I think the gloss is falling off this series for me. I had fun with the first one, and I do still enjoy the stories and the characters, but they are bI think the gloss is falling off this series for me. I had fun with the first one, and I do still enjoy the stories and the characters, but they are becoming more annoying and I'm finding myself less and less patient with Carriger's style and tone here. It's so exuberant and so determined to be silly. She rather belabours the point, especially in her trying "Britishness".
This third outing follows on from the dramatic ending of book 2, Changeless - which I won't spoil, not to worry! But it does see Alexia on her own, back living with her odious mother and half-sisters, dismissed from her job on the Shadow Council, and with the cause of all her troubles unescapable. (That's vague, but if you read them you'll know what I mean.) With her friend, the inventor Madame Lefoux, and Floote, her butler (and everything else), she leaves the now unfriendly England for Italy and the Templars, who have a long history of association with Paranormals like Alexia. Hoping to find answers, she's also trying to escape threats on her life from the vampires, who seem determined to off her now that the unthinkable has happened.
It's rather impossible to give a decent summary without giving things away (I can't understand why I try except it's a habit), but considering this book took me a sporadic month to read - I just couldn't get into it for any length of time - it's a wonder that I can even give a summary. It was overall quite disappointing, one hurried flight after another, one attempt on Alexia's life after another, that I got quite tired of it all. Alexia is separated from her husband, Alpha werewolf and leader of BUR, Lord Conall Maccon, so there's no fun to be had there, and Alexia on her own can begin to get pretty tiring.
Still, knowing me I'll probably read the fourth one, Heartless, due out in July 2011. 'Cause there's some pretty cool stuff going on here and let's face it - they have great covers....more
This review contains a few spoilers due to it being the last book in a trilogy.
The third book in the Glass trilogy completes an exciting fantasy advenThis review contains a few spoilers due to it being the last book in a trilogy.
The third book in the Glass trilogy completes an exciting fantasy adventure that began with Storm Glass and continued with Sea Glass. The trilogy is set in the same world as the Study trilogy (which I haven't read yet), where the main character in the Glass books, Opal Cowan, first appeared - here, she gets her own story. Not only does Opal grow as a person, but Snyder's writing matures hugely. While I had some complaints about her writing in the previous two books, here it was much smoother, the culmination of solid work and tight plotting. As a blogging friend recently put it, her books are inherently readable.
Opal Cowan has lost her glass magic due to her own selfless sacrifice in order to defeat the men - including her old boyfriend, Ulrick - addicted to blood magic. She can't create her magic glass messengers anymore, or siphon people's powers into glass, because in siphoning off the men's magic she had to do it to her own as well. Now she's back at home with her parents, helping them get ready for her sister's wedding and trying to figure out what to do next. Her boyfriend, the Stormdancer Kade, is away far to the north helping to tame the ice storms. But when she learns that the blood magicians kept more of her blood than they used, that it's hidden somewhere and she could get her magic back, Opal knows she has to find it - it's either that or let it fall into someone else's hands and used for ill.
Opal must travel back to Fulgor and find a way into a heavily warded prison to ask Ulrick where her blood has been hidden. But she's not the only person looking for it, and it's not always easy to tell friend from foe.
At first I was worried because it didn't seem like there was a story - with no unique form of magic (or any magic at all), was Opal a less interesting character? Not at all, and in fact this is perhaps the most solidly-written fantasy-adventure story of the three. While you do need to read them in order and events do move from one book to the next, this has something of the feel of a standalone, being so nicely contained with a quiet beginning and a fulfilling ending.
Things have certainly changed a lot over the course of the trilogy, not least Opal herself. She was never an annoying heroine, but to watch her come into her own and mature, develop new skills and learn the value of the people around her who help her, is hugely pleasing. She's far from perfect, but her head and her heart is in the right place and you can definitely rally behind her.
There is a love triangle, of sorts, that began in an early book, between Kade and Devlen - Devlen the blood magician who tortured Opal before she siphoned off all his magic, freeing him from the addiction. At first, in the previous book, I still didn't trust him, and when he reappears in Spy Glass I worried that he'd become some kind of self-help sap. But no, he's still a complex character and watching Opal be drawn to him despite their past is fascinating. I felt it was very convincingly written. I wasn't sure at all how it could be resolved, because I loved Kade in the first book, and yet the way it works out has that feeling of, this is the only way it could go. This is right.
But it does bear discussing a bit more, though you might want to skip this paragraph due to extra spoilers. Devlen is a man who, under the grip of his blood magic addiction, swapped bodies with Ulrick in order to get close to Opal, had sex with her and later, in his own body, tortured her (this is from Sea Glass if I remember right). Now he's without magic, loving it, and is redeemed. Normally, such a thing would give me the willies, but there was always something darkly charismatic and complex about Devlen that made him a much more interesting character, and even without his magic he retains that. I know a lot of people will have trouble with the concept of Opal becoming friends and, yes, lovers with this man despite what he did to her - on the face of it, it screams classic female victim and self-hater doesn't it? - but the way I see the world is so far from black-and-white, that I can't possibly write someone off that quickly or easily. People are more complicated than that - not always, true, but most of the time. Also, I did feel that Devlen made up for his past mistakes. The short answer is, Opal came to trust him and love him, and the way it's written enabled me to trust in her and what she had found with him. Besides, I wouldn't call him having sex with her while pretending to be Ulrick, rape. Deceitful and opportunistic, yes, but not forced. I guess I like - prefer, even - characters who make mistakes, who aren't so goody-goody that they never take risks with their hearts. And some things really are that messy in life.
I don't know if it's because I've had time to aclimatise myself to this fantasy world or whether Snyder's prose is just working for me so much better, but many of my complaints from the previous books simply didn't exist here. The prose is still light and simple, but the awkward grammar mistakes and comma splicers have gone. Instead, I was reminded of another favourite Fantasy author, Kate Forsyth, whose trilogy Rhiannon's Ride is written in a similar, inherently readable prose style. It's reminiscent of Young Adult, but better. Likewise, the plot holes were either gone or not so noticeable - I was enjoying the adventure so much that not a thing poked out to trip me and spoil it, so I'd like to say that unlike with Sea Glass, there aren't any plot holes or inconsistencies here.
