An admission: For no good or meaningful reason, I went into this reading experience expecting mediocrity from Clockwork Angel and The Infernal Devices...moreAn admission: For no good or meaningful reason, I went into this reading experience expecting mediocrity from Clockwork Angel and The Infernal Devices. Maybe I put on my overly-impressionable pants and fell prey to the smattering of one-star reviews with quotes like: "Without any doubt, in my not-so-professional opinion, this book is a little, flaccid d**k waving free in the breeze of literature trying its very bestest to hardened up and bugger us all in the a**." Jeesh! Harsh stuff! In the end, the preponderance of positive reviews won the propaganda war, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book.
First the criticism. I'd like to propose a moratorium on starting chapters with snippets of other people's poetry. Clare does state at the end of the book that the works are by Victorian poets who for the most part would have been familiar to someone like Tessa. And Clare does have Tessa state repeatedly how much she loves the written word. Fair enough. However, the intro-poetry-snippeting trend--apparently popular as heck in YA circles--could end immediately without hurting my feelings. Jumping right into chapters is a good thing, especially in action-oriented books like Clockwork Angel.
Beyond the intro-poetry matter, I have no real complaints about the story. The characters are appropriately likable, complex, and/or despicable. I'm really intrigued by the face-challenged Brother Enoch and the Silent Brothers. Creepy but helpful! Clare was smart to leave the Silent Brothers/City shrouded in mystery for now.
Jem's and Will's creed-like beliefs also interest me:
(Tessa begins.) "But you hunt demons. You must believe in damnation!"
"I believe in good and evil," said Jem. "And I believe the soul is eternal. But I don't believe in the fiery pit, the pitchforks, or endless torment. I do not believe you can threaten people into goodness."
Tessa looked at Will. "What about you? What do you believe?"
"Pulvis et umbra sumus," said Will, not looking at her as he spoke. "I believe we are dust and shadows. What else is there?"
Jem's dualistic idealism stands in stark contrast to Will's Book-of-Ecclesiastes-like cynicism. The interpretation of Nephilim as fallen angels, the offspring of humans and angels, or heroic beings suits this Clave of Nephilim. These beings aren't your garden variety angels. They're moody, insecure, mistake-prone, and sometimes combative. And these imperfect beings are our great protectors and Rule-of-Law maintainers! In The Infernal Devices universe, the entire human enterprise teeters constantly on the edge of disaster. What can I say? I like a splash of impending doom with my fiction.
A clockwork army, demons, vampires, warlocks, goblins, shapeshifters, werewolves, mad science, Victorian style, teen angst/awkwardness, an unforced cliffhanger ending--there's plenty in Clockwork Angel to pique a reader's interest. Will's thoughts on London put a nice bow on this story of human-spirit and natural-supernatural intersections:
"Milton thought Hell was a city, you know. I think maybe he had it half-right. Perhaps London is just Hell's entrance, and we are the damned souls refusing to pass through, fearing that what we will find on the other side will be worse than the horror we already know."
Is the truth really so horrifying? Does our happiness require that we remain oblivious to the way things really are? Must we deceive ourselves to stay sane? Clare has two full books left to let me know if her universe is loving or Lovecraftian. Ah, the suspense! Bring on the second book.(less)
Overall, an interesting and likable read. Interesting world-building; interesting Avatar-like connections via kenning between humans and beasts (both...moreOverall, an interesting and likable read. Interesting world-building; interesting Avatar-like connections via kenning between humans and beasts (both mythological and otherwise); interesting young woman protagonist; interesting and relevant take on terrorism/freedom fighting and imperialism. In the end, I really did like Stormdancer, but fell short of loving the story.
My main issue with the story? The first 80+ pages took me a long time to read, and included constant flipping between story and glossary. The descriptions, though sometimes beautiful and always vivid, are simply overdone. I had the same problem with The Worm Ouroboros, where the world-building got so unnecessarily dense that I finally set the book aside after 150 pages and have yet to resume reading. Kristoff pushed me to the brink of making a stop-or-continue decision. I continued, and I'm glad I did. Otherwise, I would have missed the heartwarming and honoring relationship between Buruu and Yukiko. Their high regard and growing love for one another made me mist up on more than one occasion. The fight scenes with the two-as-one Griffin/human connection are excellent.
Kristoff does pick up the pace significantly with the hunt for the thunder tiger. The scenes where Buruu's wings are clipped were so painful for me to read! No majestic (or unmajestic, for that matter) creature deserves such disdainful treatment. I wouldn't stuff a sock in a canary's beak to keep it from singing, either. Such gross violations of dignity and beauty should be fought tooth and nail. Kristoff made me want to fight alongside these oppressed human and non-human beings.
