A Great and Terrible Beauty is neither great nor beautiful, though it is indeed -- wait for it! -- terrible.
The characters are simple and one-dimensio...moreA Great and Terrible Beauty is neither great nor beautiful, though it is indeed -- wait for it! -- terrible.
The characters are simple and one-dimensional, their actions both petty and selfish. I find it difficult to believe any one of the four girls at the heart of the story cared for one another, much less anyone else. The story meanders, often digressing into lengthy passages that do little if anything to advance the characters or the story. As the story progresses, drawing to its predictable and dissatisfying conclusion, it becomes clear that Ms Bray has mistaken style for subtance and that her prose is not stylish enough to support this belief.
Most offensive, however, is the racial and sexual content within the book. The male lead (a young man from India) is sexualized and fetishized for his "exotic" appearance and culture; other Indian characters are shown as either submissive or violent. The Romani people wandering the schoolgrounds suffer from even greater stereotyping: the men are portrayed as slovenly, ignorant, and sexually aggressive towards the white schoolgirls; the women are docile and suitably mystical.
Her treatment of the female characters is also questionable. Though these Victorian girls wander about with decidedly un-Victorian sensibilities and though Ms Bray makes a weak attempt to decry the injustices of a society so quick to condemn the expression of feminine sexuality, the story itself does not support this modern take on the Victorian era. The girls submit to their male counterparts or pine helplessly from a distance. Sexual and romantic relationships between men and women often contain obvious and disturbing power imbalances (or violent undertones). The relationship between the four girls is emotionally shallow and deeply petty, motivated by mutual dislike and composed of backstabbing and bullying tactics. And though Ms Bray is quick to condemn the indignities and horrors of an arranged marriage, she is also quick to condemn her protagonists when they dare to act instead of react. It's a confusing mix of self-righteous pulpit pounding and misogyny, with the end result being I wanted to put my fist through the admittedly lovely and eyecatching cover.
My one relief is that I had the sense to borrow this from the library instead of buying it outright. I do not recommend it.(less)
**spoiler alert** This series is so terrible! And insane! I love it and would never recommend it to anyone. Those stars up there are not indicative of...more**spoiler alert** This series is so terrible! And insane! I love it and would never recommend it to anyone. Those stars up there are not indicative of quality (one star! At most!) but my irrational love for this awful, ridiculous series.
It's difficult to address exactly how terrible a single volume is without discussing the series as a whole, but I will attempt to do so! Briefly. Briefly.
Why You Should Not Read This Volume of Love Pistols:
1) I do not have any trouble accepting the basic premise of the series, which is that there is a secret race of people who are also animals who are also human, evidently, I guess, I don't know, but I do wish Kotobuki would explain this (and the various facets of their biology and particular subculture) in a such a way that this made sense. But, uh, so long as you turn off your brain and coast through/ignore the few stories that are dependent on the audience understanding the Zooman biology/subculture, you're good to go!
2) I understand this is something of a tradition in the world of romance, but seriously, enough with the rape threats. Seriously. You know what would be awesome? Two people who respect one another courting each other in a respectful manner.
3) The facial! So, so gross. I think the fact that Kunimasa and Norio's relationship effectively begins with Kunimasa forcing himself on Norio and ejaculating onto Norio's face is the number one reason why Kunimasa and Norio's relationship is the relationship I like the least in Love Pistols.
4) Kotobuki's treatment of women in this manga makes me make this face: >\
I understand BL has a long and glorious tradition of ignoring the ladies, villainizing them, or reducing them to minor background characters, but that doesn't make it okay.
5) Man, what is up with all her romantic heroes being total jerks? Manipulative, possessive, rude, controlling, etc., etc. At least we haven't had any actual rape yet. (What's up, volume two!)
6) It's terrible.
(I love the artwork, tho', and I know I'm in the minority when I say this.)