The ending is hugely suspenseful and it's impossible to put the book down, while the tight friendships and burgeoning love between Opal and various other characters really enable you to invest emotionally in the story. There's moments of light-hearted humour to counter-balance the darker side of the story, and Opal isn't someone who dwells morbidly over the crappy things that happen to her. She doesn't complain or second-guess herself or get caught up in too much self-reflection. Maybe sometimes she jumps in without thinking first, but that too is just something that makes you more fond of her, rather than less.
Honestly, I highly recommend this trilogy. The third book more than makes up for the glitches in the previous two, and reading Opal's story is an immensely fun, adventure-filled and fast-paced ride that is increasingly hard to put down. Was also excellent reading for my baby brain :D ...more
This review isn't going to be what the book deserves, because it's been well over two months since I finished the book and it's always hard to remembeThis review isn't going to be what the book deserves, because it's been well over two months since I finished the book and it's always hard to remember the things that you wanted to say at the time. Which is a shame, because I really enjoyed it and want to give it the review it deserves.
Rolencia is a relatively young kingdom, once an area of warring chieftains united several generations ago by warlord Rolence. The spars that make up the kingdom are still led by warlords though, and some of them chafe at having to swear loyalty to a king, but there is strength in numbers and the neighbouring kingdom of Merofynia, as well as the Utland raiders, are a greater threat.
Byren was born only seven minutes after his twin brother, Lence, and he's always been happy to be the younger brother, to hunt Affinity beasts - creatures of untamed magic - and offer sound advice when needed. With a younger brother, Fyn, promised to the elite warrior monks, and a sister, Piro, nearly old enough to be married off to a warlord in exchange for greater loyalty, the succession seems secure. But when a bastard cousin, Illien, arrives with tales of tragedy and becomes a close advisor to the king, Byren starts to realise that all is not as it seems with his cousin. Lence begins to resent and distrust Byren, the more popular son, and King Rolen himself begins to listen to worrying advice. Byren himself is spooked by the prophecy of an old woman who tells him he will turn on his brother, and the once-happy family starts to turn on each other.
Years ago I read and loved Daniells' The Last T'En, a Fantasy-Romance novel that begins a trilogy, so when I came across a new book by the same author, I was eager to read it. It's more straight Fantasy this time, more epic, and just as enjoyable. The pacing is fast and tight, the plot well thought out and never dull, the characters nicely developed and the writing smooth. I haven't been reading as much Fantasy these days as I used to, but this book got me excited about the genre all over again.
While Byren is the main protagonist in this trilogy, both Fyn and Piro take turns to lead their own sections and we get their perspectives on unfolding events and the people around them. Each is a distinct character, a strong protagonist and both interesting and sympathetic, so that we end up with three heroes. Byren is a people-person, an athletic, active, good-natured lad, skilled, trustworthy - all good things, yet somehow he never came across as too good, too annoyingly perfect. He was an easy character to like, but Fyn and Piro were perhaps more interesting.
The supporting cast were equally as engaging, from the subtle villain of Illien, Lord Cobalt; to Byren's gay best friend, Orrade, who is in love with Byren (unreciprocated); and the girl, Elina, who didn't stay true. This may be lighter Fantasy fare than some other authors in the genre, but Daniells writes so well there are some lovely subtly to the characters that make them all that more alive and believable to me.
The world, too, was fascinating. Magic plays a part but is not the central theme; there's no faceless evil force to battle - that trope always makes me laugh. It does, though, immerse itself pretty deeply in the genre: political intrigue, which has long been a staple of the genre (and if anyone says "Oh like A Song of Ice and Fire" I'll smack 'em); untamed magic; aristocratic bastards; betrayal and corruption; war - both between humans and between humans and magical foe; and a generally uncertain, unstable climate. It's not because the story's original that I so enjoyed it - it's not at all original - but because it resurrects an older style of Fantasy that had become so old and tired and boring, and given it new life. As I mentioned before, I haven't been reading as much Fantasy lately, but I had such fun reading this that it renewed my appreciation for the genre an taken me right back to the golden days of when I first started reading it. In a sense, it's retro, and the more Urban Fantasy that gets published, the wider the glaring hole becomes in the Fantasy shelves: there's just not much in the Epic Fantasy sub-group being published these days.
Because of the huge delay in writing this review, I can't effectively bring up any particular scenes or more detailed themes to discuss, but at the very least I wanted to share with you how fun this book is, how imminently readable and enjoyable. It probably helped that I knew what to expect from Daniells, having read an earlier trilogy, and was expecting something fun and dramatic. I'm keen to read the next two, which are already waiting on my shelves. ...more
I wanted to read this as soon as it came out - seriously, it's a gorgeous cover! - even without knowing much about it except that it seemed like an adI wanted to read this as soon as it came out - seriously, it's a gorgeous cover! - even without knowing much about it except that it seemed like an adult Harry Potter. But then people's reviews of the hardcover started to come in, and they were lacklustre and generally disappointed. I have to say, I'm in the same category. The premise is interesting, the detail is rich, but the characters are awful, the story is slow, and by 300 pages in you really don't care anymore. It's one of those books I had to force myself to finish, and I finished it about a month ago so please forgive this rather harried, less detailed review.
The story is about Quentin Coldwater, a supposed genius who even now at eighteen is obsessed with the Narnia-like Fillory series from the 1930s. He practices magic tricks in his spare time. So finding himself brought to a world within the world, a world of magic and magicians, is a dream come true. But Quentin is also a fuck-up, and by dint of his very personality he turns his dream-come-true into a miserable place.
The novel takes place over several years, through his magician training and into the first year as a graduated magician. He has a group of friends, who aren't much more likeable than he is, and a more gifted girlfriend, Alice - a relationship he screws up, literally. The group has the chance to visit Fillory itself, and the fact that they're too old doesn't stop them.
While the story ponders the theme of why only children get to go to magical worlds (namely, Narnia), I didn't find it all that satisfying because the answer always seemed pretty obvious to me - an answer that the book arrives at too, in a long-winded way. Quentin himself, in his self-hating way, as well as his friends, put it pretty clearly.