For me, Buruu stole the show. Whether it was the aforementioned relationship with Yukiko or the gut-wrenching wing clippings, it was Buruu I found myself caring the most about. Check out his insurrectionary wisdom, including this barrage against imperial hubris: "AFTER THE LAST FISH IS CAUGHT. AFTER THE LAST RIVER POISONED. THEN YOU WILL KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE DONE. AND BY THEN IT WILL BE TOO LATE." The statement sounded familiar to me, so I Google searched and found out that a variation of this statement has been attributed to the Abenaki/Native American tradition, and was later used by Greenpeace in some marketing pieces. It's the wisdom's source that gives me pause. In a steampunk novel set seemingly in feudal Japan, why is Native American wisdom borrowed from so directly? Kristoff's Shima appears to be an amalgamation of multiple Asian and Native American cultures. The resulting imperial setting for Stormdancer, though interesting, suffers a bit from the cultural confusion.
In the end, I liked Yukiko and Buruu enough to want to read the remainder of The Lotus War trilogy. And I must admit to liking the heck out of Jay Kristoff. Really, what's not intriguing about a guy who looks like Dave Grohl (post-Nirvana), estimates in his bio that he has about "13,870 days to live", and includes the lyrics of Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, and Alice in Chains as poetic inspirations? This is a solid first effort, and I look forward to hearing more from Jay in this current trilogy and beyond.(less)
Such fun! Priest gets really creative in building the world of 1860s and 70s Seattle. A 200-foot-tall wall surrounding the city? Airships? Zombies? Pi...moreSuch fun! Priest gets really creative in building the world of 1860s and 70s Seattle. A 200-foot-tall wall surrounding the city? Airships? Zombies? Pirates? A lengthened Civil War? Brown text? Dated language (negro, Chinaman) to make narration more authentic? An absolutely beautiful cover? Quirky steampunk gadgets? A mysterious, not-fully defined Blight? Darth Vader/Luke-like father-son drama? Repeated reference to vomit? Yes please! The crazy combinations worked well for me.
If you need deep philosophical currents in your novels, skip Boneshaker. But if you want a quick pace, creative world-building, great character development, a strong heroine, and a touching, believable relationship between a mother and son, give it a try.
Here are a couple of gems from Boneshaker to whet your appetite:
"The Blight had a density to it, and a color that was somewhere between shit and sunflowers."
"'It's hard to argue with a dead man. A dead man can't change his mind or make new rules, or behave like a bastard so no one will listen to him anymore. A dead man stays a saint.'"
Though the first installment in The Clockwork Century doesn't end with a cliffhanger, plenty of questions remain to be answered. I'm looking forward to reading and learning more.(less)
I very much enjoyed reading Leviathan. The mixture of alternative history, evolutionary biology lesson, and World War I setting drew me in quickly. We...moreI very much enjoyed reading Leviathan. The mixture of alternative history, evolutionary biology lesson, and World War I setting drew me in quickly. Westerfeld's pitting of Darwinists against Clankers; beasties against machines; abominations against Monkey Luddites, all seem relevant to today's debates between progressives and conservatives; fundamentalists and pragmatists; creationists and evolutionists; global warming deniers and environmentalists. In a sense, Clanker Pat Robertson has declared war on the Darwinist Richard Dawkins. The setting of a military conflict further dramatizes the heated rhetoric flung around in today's political environment.
I've encountered the girl/woman disguised as boy/man device many times before. Still, Westerfeld does a terrific job of developing Deryn's/Dylan's character. As the father of a 15 month old daughter, I'm always searching for strong female characters in literature. Westerfeld's Deryn offers such an example. And with two books remaining in the series, I'm optimistic that Deryn's strong, independent nature will not disappear as her life intersects increasingly with Alek's powerful sphere.
And did I mention the drawings? Keith Thompson's artwork is flawless, and helps greatly in telling the story of Leviathan. The illustration of the strafing hawks dismantling a clanker plane gave me chills. Beautifully done!
If you like alternate worlds where airships are ecosystems, lizards dictate messages vocally, sea life roams the skies, bat poop serves as lethal weapons, spiders bark and gastrointestinal functions have great import, this book is for you. A tightly written, very entertaining story. Bring on Behemoth!(less)
I'm confused. Was that a novel or a freight train coming at me? Good lord the ending is crammed full of important plot points! It felt rushed.
Since th...moreI'm confused. Was that a novel or a freight train coming at me? Good lord the ending is crammed full of important plot points! It felt rushed.
Since this novel is my first experience with the Genius Girl series, I had a lot of catching up to do throughout the book. Some details were lacking that would have been aided by a picture or two. (What exactly do the Jagermonsters look like anyway? And what about important characters like Dr. Roivanen? We hardly get to know this pivotal person!) The novel suffers, I think, from it's comic roots, struggling to paint scenes with words instead of pictures.
Based on the rave reviews earned by the comic, it appears that the loss of the graphic content has drained the Genius Girl story of the majority of it's madcap humor. I laughed at some of the Jagermonsters' antics and muppet-like accents. Othar had some funny lines, but the attempt to paint him in a Looney Toons manner fell flat. He came across as a misguided bungler, not a swashbuckling adventurer. Maybe that's a good way to describe the main problem with the novel - muted swashbuckling and humor; increased sadness and somewhat disturbing violence. Amanda awakening in compromising positions in her underwear? Not funny. The ripping apart of certain characters? Definitely not funny, really sad, and disturbing! I need to read the graphic novels to experience the humor and magnificent storytelling that the Foglios are known for. I look forward to giving them a second chance.(less)