the Smog isn’t just smog; it’s the Smog, sentient and powerful and all together nasty. If the Smog gets its way, then all of Unlundun will be under its power, and after then, it will move and try to do the same to regular London.
There is a lot of detail in this book. The author creates fantastic creature, only to have them serve as a counterpoint to other normality, or to only be in the book for a chapter or two. The ideas and imagination can be a little overwhelming, as the author strives to put as much as possible in his book. As a result, the story suffers slightly as he seems to pay more attention to the detail than he does to the characters. The characterization does suffer, but not only from his attention to the setting; the characters sometimes seem superficial and two-dimensional, even as they’re working toward the greater good to save Unlundun. It’s a strange dichotomy, and while it does detract from the overall feel of the story, it doesn’t slow down the process as you read it.
This is primarily a children’s/YA novel, and should be approached as one. Its heavy-handed message and dark overtones make it suitable for readers of any age, but ultimately, it should be viewed as a product of its audience. Nevertheless, readers who like imaginative fiction and creative ideas would not be displeased with the book.(less)
If you’ve read the previous two books in the Peter Pan prequel trilogy, then you ought to take the time to read through this last book in the series....moreIf you’ve read the previous two books in the Peter Pan prequel trilogy, then you ought to take the time to read through this last book in the series. It follows the other books pretty logically, and it maintains the same sense of whimsy, adventure, and imagination that the previous books had. Unfortunately, it’s a little dense with detail, and more than a little overlong in its presentation.
Let’s be honest for a moment: Peter and the Starcatchers was really the only book necessary as a prequel to explain why Peter became the flying, ageless boy that we all know from fairy tales. My guess is that the story was originally planned as a standalone book, and after it proved to be popular, the publisher asked the authors to write the prequel into a trilogy. Think of how Star Wars was a nice, complete film in and of itself, and how The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi seemed a little … well, not tacked on, but at least produced based on the first movie’s success. The way the story develops over the course of the novels suggests that the Peter Pan prequels were written in much the same way.
To carry the Star Wars analogy a bit further, reading Peter and the Secret of Rundoon was a little like watching Revenge of the Sith — by the end, the authors seemed to be struggling to connect everything from the first two books to everything that followed after, resulting in some plot tangents that probably wouldn’t have existed in a standard book. It’s like they were trying to cram as much as possible into the final volume, making the end result a little messy. There seemed to be three major plots going on in the book, and each one resolved itself more or less independently from the others. In that sense, it was a little like watching the end of The Return of the King, with the viewer wondering when, exactly, the movie was going to officially end. And I probably should stop comparing the book with movie trilogies, lest I lose my point entirely.
So, it’s a good read, and reminiscent of the previous two books in the series. If you can divorce yourself from the fact that the last two books in the trilogy really aren’t necessary, and don’t mind the meandering cross-wise plots, you should enjoy the book. At they very least, they’re entertaining and compelling.(less)
So, I’ve finished the first half of Gene Wolfe’s Shadow and Claw, comprising the first two books of The Book of the New Sun. It took me a while to get...moreSo, I’ve finished the first half of Gene Wolfe’s Shadow and Claw, comprising the first two books of The Book of the New Sun. It took me a while to get through it, and I figured that, before I started on book two, it might be a good idea to shift gears, and read something a bit more mindless, and much, much lighter. I needed to cleanse the palate, I suppose. A book about whales on stilts sounded like just what I needed.
The story is about Lily, a very average girl whose father works in an abandoned warehouse where things are very, very strange. When she visits her father on a “Spend the Day At Your Parent’s Workplace” day, he tells her, “Don’t dally when you cross this room. If you move too slowly, the guards will start shooting at your feet, and if you don’t pick up speed, they aim for your ankles.” He seems blissfully unaware of his surroundings, and treats it just like any other job. He remains unfazed by having a boss who wears a sack over his head, has rubbery blue skin, and takes toward dumping buckets of brine over his head every 20 minutes or so. Lily, though, is suspicious, especially after he mentions, shortly after meeting her, something about taking over the world.
Seriously, though, why even go through that much description? It’s called Whales on Stilts!; surely you know what’s coming once the story gets started.
The book reads like a cross between A Series of Unfortunate Events and a Looney Tunes cartoon. There are stupidly funny bits in the book, enough to make you laugh out loud, and kids are going to eat this up. There’s some clever wordplay, bits where the author speaks directly to the reader, and a whole bunch of silliness to keep you from taking anything too too seriously. It’s nothing particularly deep or memorable, but if you have some kids, or just want an uber-light book to knock out in a few hours, there are worse things to read.(less)