"Well, okay, then know this." Janet put her hands on her hips. She had struck an unexpected vein of bitterness in herself, and it was running away with her. "We human beings are unhappy all the time. We hate ourselves and we hate each other and sometimes we wish You or Whoever had never created us or this shit-ass world or any other shit-ass world. Do You realize that? So next time You might think about not doing such a half-assed job." (p.349)
That's what Janet, one of Quentin's friends, tells the ram Ember (a stand-in for Aslan) in Fillory. I've taken it out of context but with everything going on and building up to it, it's a fine speech that makes a surprising amount of sense.
Frankly, though, the whole novel just seemed a bit too show-off-y to me, rather like Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which I liked even less. This was one of those books that should have worked, should have appealed, should have been pretty bloody special, but wasn't. Quentin doesn't narrate, but it's his perspective we always get, his words in our head, and he's such a bloody miserable whinger it's hard to put up with him.
There was a lot of good stuff in the book, but it took such a distant back seat to miserable Quentin and his binge-drinking, loud friends that you never got to see much of it or understand it. The magic side was handled like a side issue, a plot device to enable them to reach Fillory and nothing more. Not explored for its own sake, or because it's interesting. And the world of Brakebills (the school) and of magic in general didn't really make much sense to me. It tried to be funny at times but I don't remember it as being at all funny or even moderately amusing. There was just an overall feeling of "wow you suck" to it that I didn't get much enjoyment from the story, the characters or the writing. One thing The Magicians succeeded at all too well, is taking the gloss and glam off magic.
I also have to add that Quentin's - or the author - isn't so smart after all: I was annoyed to read this: "A block of stone stood in the center of [the] room. On it was a large shaggy sheep - or no, it had horns, so that made it a ram." (p.345) First of all, rams are sheep. Female sheep are called ewes. Secondly, and more importantly, horns aren't restricted to rams. Ewes can have horns too, they've just mostly been bred out of them. We would still get the odd ewe with horns on the farm, sometimes big curly horns even. A throwback to original genetics. See, can't trust everything you read in a book, can you? ;)
Overall, a disappointing, slow read about people you would never want to hang out with without wanting to slap them after two minutes, who reach a magical land and manage to ruin it because they bring with them all their angst and depression. Once you've lost the sense of wonder and fair play of children, you really should be kept out of Fillory/Narnia; but this lot were so selfish and trapped in their crappy lives they just had to step through "the magic door", so to speak. Wretches.
I'm certainly not going to bother with the sequel, The Magician King, no matter how lovely the cover is.
Now I've written all that, it's clear that a month on all I can really remember are the things I didn't like. Still, I must have liked it well enough to give it three stars at the time, so I'm going to leave it as is. Stars aren't all that important anyway, I find....more
This was my first time reading Alice and I couldn't help thinking, as I was reading it, why it took me so long. That is, I know why I never read it beThis was my first time reading Alice and I couldn't help thinking, as I was reading it, why it took me so long. That is, I know why I never read it before - it just didn't interest me - but I wish I had, I wish I'd read it as a kid. Any kid who loves Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal, as I did (the latter, especially, was deeply formative for me), would enjoy this story. Even as an adult, I had a lot of fun reading this.
If, like me, you're only familiar with the story through movie adaptations, I'll offer a bit of a synopsis because in my meagre experience, the movies begin the same as the book, and then go wildly off in another direction entirely. Or something. To be honest, one of the reasons I never read this before was partly due to the fact that I never watched a movie all the way through until recently. Various adaptations have come my way, including a surreal but visually stunning German (I think it was German, can't quite remember now) adaptation that was playing on SBS once, but I never watched them to the end. So the beginning is very vivid for me, and a little boring because of all the repetition, but once Alice makes it through the door my memory of the story scatters. I have memories of dreaming about the caterpillar when I was little, but I don't know if that's from seeing a cartoon movie of it, or doing a jigsaw puzzle. Or both.
Then there's the recent Tim Burton adaptation, which I did go and see, and I have to say that apart from a similar-ish beginning, it's completely different. Which is fine. I haven't read Through the Looking Glass, but I'm wondering if Burton amalgamated the two stories, or if he went with a completely different second half in order to make a movie out of it. Because one thing becomes abundantly clear: this isn't a story as you or I are used to. This is a dream, a collection of bizarre little episodes that don't make a whole lot of sense and don't add up to all that much, and yet convey a great sense of suspense, adventure, wonderment and imagination.
Oh right, the synopsis: Alice, so the story goes, is sitting with her sister by the riverbank one day. Her sister is reading a book without pictures ("and where's the fun in that?" she thinks) and Alice is bored, until she sees a white rabbit go by, dressed in a natty waistcoat, staring at his fob watch and muttering to himself. He disappears down a rabbit hole and Alice follows.
She finds herself in strange situation after strange situation, talking to mice and caterpillars and people made out of playing cards playing croquet. Small, simple motivations keep Alice going - above all, she wants to reach the pretty garden she saw through the little door. Along the way she encounters all manner of peculiar creatures who make no sense at all, and with whom Alice often argues the point with, and suffers little setbacks what with growing too big and then too small and then too big again.
Once I'd accepted that this has really very little in common with the story the movies went with, I relaxed and let it take me where it willed, which was a delightful adventure full of unexpected surprises. Which makes me glad the movies vary as they do, in order to tell a more coherent, cinematic story - it enables us to revisit the book free of theatrical baggage. (I actually like it when movies deviate from the books, if they tell a compelling story and reinvent the characters - I don't want to watch a film that's just the book in moving pictures!)
I love all the characters in the story, each of them silly and yet strangely tragic. Alice barely scrapes the surface of this world, and leaves you hungering for more. What a perfect way to engage a child's imagination! Not just with the images - and Carroll always meant the story to be illustrated: he did the original pictures himself, with the handwritten first edition he wrote for ten year old Alice Liddell - but also with words: songs and rhymes and fanciful stories and clever puns. I recognised several now-famous quotes in this book. It was like reading Hamlet: going back to the "original" and realising how much we've borrowed, or rather absorbed, without even realising it half the time.
Alice is a funny thing - not terribly likeable, being precocious and argumentative, and yet somehow endearing all the same. I found she fit right in, though in her clumsy way she causes so many of the problems that she finds so exasperating! But can you imagine having such a story written about you, for you, as a child? While there are some slower sections, it's a zippy book to read, beautifully paced overall and, considering Carroll initially told it to the real Alice in little stories to keep her occupied, it comes together remarkably well.