And yet I love Love Pistols. I can think of absolutely nothing to recommend it, but it's easily my favorite of the various BL titles available in English, which is fairly damning commentary on either the state of the English-speaking BL market or my tastes. Pretty sure it's the latter.(less)
Oh! Oh! This book is such a delight. I'll be honest: I've a backlog of seven or eight Georgette Heyer novels I've meant to read for absolute ages, but...moreOh! Oh! This book is such a delight. I'll be honest: I've a backlog of seven or eight Georgette Heyer novels I've meant to read for absolute ages, but for some reason or another I've never really got around to doing so. I intend to do so immediately! I can't say I'm surprised this should be the novel to draw me into what I strongly suspect shall be a ferocious and terrible addiction: I have a truly ridiculous soft spot for tales of mistaken identity and twins willingly or unwillingly forced to switch places; witness my complete run of Mixx's (now Tokyopop's) publication of the otherwise forgettable Miracle Girls.
Kit's task is made easier by the fact that he has been out of London for the past three years, performing his diplomatic duties abroad; and by an unanticipated stroke of luck: Cressy's family knows of Evelyn Denville through his reputation alone; Cressy herself has only spoken with Evelyn the once, when he proposed they marry not for love, but convenience. Alas, the charade is quickly complicated: Cressy intended to break off the engagement with Evelyn, but finds herself charmed by and quite enjoying her time with Kit; the true Evelyn cannot be found, all leads proving false; and a retreat to the country hoped to give Kit space from Evelyn's acquaintances in London is immediately ruined when his mother reveals the Dowager Lady Stavely and Cressy will soon be joining them.
False Colours starts off a bit slow, with the first two or three chapters consisting largely of Kit and his mother, Lady Denville, discussing her financial situation, Evelyn's inheritance and disappearance, and the merits of Cressy Stavely. The pay-off is evident the moment Kit arrives at the residence of Lord Stavely. Tedious though this opening is (and it is not all tedious, as Kit and Lady Denville are both clever speakers and Lady Denville is particularly energetic), it provides the framework needed for the remainder of the novel. Kit and Cressy's first meeting proves especially delightful, each expecting something of the other (Kit from his mother's report of Evelyn's sudden engagement and Cressy from Evelyn's well-known reputation) only to be pleasantly surprised by the reality - or in Cressy's case, the perceived reality.
As a romantic hero, Kit is a wonderful change of pace from the rakes and volatile gentleman of other regency (or near-regency) romances. He has a sense of humor and a sharp wit, but he is sensible, kind, and (to his mother's horror) mature, and if I'm to be honest, these are exactly the qualities I look for in a romantic hero. Dependable guys are awesome! Cressy is likewise sensible: intelligent, keen-witted, and neither silly nor easily shocked. Kit and Cressy very quickly fall into sync with each other; one gets the feeling that they are not merely lovers, but great friends as well.
(I will admit that so far as the assorted romantic plots of the novel go, my favorite proved to be that of Lady Denville and her former suitor, Bonamy Ripple, who also happens to be my favorite character on account of how he is totally friggin' awesome. It is entirely possible this is my favorite romantic thread solely because its resolution made me laugh like a loon, but I will neither confirm nor deny this possibility.)
Heyer's prose is lovely: very understated in scenes of great passion or feeling and frequently rather sly. I finished False Colours in a few hours, a feat which I feel must be credited to the swift pacing and her vivacious prose. It's fun, it's giddy, and though she isn't one to skimp on the details, Heyer never allows them to overwhelm her writing.
Satisfying though False Colours is - and it is very satisfying - I found the ending both very sudden and surprisingly weak. A seemingly inevitable confrontation never comes to fruition and a romantic subplot involving Evelyn and a young woman who remains off-page for the entirety of the novel is neither developed nor resolved; ultimately it proves to be an unnecessary digression from the story. With the exception of the subplot involving Lady Denville's debts, very few of the plot threads are resolved. It's a frustrating conclusion to an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable novel.(less)
I enjoyed it in the way one enjoys a piece of fiction that is both totally crazy and totally awful, but oh man, does Burroughs ever have problems. Fav...moreI enjoyed it in the way one enjoys a piece of fiction that is both totally crazy and totally awful, but oh man, does Burroughs ever have problems. Favorite totally insane bit is Tarzan teaching himself how to read and speak fluent English; least favorite is the implied sexual violence on Our Hero's part, though the racism gives the rape undertones a nice run for the money.
