There were some interesting and evocative passages about Africa, but I found the writing style too aggressively simplistic (reminiscent of Dick and Ja...moreThere were some interesting and evocative passages about Africa, but I found the writing style too aggressively simplistic (reminiscent of Dick and Jane books, to be honest) and the mysteries so inconsequential that I don't remember them 20 minutes after finishing the novel. If I don't think of these as mysteries I might at some point pick up another, but probably not.(less)
This is the first novel I've read by Mercedes Lackey, and it took me quite some time to get into it.
I was initially put off by the style -- very purpl...moreThis is the first novel I've read by Mercedes Lackey, and it took me quite some time to get into it.
I was initially put off by the style -- very purple, adjectives attached to every noun (sometimes multiple adjectives), half of each page written as Diana's stream-of-consciousness thoughts, which were equally frenetic when she was standing alone in a shop as when she was having a panic attack. And while it isn't Lackey's fault (her magical butt-kicking heroine predates most others) the whole set-up seemed too familiar by far. It should indeed appeal to Buffy fans, but don't expect it to take the now-familiar subgenre anywhere new.
Then I was put off by a number of items that cropped up that read like anachronisms, whether they are or not. For no reason I could discover, the novel is set in the early 70s, after the Watergate scandal broke but before Nixon resigned in '74. Yet there is a mention of Diana wanting a personal computer -- and I'm pretty sure personal computers weren't available until '75. There's a mention of feeling like being in a Stephen King novel -- but he didn't get published until '73, and I find it unlikely that his was a household name THAT immediately. I grant, the times are close enough that there may have been a week or two in '74 when a person might have thought all those things, but they just READ like anachronisms, whether they actually are or not.
But around 2/3 of the way through, after Diana joined forces with Andre, the plot picked up enough pace that I sped through the rest. Andre was my favorite character, though he doesn't break the ethical vampire mold in any way either, and though I cringed at the way the romance was handled, it was at least blessedly short.
So overall, I have to say I liked the book, but I am very borderline about whether or not to read another.(less)
I'm reading the Diana Tregarde novels in chronological order, rather than publication order, so I came to this novel after Children of the Night. Give...moreI'm reading the Diana Tregarde novels in chronological order, rather than publication order, so I came to this novel after Children of the Night. Given that, it does feel like a stronger novel -- I was involved right away, rather than spending the first 1/3 wondering if I should bother. Part of that is that I was now used to Lackey's rather purple style, but part was also that there is far less of the stream-of-consciousness italics that so bogged down Children of the Night for me. Part of it is also that the other primary viewpoint character in this novel, Mark, is much more of an active participant rather than victim, as Dave was. Very importantly, there is a reason provided for Diana totally missing the obvious answer to all her of questions for a hundred pages while Lackey got the action going. The fact that an essential clue simply slipped Diana's mind in Children of the Night annoyed me to no end, and while it was just as annoying here, at least she forgot for a reason.
Incidentally, the names in these novels are starting to annoy me. Everyone has an extremely common one or two syllable name, and an obvious nickname. That makes it very hard to separate characters that are introduced at the same time: in Children of the Night I never got the band members sorted out, and in Burning Water I still can't remember which of the Mountainhawk brothers is which. (I also had to flip back through the book and find their name -- again -- to write this review, because it too simply blended into the prose without impressing itself on me.)
Another thing that threw me in both novels was that in both someone that one of the viewpoint characters is close friends with ends up dying -- but due to the circumstances of that death, none of the other characters seem to mind much. That simply struck me as false -- no matter how much a friend may have brought trouble down on him or herself, I can't imagine myself being as blase as these characters are.
Given all that, I did barrel through the novel in a single afternoon. It's lightweight, has some humor to it, and while I wouldn't exactly call these novels mysteries -- the audience always knows exactly what's happening -- they are serviceable supernatural thrillers.(less)
This third Diana Tregarde novel is by far the weakest. It has the same weaknesses of the other two -- not terribly interesting characterization or plo...moreThis third Diana Tregarde novel is by far the weakest. It has the same weaknesses of the other two -- not terribly interesting characterization or plots, piss-poor mystery, and Diana being an idiot and not thinking of the obvious solution for at least a hundred pages. Unfortunately, it is also told predominantly from the POV of three teenagers (one of whom is the source of all the problems), all of whom think and act like imbecils throughout. I know that teenagers often look like they don't have a brain in their heads, but they do -- they just have a different set of priorities than adults do. And when the world comes crashing down on them, they DON'T pick fights with each other, they band together and act like sheep. The novels still read incredibly fast, but I was pissed off at it the whole time. If there were any more Tregarde novels, I don't think I would read them given where Lackey took the series in Jinx High.(less)
This book was a chore to read for me. Many of the issues that annoyed me about it won't necessarily get under another reader's skin: the jacket promis...moreThis book was a chore to read for me. Many of the issues that annoyed me about it won't necessarily get under another reader's skin: the jacket promised me one story, but through the first third I had only seen that story three times, as Blaylock instead showed a historical timeline (and its history just struck me as off, somehow); too many of the viewpoint characters were Evil (as in, *just* evil, acting solely out of greed and, well, evilness); the book touched on a number of issues that are personal for me (southern California, depression, mental illness, and child care to name the biggies) and while I can't say that Blaylock gets them *wrong* I can say they felt wrong, and felt manipulative; and finally, the portrayal of women (three total innocents, two batshit crazy evil chicks, and while that could just be a product of the Good/Evil divide, the one major male antagonist had a sympathetic reason for being the antagonist) just pissed me off.