This is a sumptuous edition, and really, when it comes to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I recommend finding the best edition you can - it's worth it. Robert Ingpen, an Australian illustrator (graduate of RMIT!!) has gone back to the original illustrations of John Tenniel, who teamed up with Carroll when he went to publish it, for inspiration. His drawings aren't modern versions of the old ones, but in terms of how characters are depicted, he's stuck with Tenniel and Carroll's original vision. And they are superb, truly gorgeous, a wonder all in themselves. The book itself, a lush hardcover, is well worth the money: with thick pages and a ribbon to mark your place, it also has a reproduction of front pages of Carroll's original at the back as well as short essays about the history of the book and of Ingpen's contribution.
This is my first time reading one of Carrie Vaughn's books, and it wasn't a bad start either. It wasn't what I expected, but then, I didn't know whatThis is my first time reading one of Carrie Vaughn's books, and it wasn't a bad start either. It wasn't what I expected, but then, I didn't know what to expect so I was bound to be surprised.
Evie Walker leaves the city - which, like all the other cities in America, has been divvied up by local militias who have started fighting each other instead of terrorists - to go home to her family's house in the country, to be with her dad who's dying of cancer. From the moment she arrives, she detects something odd about the place - or, rather, something odd about the random people who appear at the door, asking for something or other from the basement.
All her life, Evie has never stepped foot in the basement. Off-limits when she was a child, she now learns that the basement has a storeroom where all the magical and mythical artefacts of the world have slowly piled up over the years - and her family are the guardians. Now, with her father dying, knowledge is beginning to pass down to Evie, and the storeroom seems to speak to her, or at least, to her gut instinct.
So when a beautiful woman knocks on the door wanting something from the basement, Evie tells her there is nothing for her there. But this woman is no mortal woman: she is Hera, a Goddess and once wife to Zeus, and the object she seeks is Discord's Apple, a magical golden apple that has the potential to sow chaos and destroy the world. And Hera isn't about to let Evie get in her way.
There was plenty to enjoy in this short, deft novel: the premise, for one, and the execution, for another. If you heard that this is a novel about fairy tale and warring gods and magical attacks, you probably wouldn't be all that impressed. You may even roll your eyes. But even though Vaughn writes like a pulp writer - with her background in Urban Fantasy, which is often just one step sideways from Romance with the lower standard of writing inherent in that dismissive statement, this is hardly surprising. But she writes with cheerful confidence, knows exactly where she's going with the plot, and doesn't have the kind of authorial ticks commonly found in Romance and Urban Fantasy that drive me crazy.
Before I get ahead of myself, though, I have to mention the other side of the plot. One of the unsavoury characters hanging around her dad's house is Alex, whose story is quite interesting as it is revealed, alternating chapters with Evie's in the present. Alex was once Sinon, the Greek who tricked the city of Troy into opening it's gates and letting the giant wooden horse in. Yes we're all familiar with that story. How he comes to be stranded in modern times - or slightly in the future, as the case may be with Discord's Apple - I'll leave that for you to find out. It wouldn't really be spoiling things if I told you, but I don't want to overdo it.
It does present some variety to the structure and pacing of the story, though. There aren't really any surprises in Sinon/Alex's story, but since the present-ish-day side of the story is told only from Evie's perspective, it gives us a chance to get to know Alex, understand him, and care about him. I really liked him a lot, the most of all the characters.
I do wish for more detail in genre fiction (Fantasy comes in the detailed form, but the other genres, not so much), but it was easy to get swept up in the telling. Perhaps it's because I've been reading similar books in the space of the last couple of weeks, but the apocalyptic edge was very noticeable. This is one of the things I love about genre fiction, how it can take current events and play out a hypothesis, or follow the path of our fears (either collective or individual) to an imminent conclusion. Here, Vaughn takes the current climate prevalent not just in the US but globally, exaggerates it only a little, and follows through - leading to a situation where global war is imminent and countries are doing deals with each other.
While the "real life" situation is downplayed in the story, Evie's career as the writer of a comic book series called Eagle Eyes Commandos allows for it to be fleshed-out: her comic book characters and stories reflect current events and play out scenarios - just as Fantasy and Science Fiction and other genres do. So the story-within-the-story adds another layer, and in the end we actually have four interwoven stories in Discord's Apple: Evie's, Sinon's, the Eagle Eyes Commandos, and the snippets going backwards in history that detail the passing down of the storeroom in Evie's family. Without these extra layers, the main storyline would have been flat and unoriginal, and it would have been harder to invest in the characters.
There were a few points where the story lagged a touch, but it soon rallied. Hera was no megalomaniac villain, and there was plenty of humour in the story - especially with a sprite named Robin around, who we remember more familiarly as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The story of Troy and Odysseus made me want to try reading The Odyssey again (I didn't get far with it in First Year Ancient Civs, I confess). I balked a bit at Arthur and Merlin, but actually the hint of cheese made it quite palatable ;) Vaughn obviously loves mythology, the classics and fairy tales and she's clearly well-read.
Overall, while this was an easy, even light read in terms of writing style, the story itself is fun, entertaining, well-written and did give me a little something to chew on. ...more
It's quite true: I've read one book by Martin previous to this one, and I was not a fan. In fact, I rather hated A Game of Thrones, and my criticismsIt's quite true: I've read one book by Martin previous to this one, and I was not a fan. In fact, I rather hated A Game of Thrones, and my criticisms of the book have drawn attacks on my character, my intellect and anything else you care to think of, from some fans. (I don't know why people take it so personally when others dislike their favourite books, unless they think that a negative review also says "you're stupid if you like this book". That's sad.)
But that was that book, and when I read Roxane's glowing review of Fevre Dream on The Honeyed Knot, I was more than willing to give Martin a second go. It's still Fantasy, but a very different book from his Song of Ice and Fire series - the two can't really be compared.
Set in the years from 1857 to 1870 in the American south, on and along the Mississippi, Fevre Dream is about a large and ugly steamship captain, Abner Marsh, who is offered a promising partnership with a young and charismatic man, Joshua York. They build the finest steamship on the river, the Fevre Dream, and begin their voyage down the river. Only, York is a vampire who is on a mission to save his race from their own folly, which means winning over the vampires living with ancient vampire Damon Julian - a task doomed to fail, with violent results.