At the risk of earning the scorn and raising the ire of a thousand thousand Burroughs fans, Disney's Tarzan will always be my preferred go-to source for orphaned-child-raised-by-apes heroics.(less)
So the thing about Georgette Heyer's romances is this: I like them, but I have to space the fuckers out. She's really only got like eight characters,...moreSo the thing about Georgette Heyer's romances is this: I like them, but I have to space the fuckers out. She's really only got like eight characters, and only two kinds of romantic heroes (the scandalous rake, usually lots older than the heroine, and the rarer dandy), and her stories all seem to follow the same beats, so if I go straight from one Heyer romance to another, it's impossible to ignore the creative recycling, which I can only bear if I can ignore it.
I had the same sort of problem with Pistols for Two, a collection of eleven short stories; rushing through the book in one go was probably the worst thing I could have done. Don't get me wrong: Heyer is consistently entertaining and frequently amusing, and I enjoyed nearly all the stories in this collection. But they're so very predictable, and so many of them are so very much alike - oh, my goodness, so many ill-tempered rakes in their mid-thirties falling desperately in love with teenage ingenues who have fallen into dire straits! Is it any surprise my favorite story is the one in which the middle-aged rake proposes to a middle-aged widow who is in no danger at all? - that they start to blend together by the end of it all.
Of course, being short stories and not, as you might suppose, novels, this collection is rather bereft of the improbable subplots, the cast of wacky supporting characters, and the complicated hijinks of a full-on Heyer novel, which is a bit of a shame. I like Heyer's romances, but I love her sense of humor, and you don't get much of that here. All the absurdities and the wit have been pared down or outright disposed of in order to streamline the plot, and without the comedy - without that enormous supporting cast to liven things up - it isn't really the same.
Favorite stories: A Husband for Fanny, in which the widow Wingham nearly gives up everything to see her daughter married well, To Have the Honour, in which the hero is a well-intentioned doofus and also not fifteen years older than the heroine (I don't have a problem with age differences and actually rather like them in fiction most of the time, but seriously, enough is enough, Heyer), and The Duel, in which there is a twist I genuinely did not see coming, though I think that's more to do with the fact that I'm an idiot than anything else. I'm also rather fond of the title story, Pistols for Two, which is surprisingly and delightfully slashy.
One of the most important books of my youth and, as strange as it might sound, my life. For all the humor and wacky hijinks, the My Teacher is an Alie...moreOne of the most important books of my youth and, as strange as it might sound, my life. For all the humor and wacky hijinks, the My Teacher is an Alien quartet - and in particular, My Teacher Flunked the Planet - made a profound and lasting impact on the development of my personal and political beliefs and ideals.
But, uh, it's also totally hysterical, and I am forever grateful to Bruce Coville for introducing the word "poot" into my vocabulary.(less)
I'm not sure what the etiquette is for dropping f bombs in a review, so I'm just going to phrase it as gently as I know how: fuck this book.
1: Holy ra...moreI'm not sure what the etiquette is for dropping f bombs in a review, so I'm just going to phrase it as gently as I know how: fuck this book.
1: Holy racism, Batman. Enough of the Italian stallions, the (ever unsympathetic, mind) gangster stereotypes, the brutish non-white others, and oh my God, that second chapter, what was that even. Oh, those poor, uncivilized Africans and their violent superstitions and their helpless childish minds and cultures, but at least they have given the nice, white, USAmerican nun a greater understanding of her own life. I also very much enjoyed this bit from the third chapter in which USA army major Elias Branch contemplates the war and genocide in Bosnia: "Branch did not want to save them, for they were savage and did not want to be saved." By enjoyed, I mean I wanted to rip the book in half.