But I could probably have looked past all that if it weren't for the failings I saw as inherent to the novel itself. I was promised something atmospheric, haunting, evocative; I got a fantasy story of the most literal sort. Everything that happened plot-wise was obvious, and all the descriptions were labored (at least to a California native; maybe readers who've never seen a chapparal environment needed all the repetition). There was a fair amount of "Oooo, what shall I do next to spite the hero, muwahahaha!" internal dialogue and my least-favorite storytelling trope ever, "I can't tell so-and-so this piece of information that will save all our lives because. . . I just can't." And while I know those last two items do often work for other readers and so should maybe be in the first paragraph, they're just so bad that any writer that uses them goes on my "never read again" pile.(less)
I love that it's character-driven rather than plot-driven. Nothing particularly happens in this novel -- a girl goes to...moreI love so much about this book.
I love that it's character-driven rather than plot-driven. Nothing particularly happens in this novel -- a girl goes to boarding school, is shunned, writes and reads a lot, and eventually finds a few friends; the "reckoning that could no longer be put off" takes place within the confines of the last few pages, and feels. . . on the whole, slightly unnecessary. Anyone who wants action should look elsewhere. This book takes place almost entirely within the confines of Mori's head, and I love that. I love that it's about grieving, and that it's about identity, and that it's about making the best of your seriously messed up family.
I love that it's about books, and that Mori engages with books, has forceful opinions about them that the reader is clearly allowed to disagree with. I haven't actually read most of the books Mori talks about (somehow I've read lots of stuff from the 60s and from the 80s on, but precious little from the 70s) but my background knowledge of the authors was enough that I didn't feel like I missed anything. Probably the only work any reader has to be familiar with is Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, because Mori uses the terms "karass" and "granfalloon" a lot before she explains them to an outsider -- but even those terms are fairly clear from the context.
I love the way the magic works. . . no flashes or puffs of smoke to let you know something has happened, just a sudden string of coincidences (going back long before you cast your spell) leading to the outcome you wanted. It's the sort of magic I think makes sense in a contemporary setting with our history, and it's the sort of magic I wish there was more of in fantasy, because it seems so much more magical than the magic-by-numbers currently popular. And yes, it IS magic: Mori thinks so, and the author says so, so I see no reason to question that fact.
But somehow. . . I did not quite love this book. Maybe it's because I wasn't particularly alienated as a teenager. Maybe it's because I wanted just a little bit more. . . magic, in Mori's voice, to carry through some of the boarding school drama. Or maybe this is one of those books that will hit me harder the further I get from it -- it certainly has that potential. I expected to love this book, and maybe that's why I didn't; very little can live up to the level of expectation produced by the knowledge that there's a new book by a favorite author that's getting tons of praise from other favorite authors. Whatever the case. . . I will absolutely recommend this to anyone who likes the stuff I laid out above. It's absolutely going on my keeper shelf, and I'm glad I bought it in hardcover. But it isn't quite a book that immediately carved out a place in my soul.(less)
There is a lot in this novel to engage with, so I'm afraid I do have to spoil the premise to review it properly. Consider yourself warned.
I'm not a bi...moreThere is a lot in this novel to engage with, so I'm afraid I do have to spoil the premise to review it properly. Consider yourself warned.
I'm not a big fan of vampires (as a fictional device; I've never met one, so I have no opinion about them as people), so I can't speak to how original Butler's take on them is. It is a more science fictional take than a fantasy one, and while much of the novel is spent learning how vampire society works, the details about how it got to be that way are realistically vague, because the world-building isn't really the point.
The characters aren't really the point either, and if this book has a flaw it's that I cared very little for any of them. Shori was emotionally detached through most of the novel due to her memory loss, and that detachment infected me through her narration. Many of the other characters were, not quite interchangeable, but vague enough that I had to work to fix them in my memory so I could tell them apart, and I never succeeded in that with Brook and Celia.
The prose isn't even the point; Butler falls on the "transparent" edge of the spectrum, and if I am generous and call the narration simply plain or unadorned, I have to admit that the dialogue is frankly wooden. And while the story moves at the rapid clip suitable to a thriller, I doubt I'll remember the details of it in a week or two.
But none of that matters. Because what this book does well is what Butler always does well: it uses a science fiction premise to explore thorny social issues.