The blend of fantasy and horror worked very well here, and if it's become a cliché to combine scary vampires - or any kind of paranormal activity - with the American south, and rivers in particular, it's still very effective. The atmosphere is rich and ripe - you can practically smell the river and the steamships. The marsh and decrepit house where Damon Julian lives, the mould and rotting heart of it, is tangible and fitting, a true reflection of Julian's heart.
In fact, "rotting" is quite a theme of the book, if you can call it that - symbolic, perhaps is a better word. Set in a time when slave ownership was still the thing, but with stirrings of abolition in the air, with black steam spewing from the boats, corpses of boats and people and god knows what else at the bottom of the river, and the vampire nest living in a rotting mansion in a swamp full of drained corpses, Fevre Dream highlights the rotting core of a nation - a not-irreversible state, and here it becomes all the more American in its ideals: that of individuals using their perseverance and ingenuity, plus their belief in right and wrong, to save the day. It's historical and current at the same time. Abner Marsh never gives up, and in this trait in particular he distinguishes himself from his vampire foes.
In general, I found the characters to be rather thinly drawn, rather obvious and bland, cliches of themselves. Even keeping in mind the fact that this novel is 30 years old, and even with the small differences Martin made to his vampire race from other authors, I found the characters stereotypical. Martin gets great praise for creating unique, interesting, believable characters, but it's one area where I still strongly disagree. I did enjoy these characters a lot more than in the other book, but I didn't find the writing strong enough to really lift them off the page. Perhaps with Marsh, Martin succeeded fairly well, but he was still a fairly limited character.
And then there are the steamships themselves, which were like characters all of their own and generally far more interesting than their human counterparts. I greatly enjoyed the descriptions of steamships, their races and their captains' boasts. When one of Abner Marsh's steamships is damaged while trying to out-run Damon Julian, I was more upset for it than when any of the human (or sympathetic vampire) characters met their end. The details of the boats, of how they worked and the people who worked on them, was the most interesting element of the book, though other historical details also struck me - the slave markets, the corrupt and filthy towns along the river, the historical positioning of the story in the context of the young country's rumblings of discontent and, finally, civil war.
To be honest, if there weren't steamships and the river, I probably would have struggled to stay interested in this book, because after a strong start the plot ambles along without really going anywhere, the pacing drops off a cliff, and it took me nearly a month just to finish the last hundred pages. Martin presents his vampires more in the traditional sense - the horror sense - than is common these days, and it made for a nice change.
It looks like I am once again disappointed in Martin, though - and not meaning to compare the books in any way - I did like Fevre Dream much more than I liked A Game of Thrones; I just wasn't very satisfied by it at the end....more
I read this book back at the beginning of January, but I'm so behind on writing reviews I've only now got to it - as a result, most of what I want toI read this book back at the beginning of January, but I'm so behind on writing reviews I've only now got to it - as a result, most of what I want to say I've forgotten and all I can do is gush, because my sheer unadulterated enjoyment of the novel is the strongest remaining impression with me. :)
Yeine ("YAY-neh") Darr, a minor noblewoman, is from High North, one of the "barbaric" northern lands. A descendent of the royal line, she is too minor and insignificant to be a problem to anyone - or so she hoped. Her grandfather, the king of of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, summons her to Sky, the royal palace suspended high above the land on a slender column and with the grace of the One God. Once there, she is named an heir - to compete against her two cousins, doomed to fail - and becomes embroiled in the plotting of the trapped gods that live in the palace.
This was exactly what I needed when I read it, and could easily become a comfort novel for me - the writing style has that ease and smoothness, that lightness, the fast pace and romantic thread that I sink into so easily (when the plot engages me, anyway). I loved Yeine, I loved the setting, the world-building, the complex structure of gods and power, and I loved Naha - the god Nahadoth, the first god, now a slave in the palace. He may have been an obvious character but I simply didn't care: for me, he worked. He clicked. He made sense. He was alien enough to be utterly believable, and the way Yeine saw him ... let's just say that I too became a sucker for his tortured soul (if gods have souls, but you know what I mean).
Like all Fantasy, it is easy to draw parallels between the fantastic world and our own; Fantasy helps us see our own world, our culture especially, fresh and often with new insight - if done well. Here, I was surprised at how quickly and eagerly I fell into the drama of the story: the squabbling, scheming, often petty gods, too powerful for their own good; and the scheming, manipulative, too-powerful Arameri (the royal family). I'm not generally a fan of drama, being too easily bored by it, but this was extremely tasty and left me barely satisfied. It's all quite simple, and that perhaps is what made it so successful for me. The insular world, the uncluttered writing, the characters drawn with sparse, brief strokes - you can never predict what will work for you, and sometimes you can't even pin down why it worked when others of a similar nature just don't. In a way, I found it nostalgic, reminding me of favourite books from my teen days like Polymer, or favourite authors like Isobelle Carmody.
I found it a hard book to put down (I read it in a day), and an easy and entertaining read; I loved how it was written, and Yeine's voice, and felt bereft when it ended. I immediately ordered the second book but part of me is holding off on reading it, either afraid the second book won't grip me like the first did, or of not wanting to glut on a yummy thing too soon afterwards. Though, it has been three months... ...more
This is a prime example of a distinctive cover catching my eye and saying, "Take me home, go on, take me, you know you want to" - I never have a hopeThis is a prime example of a distinctive cover catching my eye and saying, "Take me home, go on, take me, you know you want to" - I never have a hope in hell of resisting such a lure. Sometimes, it really doesn't work out (like with Wither), but sometimes it does - and when it does, it's so worth it.
Jatta is a princess and the only daughter of King Elisind, ruler of Alteeda. With two older brothers, Steffed and Arthmael, and no mother, she's the baby of the family at only fourteen years old. When she wakes one morning lying on the hard marble floor of her bedroom, covered in blood, with destruction all around her and her father crying over her, she's troubled and confused. Elisind tells her that wolves - werewolves from Dartith (also called the Dark Isle) - came in the night and her favourite brother Arthmael is injured. The royal physician gives her a blue potion to drink to help her sleep, but the idea of werewolves from the kingdom's greatest enemy, attacking her brother, rouses Jatta's curiosity. With her best friend Sanda, she sneaks into her father's study to find out what everyone seems not to be telling her.