2: Science does not work that way.
3: The narrative structure and the pacing of this book are equivalent disasters.
4: I seriously cannot break down all the ways in which I hate this book. It is a disaster. It is a mess. It is racist. It scrabbles toward and mimics meaning, but ultimately contains none. Stuffed with interesting concepts and engaging suggestions, it fails to adequately develop or explore any of them, leaving behind a superficial and pocked whole.
Oh, I liked this one! I wasn't expecting to enjoy it given how underwhelming I found Vande Velde's A Hidden Magic and A Well-Timed Enchantment, but oh...moreOh, I liked this one! I wasn't expecting to enjoy it given how underwhelming I found Vande Velde's A Hidden Magic and A Well-Timed Enchantment, but oh, it is pretty great, you guys! The thing is, Dragon's Bait suffers from the same problems that plague most of Vande Velde's work - the supporting cast is hugely underdeveloped, the plot allows for little digression and proceeds at a near-breakneck speed, and the romantic relationship is rather weak - but either the flaws aren't quite as grand in this particular work or I just don't care, because I totally loved it.
Theory: I love this book because the heroine, Alys, is totally awesome.
Contrary to my own expectations, Dragon's Bait is a very nicely executed tale of revenge and the sacrifices one makes to obtain it. Accused as a witch by greedy neighbors, found guilty by a corrupt official from a distant town, and staked out as a sacrificial meal to appease a marauding dragon, Alys is motivated not by a desire to escape into the greater world in search of a new home, but by a desire to see herself and her father avenged by any means necessary. There's little new to be found in the depths Vande Velde plumbs; there is no surprise in the moment when Alys recognizes what she is becoming in the name of vengeance. But I found it refreshing anyway, I think, perhaps, because it is so rare for a YA author - or any author at all - to write of a woman whose driving purpose for the duration of the story is to see those who wronged her ruined and dead.
In contrast, the supporting cast is, well, flat: flat like pancakes, flat like a well-paved road, flat like a passing-for-mediocre joke falling splat on an unappreciative audience. But I don't care as much as I think I ought to, perhaps because it's what I expected of the authors, perhaps because I'm far more interested in Alys's evolution as a character than I am in anything else, perhaps ... who knows.
I'm only bothered by the lack of motivation afforded to two fairly important supporting characters: the witch, whose background nastiness seems to be inspired by a dire case of Just Because, and Selendrile, the latter moreso than the former. I suppose I don't need to know why Selendrile chooses to spare Alys's life when they first meet, nor do I need to know why it is he chooses to go along with her plan for vengeance; there's enough suggestion in the text to come to any one of a number of conclusions, and perhaps that's what Vande Velde wanted. I do think the book would be much improved had she not left the matter of Selendrile's character a mystery. There are times, especially in the middle bits, when he seems to be little more than a prop, which is rather unfortunate, especially in light of that final scene.
At any rate, I enjoyed it a great deal more than I thought I would, and I wouldn't hesitate at all to recommend it to any girl in the sixth and seventh grade. (I certainly would have enjoyed it then had I known it existed.) Hooray for vengeful teenage heroines!
There are at least two good reasons why I shouldn't have enjoyed Sunshine:
1: It's a vampire novel.
2: I hate vampire novels.
But here's Sunshine, perhap...moreThere are at least two good reasons why I shouldn't have enjoyed Sunshine:
1: It's a vampire novel.
2: I hate vampire novels.
But here's Sunshine, perhaps the one modern vampire novel I have thus far read and enjoyed, which I credit to McKinley's decision to characterize and present vampires as explicitly inhuman and the unwavering narrative focus on the titular heroine Sunshine. I've seen Sunshine advertised as a supernatural romance, a proposition I find puzzling; for all that Sunshine's developing relationship with her vampire ally, Constantine, contains romantic and sexual elements (and it does, in spades), this book isn't about her relationship with Con, though their relationship is integral to it, but about Sunshine herself: who she is, what she is, and the ways in which she changes in response to struggles both internal and external.