The most obvious issue explored is miscegenation. To use Blade terminology, Shori is a daywalker, and she was made that way through two separate (but linked) acts of racial mixing: her mothers used some human genetic material to create Shori (mixing Ina, or vampire, blood with human blood) and the human they chose was black (while the Ina are white, though not of European descent). Much of the tension in the novel should come from the question of how much (if at all) that mixing is the motive behind the attacks on Shori's family; it doesn't, though, because there is never any other motive advanced that the reader can seriously consider.
The more interesting issue, to me at least, is the way Butler explores the idea of consent. There are plenty of situations in this book designed to make the reader uncomfortable, and all surround what consent looks like and who is capable of giving it. Can Shori consent to having sex, when she looks like a 10 year old girl? How does the fact that she has no memory of any life before the start of the book influence that? Can a human consent to becoming a symbiont despite the physical and psychological addiction an Ina bite causes? Again, how much of a role does Shori's amnesia play in what responsibilities she has to her symbionts? Given the extreme imbalance of power, how much responsibility does any Ina have to his/her symbionts? To other Ina symbionts? What do the symbionts owe each other? Where there are clearly wrong answers with regards to miscegenation, the issue of consent is surrounded by shades of grey. . . and I found that absolutely fascinating.
This isn't the book I'd recommend people start with in Butler's catalog (so far that would be Wild Seed) but what it does it does well, and what it does is something I wish more genre fiction attempted: it makes us really think about right and wrong, rather than falling back on generic grade school morality.(less)
Each of the stories in this collection is bright and sharp, honed and polished like a diamond. They are filled with telling details and unexpected sha...moreEach of the stories in this collection is bright and sharp, honed and polished like a diamond. They are filled with telling details and unexpected shards of pain. I have my favorites ("Babies on the Shore") and those I really would not have minded missing ("On the Loose" and "Under the Scalpel"); but those emotional reactions are based not on an objective assessment but rather on which set of images appealed to me in the moment. I'm sure the ones I disliked are the favorites of other readers, and my favorites likely totally missed for others, because the quality is amazingly even (and high) across the entire collection of thirty stories. The only flaw, really, is that each of the stories hits a very similar note: desperate, broken people doing their best to fit themselves into a world that is not shaped for them. It made reading more than a couple stories at a time dreary, and the one day that I tried reading quite a few back to back that dreariness devolved into tedium. The collection needed a few more stories that ended on a hopeful note to leaven the pain. But as long as I remained disciplined and rationed the stories out day by day, they were both heartbreaking and impressive.(less)
This was a well-intentioned novel with a decently evocative sense of place that I found unfortunately too heavy-handed to be enjoyable to read.
The thr...moreThis was a well-intentioned novel with a decently evocative sense of place that I found unfortunately too heavy-handed to be enjoyable to read.
The three main characters are the sort I wish there were more of in fantasy -- non-white characters who are centered in the narrative and who are clearly shaped by their race but not entirely defined by it. Unfortunately, they are never given the room to come to life. We are given the information encapsulated in the jacket description, and one or two offhand statements that begin the process of humanizing those descriptions (D giving up on dreams of college because his foster mother is unlikely to pay for it; Hakeem trying to figure out how to integrate his faith into his day-to-day life; Nyla's alternately manipulative and supportive relationship with her stepmother), but then the entire rest of the novel is spent developing one of the clunkiest love triangles I have ever had the displeasure of reading.
The setting was similarly disappointing -- there was just enough that piqued my interest for me to know that Elliott had a potentially fascinating world built up in her head, but somehow it never quite translated to the page. (And the "Prologue" completely threw me, with its "I" who was clearly not D but did live in a Brooklyn teeming with both magic and history; I had to read it twice before I figured out that the "Prologue" was really an author's note/introduction and that "I" was Elliott, rather than being an actual prologue connected to the book itself. Major fail on the publisher's part.)
But the element I found most cringe-worthy, that made the book nearly unreadable to me even at 124 pages, was the plot itself -- the magical bird with a glorious mission only D can complete. That was handled with all the grace of a Saturday morning superhero cartoon. Here is a representative sample of the bird's dialogue:
"It's a long story, and I don't have the strength to tell it all tonight. I can, however, share some of my history." "You have endured much for one so young." "You should rest now. You'll need your strength for the task we must undertake." "When it is time, all will be revealed."
Just absolutely the worst sort of not at all informative, vaguely mystical claptrap that always seems to come out of the mouths of poorly realized magical mentors in programs aimed at five year olds. The dialogue was so trite, in fact, that I was kind of hoping that the bird would turn out to be evil, manipulating the vulnerable, newly orphaned and unsure D with the things little kids want to hear. But, unfortunately, the bird was played entirely straight.
The second half of the book was a series of action sequences that, while not tremendously thrilling, were always clear about who was doing what and why. But overall, this felt like a novel that would have been stronger with significantly more space for the non-fantastical aspects of character and world-building, and needed an entire rewrite of the fantasy plot to remove the cliched dynamics and dialogue.(less)