The truth is devastating to Jatta, but everything makes a lot more sense now. None of it really helps her though, for the Dark King of Dartith, Brackensith - he who killed her mother when Jatta was just a baby - has returned to claim Jatta as bride for his son and heir, Drake ... and taken the entire kingdom as hostage until she delivers herself from hiding. With her brother Arthmael, Jatta desperately seeks out the kingdom's sorcerer, Redd, only to discover another lie that's been lurking in Alteeda for a long time. Left with no recourse but to use their own wits and summon their own bravery, the two siblings embark on a dangerous adventure to defeat their enemy and rescue their beloved kingdom, and their family, from the clutches of a merciless king who rules with darkness, terror, vampires and werewolves.
This classic Fantasy adventure story - rife with magic, dragons, trickery, familial love, danger and more - reminded me of Julia Golding's Dragonfly, in the sense that both are for a slightly younger YA audience than today's popular YA books, both are extremely well-written and highly enjoyable fantasy stories, and both have wonderful main characters that are well-developed, who mature as the story progresses, and who you really come to care for. If you liked Dragonfly, or you like YA Fantasy that doesn't have much romance or silly love triangles or teenage angst, then I definitely recommend this gem of a story (which would also be a good one to read aloud to kids at bedtime - or maybe during daylight, as it is a bit scary at times!).
Hale, an Australian children's author and illustrator, has with Jatta crafted a perfect tale for older audiences, and while the beginning was a little slow at first, I wouldn't want a thing changed. It's quite clear from the beginning - to adults at least - what Jatta's big secret is, the one that she's not even aware of, but there are plenty of other surprises in the story to keep you guessing. Its darkness was perfectly balanced by moments of sheer comedy, like when they visit Sorcerer Redd, or the scenes with Brackensith's oldest son, Riz, a spoilt little boy in a grown man's body who wants to be heir and betray his father but who is ruled by his own temper tantrums.
Jatta is an undeniably strong female lead and a great role model. At first, she's young, easily frightened, horrified at what's going on and feels helpless. But as she begins her adventure alongside her brother, and her mettle is tested, she really starts to come into her own. Not only that, but she learns courage and makes some adult decisions that essentially see her sacrificing her own freedom for a greater good: to save the kingdom's people. Her self-sacrifice, and her imaginative plans for escaping later, make her brave, clever, resourceful, compassionate and altogether wonderful - without being goody-goody, sickening, or any other adjective that makes you feel nauseated by a too-perfect heroine. Jatta's far from perfect, and her plans don't always work out. But she has the courage to try.
Arthmael was another great character, and I loved the strong brother-and-sister team. He's an older teenager, and this adventure/dangerous quest also helps him grow into a man. He's the only character to find a wee bit of romance, in Brackensith's daughter, but it's not a prominent part of the story and is handled very tastefully. All the characters are colourful without being over-the-top, and entertaining in both their deeds and misdeeds. Even Brackensith shows moments of being not so black-and-white, though he is quite the villain.
The world in which this Fantasy takes place is also fantastically realised. There's no map, but you don't need one - it all becomes quite clear in your head, which is rare for a mapless Fantasy. It's a traditional Fantasy world but realised with great imagination, and the characters really add flesh to it. The Dark Isle, Dartith, is a more unusual creation, and a very miserable place it is too, that adds a dash of horror to the story. I'll leave it to you to discover it on your own. ;)
Overall, Jatta is an absolute joy to read, a wonderful change from the popular YA novels currently being churned out by publishers desperate to cash in on the latest fads, the kind of story I loved when I was a kid and have always wished to find more of. It's a winner....more
Set in the same world, but back in time, as Canavan's first trilogy, the Black Magician Trilogy, this is in a way back-story, and in a way, not. I thoSet in the same world, but back in time, as Canavan's first trilogy, the Black Magician Trilogy, this is in a way back-story, and in a way, not. I thought it was a standalone novel about what happened between Kyralia and Sachaka, two neighbouring countries, and more importantly, about how "black magic" - or higher magic as it used to be called - came to be banned and the knowledge of it repressed. Well, it is a standalone Fantasy novel, it is about the war between Kyralia and Sachaka, which is least important to me because I couldn't remember anything about it from the first trilogy, but it doesn't explain why higher magic became anathema.
The blurb was also misleading, and that's just not on. It says:
Events are brewing that will lead nations into war, rival magicians into conflict - and spark an act of sorcery so brutal that its effects will be felt for centuries.
One young apprentice stands in the path of the coming storm."
Well, some of it's true and some of it's ... not so much false, as implying things that just don't happen. (It reads less misleadingly now that I've finished it, I have to admit. But that doesn't excuse it.) It's better when I stick to my Don't Read the Blurb plan! See, does this blurb not imply to you, especially the last line, that this is a Fantasy about a person - in this case an apprentice to a magician - who will somehow affect the outcome of this magical war? They will "stand in the path" - that implies they are important, yes? And I'm not sure what brutal act of sorcery they mean. Can I do a better job at describing this? I can try.
Tessia is a young woman studying healing under her father, a village healer in Mandryn, in the ley of Aylen, ruled by the magician Lord Dakon. Women can't be healers in Kyralia, but Tessia's determined. When she accompanies her father to Lord Dakon's home to tend to the life-threatening injuries of a man who is the slave of a Sachakan magician travelling through the country, she comes under the lecherous eye of the Sachakan magician, Takado. In defending herself against his advances, she discovers that she's a Natural - someone with magic who, if not trained, could cause great destruction through uncontrolled unleashing of their power.
Dakon takes Tessia on as his apprentice, even though he already has one: a young man, Jayan, from an old, rich and powerful family in the capital. Dakon is part of a group of magicians concerned about Takado's purpose in travelling the country, and worried about their leys if Sachaka invades. Once part of the Sachakan empire, Kyralia and another neighbouring country, Elyne, were granted independence - now, landless Sachakans are eyeing what was once theirs and are arrogant and confident enough to believe they can take it back.
Dakon has the choice job of approaching the king about their concerns. He takes Tessia and Jayan with him to the capital, Imardin. While there, his fears are realised: Takado and some other Sachakan magicians attack his home village of Mandryn, killing almost everyone. This becomes the pattern of the growing Sachakan "army" as they travel towards Imardin: they burn and destroy villages and drain the people to death of their innate magic, making themselves more and more powerful.