Sunshine is perhaps this novel's greatest strength. She's a complicated character with complicated desires; she wants to be normal, to be human, a matter which is further complicated as her awareness of herself continues to change, but she's as fascinated with the other (or Other) side as she is repelled by it. Sunshine is why I loved Sunshine: she's engaging and flawed and practical, and the way in which she addresses the changing world around her and the way in which she addresses the changes in herself proved both refreshing and deeply satisfying. Her relationship with Con is equally refreshing: bound together first by circumstance then by necessity, the evolution of their partnership into friendship sees them standing by each other voluntarily when they at last face that which first brought them together.
It is of course always a pleasure to read a novel by an author who has not forgotten that women have relationships distinct from men, that the relationship between a child and her grandmother doesn't have to be about the father, but about the child and the grandmother, that the relationship between a mother and her daughter is about the mother and the daughter, and the relationship between two girls who are friends is not predicated on the existence of boys. The relationships Sunshine has with the men in her life - her stepfather, her missing father, Mel and Pat and of course Con - are equally well-rounded and enjoyable to read, but I was more pleased with the complexities of Sunshine's relationships with the women in her life: the silent concern and aggravation of her mother; the lingering presence of her grandmother; the support offered by Aimil and Yolande and the women of the neighborhood.
Much like McKinley's Rose Daughter, Sunshine is less interested in the workings of the plot, which remains a secondary concern for the duration of the story; the primary concern is instead the growth of the principal character. Tangents of varying (but often great) length abound; some of them are relevant, some of them are not. The narrative meanders as Sunshine's thoughts and interests drift, and though I found the experience pleasurable, I imagine those who desire a tighter narrative and a continuously advancing plot will find little here to hold them. McKinley relishes the routines and surprises of day to day life, often writing pages upon pages about food (or flowers in the case of Rose Daughter) or the texture of sunlight, and the end result may either delight or bore. As with Rose Daughter, I found Sunshine to be both comforting, as though I were reading a letter from an old friend, and luxurious, thanks largely to McKinley's thorough worldbuilding and the ideas strewn throughout the book.
Perhaps my only relevant complaint would be the vast quantities of infodumping and how rarely McKinley expands upon any of it. There's a great deal of worldbuilding evident here and not all of it is handled as smoothly as it ought to be handled. Sunshine often explains concepts and historical events that should be common knowledge within her universe, and to do so she occasionally backtracks or interrupts an important scene. McKinley loads Sunshine up with a surfeit of enticing tidbits; she raises questions and introduces new concepts, but leaves them strewn along the way like rocks in the grass. There are a great many mysteries left unsolved that I wish she had addressed; there are ideas I wish she had developed.
As much as I adored Sunshine and as strong as it is as a character piece, I do think that overall, Sunshine lacks. The worldbuilding is detailed and thorough, but she doesn't do very much with it, and as a result Sunshine is bloated with excess information, forgotten ideas and underdeveloped characters, and dead-end subplots. In this a sequel (or two) would prove helpful; with a companion book to address the excess, Sunshine would be much improved. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem very likely: McKinley has been very outspoken on her blog about the chances she will ever write a sequel (in her words, don't count on it). It's a shame: as the first in a series, Sunshine would prove to be an excellent introduction, but as a standalone novel, Sunshine is heavy with unfinished thoughts and loose ends.
Even so, Sunshine remains a deeply satisfying read. Though I would like very much to see a sequel expand upon any one of the many threads left dangling partway through, I'm more than pleased with Sunshine; if a sequel never appears, this will certainly be enough. I'm very glad to have read it and I imagine it won't be too long before I turn to it again for the comfort and entertainment a beloved book provides, even if it is a vampire novel.