Updraft is a book that's been on my radar for a while, but I've never gotten around to picking it up (so much to read...). Shortly after I joined AudiUpdraft is a book that's been on my radar for a while, but I've never gotten around to picking it up (so much to read...). Shortly after I joined Audible, I saw that this title was the deal-of-the-day, and it was hard to resist it at such a low price.
The story is about Kirit Densira, a resident of the bone towers, and daughter to a well-known trader. A young woman, Kirit is hoping to pass her flying tests so she can become a trader like her mother, but an event early in the novel gains attention from the Singers, the law-enforcement group among the towers. Soon, Kirit has to choose between the life she has always wanted, and saving her family and friends. Her choice leads her to discover some of the secrets of their city, and what that means to everyone who lives there.
Updraft seems like a well-told story, even though it borrows from tropes familiar to most fantasy readers. I don't need something original every time I read a book, but it seems like the story is one we're all familiar with, set against a unique backdrop, of a society that lives among the clouds. The bone towers are just that: living towers made of bone, with the residents continually rising higher and higher in those towers as the lower levels fill in and eliminate any possible living space. The main method of travel is flight, though there are bridges, made of bone and sinew, built between the towers for residents who can't or don't fly.
Kirit feels realized, as do the relationships she has with other characters. In fact, Kirit didn't feel realized to me without those relationships. There was an extended scene where Kirit is alone, overcoming great adversity, and while I felt like I was there with her when she did, it felt almost insubstantial against her doing the same when other people were involved. Her character felt more defined by her friendships than alone, though I don't see that as a fault of the character.
It felt like the story took a long time to get going, though that could have been because I was listening to the book and not reading it, and I was only listening to it about a half-hour at a time. Its focus changed about a third of the way into the book, almost too neatly; Wilde needed Kirit to cut all ties with her old life before moving on to the next, and did so without much subtlety. The story became more interesting at that point, but I wish there had been a bit more development to how she had to end those relationships.
Wilde creates a vivid world, and takes time to show us all the aspects of living life in the sky. She could have just mentioned that most people fly from place to place, but instead she spends time giving us the rudimentary mechanics of how they fly. The thing is, she tells us about these towers made of living bone, but doesn't tell us how or why this came to be. They live so far up in the sky that they're above a persistent layer of cloud; I expected some point in the novel to give us some clues how that came to be, but it never happened. It doesn't feel like the story is set on Earth, but the characters are human, not naturally adapted to flight, so something had to have happened to force them upward.
Updraft is the first book in a trilogy, and I was a little hesitant going in because books in series rarely have self-contained stories anymore. I think Wilde did a good job containing the story here, while also giving us glimpses into where the story will go from here. Incredibly, it reminded me a bit of how the Wayward Pines series got started, since here we have a character who has to discover the big secret, and that learning it just opens up larger conflicts. Luckily, this is far better written than those books, but it does make me worry that the next two books will be a single story broken across two volumes.
Compared to Life Debt, Updraft is a more streamlined audio production; it lacks sound effects and music, which I found to be distracting in Life Debt, and the narrator, Khristine Hvam, didn't stress the narrative the way Thompson did in the other book. Overall, the presentation here is more in line with what I was expecting, and it makes the story easier to follow and understand.
That being said, the names are strange, not just because this is a fantasy novel with unusual names, but also because I was hearing them spoken aloud instead of seeing them in print. I swear, at one point I thought a character's name was TseTse, like the flies, and given the way the society has a fixation on flight and birds, it might even be her name. Additionally, near the end of the novel, characters who are traders are mingling with characters who are traitors, and it got a little confusing.
I feel like I missed a lot of the details of this story, having listened to it instead of reading it. It's easy to lose focus on the narration when driving in traffic, and the way I listen to audiobooks, I don't have a way to back up by a minute or so to rehear things. In most cases, it wasn't that big of a deal, but I missed a key point about the conclave, and a reveal involving the main character. I still caught the main gist of each section, but had I been reading the book, I could have jumped back and re-read a paragraph or two to get a better understanding. In addition, the story has a lot worldbuilding, and I feel like I needed a better focus to get a clear picture of the world.
I'm intrigued enough to want to read the next book in the series, but I think I'll opt to read it this time. For all the detail I feel like I missed, and for how the story ended, I think I need to be able to pay closer attention to the story from here on out....more
Where The Birthgrave took many tropes of high fantasy fiction and turned them on their head, Shadowfire, on the surface, reads like a standard high-faWhere The Birthgrave took many tropes of high fantasy fiction and turned them on their head, Shadowfire, on the surface, reads like a standard high-fantasy novel. It has tribes and war, conquests and pillaging, and centers on a very masculine warrior who defines his worth in his strength, skill, and virility. In short, it begins by being the complete opposite of The Birthgrave, a book that revels in its feminism.
Tanith Lee, however, is a better writer than that.