In Sachaka, Stara has just arrived from Elyne where she lived with her mother, helping in the family business, to live with her father, a Sachakan. She naïvely believes he asked for her because he wants her to work in his trade with him; instead, she finds him aloof, cold and concerned only with marrying her off to the best possible man for his business.
The two stories do eventually merge at the end, but not in any way I was expecting, which was refreshing. Since the war is a magical one, there are none of the usual suspects: no soldiers, no physical fighting. The armies are small, but lethal all the same. Sadly, it's also fairly uneventful, and if Tessia is the apprentice named in the title, then she's barely a main character. Again, there's that implication that a magician's apprentice - which one, we're not sure - is pivotal in the coming battle. In the end, it seems like it was more a convenient and conventional title than any indication of the plot.
I greatly enjoyed the Black Magician trilogy, though it has a slow start. The second and third books were very good. I only read the first book of Canavan's second trilogy, The Age of Five: it didn't really grab me, plus I moved countries after the first book and the covers here are just too ugly. I was nevertheless excited about this book, especially as it revisited the world of the first trilogy. It was a largely uninspiring read, though. There were some great scenes, and where there was real action it was pretty engrossing.
Stara's story was more fun to read, but she gets less air time than - I can't say "Tessia's story" because it's not her story either. Tessia discovers magical healing, and that was interesting, but the main story, of these two armies of magicians moving about the land, one trying to evacuate people and kill Sachakans, the other killing and destroying everyone and everything, becomes very repetitive and monotonous. There are bits throughout that capture the imagination, but overall it's a simplistic story told simply, and anti-climactic to boot. ...more
The linder quarries on Mount Eskel make for hard labour, but the villagers who mine it wouldn't trade their life for anything. The linder stone takesThe linder quarries on Mount Eskel make for hard labour, but the villagers who mine it wouldn't trade their life for anything. The linder stone takes skill to extract in whole blocks from the mountainside, and its qualities enable them to converse without speaking.
Fourteen year old Miri wants nothing so much as to join her father and older sister in the quarry. But she's small, and her father has forbidden her to set foot in the quarry. Instead, Miri tends the goats; teases her childhood friend, Peder; and wishes on the little miri flowers that she was named after to be allowed to work with everyone else in the quarry.
But everything changes the day the traders arrive for the last time before winter, bringing with them an official from the capital of Dunland - a messenger from the King. It has long been a tradition that the priests name the city from which the prince and heir to the throne must choose his bride. This time, causing great shock amongst the noble families of Dunland, the priests have named Mount Eskel - so overlooked it's not even considered a province of Dunland.
And so, further down the mountain in an abandoned stone manor house, the Princess Academy is established. Usually a formality, this time the girls aged thirteen to seventeen really must be trained - taught to read and write, how to walk and talk, about history and geography, diplomacy and economics.
Most of the girls don't want to become princess, and their families need them back in the village and quarry, but even so, competition sparks amongst them. Who will be princess? Could Miri, who does so well at her studies and was able to make the prince smile, be the one? (And what about Peder?) Yet when a threat comes to the Academy, curtseys and platitudes won't save them - only wits, mountain strength and Miri's determination.
This is the first Hale book I've read, and arguably her most popular one. It wasn't what I expected, but really it was better than I expected. It's one of those quiet fantasy books, like General Winston’s Daughter - nothing showy, no loud magic tricks or evil sorcerers or that tedious battle between good and evil (yawn). It also didn't follow those boring fantasy clichés that so many authors seem to enjoy perpetuating - a patriarchal social structure, for instance. Men and women work alongside each other in the quarry, and respect each other. Gender doesn't come into it. I got the impression that, despite classic hierarchies and class divisions, the rest of Dunland is much the same. The setting still had that typical medieval flavour, but with new angles and greater equality. Since it's Fantasy, not historical fiction, this is precisely the kind of thing I want to see - and don't get enough of.
The story is also disarmingly simple in its style - the prose has that lovely, unburdened quality that's usual in YA and Children's fiction - no fancy adjectives, no heavy-handed descriptions, no long-winded paragraphs: light on its feet, detailed and yet deceptively straight-forward. Perfect for its target age group (9-12) but just as enjoyable for the rest of us.
I loved Miri: she was a sympathetic character, a resourceful, intelligent, spirited girl you could really admire. She makes a great role model. The other girls weren't as fleshed-out as I'd have liked, but their characters still came through in small ways. The plot wasn't predictable, and the ending was very sweet. I also loved the small role economics plays in the story, not to mention the power an education gives you - Miri uses her hard-won knowledge from the Academy to improve her village's ability to trade, thus improving the quality of life on the mountain as well as their bargaining power. See, it's educational as well as a fun read! ...more
In the Empire of Kargad in the north-east, the GodKing rules but the Nameless Ones still hold sway at the Tomb of Atuan in the desert. Side by side thIn the Empire of Kargad in the north-east, the GodKing rules but the Nameless Ones still hold sway at the Tomb of Atuan in the desert. Side by side the temples of the GodKing, a mortal priest-king, and the Nameless Ones exist as they have for many many years, together but apart. When Tenar is five she is brought to the Tombs to be initiated as the new High Priestess, the Nameless One, believed to be reborn to forever serve the ancient, dark, nameless gods. So Tenar becomes Arha, meaning "the eaten one", a child forever apart and alone in the dark.
Years later, a mage from the heathen lands invades the Tombs of Atuan, in search of the other half of the legendary Ring of Erreth-Akbe - if the two halves of the ring can be reunited and formed into one again, the rune of peace will be complete. The mage is Sparrowhawk, true name Ged, and when he enters the labyrinth Arha closes the door, trapping him inside. But she cannot bring herself to have him killed for entering the forbidden Tombs, a place where only she is allowed to go. But when defying her role means certain death, she is faced with a choice: to kill Sparrowhawk and return to her role, or help him and free herself.