With Shadowfire, Lee runs a bit of a risk starting out telling us the tale of Turek, whom, if we've read The Birthgrave, we know is the son of the nameless narrator from that book. In Shadowfire, Turek's knowledge of his heritage is unknown for a large part of the story, meaning that we know more than Turek for that time. Luckily, Lee uses this knowledge in the reader's favor, dropping clues in our path as the story progresses while showing us how Turek's upbringing factors so much into his character.
Turek, being male and part of a tribe, is not nearly as likable a narrator as the one from the previous book. As much as The Birthgrave features a feminist main character, Shadowfire features a character who is a part of the patriarchy, and sees no qualm in how he treats women. They have no stature in his culture, and even Demizdor, his second wife, who hearkens back to the feminist theme of the first book, becomes involved with him out of necessity, not desire. This isn't a dismissal of her character, though; instead it reinforces the dislike we have toward Turek.
The thing is, Turek grows because of his attachment to this woman, and to the other two women who features predominantly in his life. Each is strong-willed, more of a character than Turek himself, and each is only understood by Turek after they pass from his life. Turek's character development is dependent on these women, making the story as much about them as it is about him. In turn, the story takes on a theme of men being shaped by the strong women in their lives.
The original title of this book was Vazkor, Son of Vazkor, a rather meaningless title once you've finished the book, but Shadowfire, while having more shelf appeal, gives no further meaning into the book itself. The original title is certainly more lurid, but suggests a different feel than the novel turns out to be. Shadowfire is at least ambiguous enough to embody the feminist angle the story takes, but it still doesn't evoke anything of the story itself.
There's a parallel of story between Shadowfire and The Birthgrave, in that we have a character who is ignorant of their upbringing and heritage, who takes on different names as the story progresses, and who is treated, by turns, as slave and god, aggressor and healer. Both are worthwhile, not just in story but also in theme, and I'm eager to see how the third book will play on the story Lee established with these two books....more
Volume 30. Outside of Discworld, I can't think of any other series that has this kind of longevity. I know this is the only series with that many voluVolume 30. Outside of Discworld, I can't think of any other series that has this kind of longevity. I know this is the only series with that many volumes where I've actually read them all, though. You'd think that, this far into the series, the stories would grow tiresome or repetitious, but somehow Sakai keeps his characters and their adventures fresh.
Thieves and Spies is more a collection than a graphic novel, though a big chunk of the book is a single story where Usagi joins forces with a thief and a ninja to sort out a conspiracy. It's a good mystery, with Sakai's trademark plotting and pacing, and the artwork (as always) matches the story perfectly. The other stories are distinctive and engaging, as one would expect from Sakai, but I found myself wanting a little more history to the stories. Previous collections have been introspective history lessons with commentary by Sakai, and I missed that context.
The character of Usagi debuted in 1984, and now that I think about it, there is another series that's lasted as long, without waning interest: Groo the Wanderer. That title started in 1982, and I don't think it's a coincidence that Sakai also has his hands in that series; he's the letterer. I'm just glad that Sakai has returned to his own series, as my own interest in this title will always be high....more
This novella is set on Cestus and features some of the same characters from The Cestus Deception. In fact, it opens with a scene lifted directly fromThis novella is set on Cestus and features some of the same characters from The Cestus Deception. In fact, it opens with a scene lifted directly from the novel, and then takes us on a side journey. I think I preferred the novella to the novel, simply because it moved faster, and highlighted the bravery of the X'Ting. Barnes added a thematic element to the story that felt a bit rushed (the X'Ting doesn't trust Obi-Wan, but comes to due to his actions), but otherwise it was an entertaining read....more
Coraline is one of my favorite books. I'm an unabashed fan of Neil Gaiman, so it's hard to be objective about his work in general, but Coraline has reCoraline is one of my favorite books. I'm an unabashed fan of Neil Gaiman, so it's hard to be objective about his work in general, but Coraline has remained a favorite of mine since I first read it. The story is a remarkably well-done horror tale (spookier than a lot of adult horror, even), which goes a long way toward me liking it, but the fact that I listened to this as an audiobook shortly after reading it for the first time didn't hurt, either.
Gaiman is wonderful as a speaker in general, but when he reads his stories, he's even better. He knows the story and the characters, and he knows better than anyone else how the story should flow, where the emphasis belongs, how the characters speak, and what the proper pace is to keep the listener engaged. I think there's more to it than just that familiarity -- I've heard Stephen King read his own work before, and it's missing something in the telling -- but it's certainly a benefit.
Thanks to the movie, most people already know the story of Coraline, but as is often the case, the story for the movie is much changed from the one in the book. The broad strokes are there, and the director did a great job of bringing the characters to life, but nothing compares to the story as Gaiman reads it. If you haven't yet had the pleasure of reading it yet, do yourself a favor and listen to it instead....more