While I was disappointed with A Wizard of Earthsea, I thought this story was fantastic. It is a sequel but is written wholly from Tenar's perspective, and is her story, so it can be read as a standalone. You don't have to know Sparrowhawk's past, though if you read A Wizard of Earthsea after this one, it will probably be even more of a let-down. The mystique and mystery of Ged will be stripped away. He comes across, here, as quite the enigmatic, charismatic hero. Someone whose temperament is so evenly balanced, that he is imminently trustworthy. (I love the old 70s cover I have - beautifully whitewashed isn't it! Ged is copper-brown, like a Native American.)
I loved Arha. She was a tad spoilt, at times precocious, but a person of her upbringing. In her heart she was more than her role, but on the surface she was what they made her. She is vivid, and strong, and her vulnerability and loneliness comes across clearly. I almost thought I could feel it, taste the dust of the tombs and feel the cold silence on my own skin. It is not written in the same way as the first book, that distanced, third-person oral-storytelling voice. It has that, but is more intimately focused on Arha, more in tune with her thoughts and feelings, and this is more familiar to me and helped me feel involved in her story.
I did not in the least mind the switch in central characters from Ged, in book 1, to Arha in book 2. It was actually a pleasant surprise. It increased the feeling of Earthsea as being a fleshed-out world, peopled by a diverse range of people. It was nice, too, to get a "woman's touch" to the story. There is still much to learn about Sparrowhawk, but I don't feel any kind of urgent need to have his mysteries unveiled. I wouldn't mind him staying a fairly unknown character. We have the story of his past, how he became what he is in the "present", and that allows me to understand him. It allows me to read into things, connect things, speculate and wonder. Which is what you want in a Fantasy. Unlike the other genres, it is not one that fares well for having everything explained, leaving nothing unknown. It becomes mundane.
Arha was a symbolic role - High Priestess - and the girl herself (she's about fifteen or sixteen when she meets Ged) becomes symbolic of something larger. I become wary whenever a story veers into the whole freedom/liberation theme, especially when written by an American, but I didn't have too many alarm bells ringing here. She, Arha is rescued and liberated and taken to the modern world of "free men", but it is not an answer to solve everything. She knows she has no place there. She is like an empty vessel (ooh feminist readings galore there!), filled only with religious rites and old meaningless traditions, more or less abandoned to serve a dark, powerful evil. I felt sad for the lost child in her, and hopeful for her future.
There was an undercurrent of chemistry between Arha and Ged, not explored (which I was thankful for - it would have been tacky), and I understand that the two come together in a later book, Tehanu, though I have no plans at present for reading it. Still, even if the third book, The Farthest Shore disappoints me as much as the first book did, I will always have The Tombs of Atuan to love - for its story of the lonely girl-priest battling powers larger than her, as well as her own instincts, especially, but for its other qualities as well. If you only ever read one of the Earthsea books, you must read this one....more
When I was in college - grade 11, say - my best friend told me about the Earthsea books. She loved them, and highly recommended them. I remember it haWhen I was in college - grade 11, say - my best friend told me about the Earthsea books. She loved them, and highly recommended them. I remember it had been recently released in a four-in-one volume, which I couldn't afford. I put it off. I love Fantasy, but stories about wizards have never been my thing (well, I do love Harry). Years went by. I read Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, twice, and wasn't very impressed either time. Then last year my mum sent me an old box set of the three original books (the fourth having been written much later) from the 70s, in pristine condition. Just look at this cover! (scroll down) Not to mention the yummy tights ;) Mum had borrowed them from the library back in 2008 and really enjoyed them, but she read them out of order and didn't come to A Wizard of Earthsea until later, and was disappointed by it. That actually makes me feel better.
(The original 70s cover from Puffin Books - same ISBN)
I'm reading the quartet this month for Erika's Summer of Series, which you can still sign up for. The Earthsea Quartet consists of A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore and Tehanu (which is more adult than YA, apparently).
Duny is a poor village boy living on the isle of Gont with his father, a bronzesmith. His dead mother's sister teaches him her rudimentary skill with spells and charms when she discovers his aptitude, and the story of how he saves the village from invaders using magic is carried across the island until it reaches the ears of a wizard there, Ogion. Ogion takes Duny as his apprentice after his naming day, when the boy receives his true name: Ged.
Ged is ambitious, proud, impatient to learn, and knows he has great power in him. He earns the nickname Sparrowhawk, and in an attempt to impress a girl he reads out a dark spell from Ogion's book - unleashing a shadow on the world that will follow him everywhere. Ged's hunger to learn magic is unsatisfied under Ogion, and so he goes to Roke, the island of the wizard school of Earthsea. There his pride and jealousy lead him to a terrible encounter with the shadowy monster that follows him, and now hunts him.
When Ged gains his wizard staff and goes out into the world, he is haunted by the shadowy, nameless thing. He must win over it, or it will possess him and unleash a great evil. But to do so he must learn its true name. In an adventure over the many seas and islands of Earthsea, throughout a fight with dragons and being lured to an evil castle, Ged knows he must come face-to-face with the shadow, or be haunted forever.
The story is told as a legend, a myth, as a real, previously untold story about a legendary man. As such, it is told in an oral, narrative, omniscient style that crops up now and then in Fantasy (like McKillip's Alphabet of Thorn, but more so). It's not a style that reaches out and draws me in very well, because it so clearly outlines the boundaries, the distance between you and the character of Sparrowhawk as well as the world of Earthsea. The very beginning sets it out clearly:
The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea.
Of these some say the greatest, and surely the greatest voyager, was the man called Sparrowhawk, who in his day became both dragonlord and Archmage. His life is told of in the Deed of Ged and in many songs, but this is a tale of the time before his fame, before the songs were made. (p.11)
So we know from the start that Ged will live a long and illustrious life, which removes some of the danger from this story. Except that, I forgot all about this future-past Ged in the tension of the moment, even with little reminders about how great he would be later on. It's quite odd, really.
I'm a little ambivalent about this book. At times I was right there in the thick of things, feeling my way, absorbed; and at others I was impatient and felt distanced from the narrative. While I admire Le Guin's skill with words here (much more so than in The Left Hand of Darkness), it's a dispassionate admiration that only serves to distance me even more. The thing is, you never really get to know Ged, as a person. He's always a historical figure, a legend in the making. We can see how he is feeling, we can be sympathetic for him, but we never really get to know him. And it's a shame. (My mum tells me the next two books are written differently and he becomes more of a real person. I look forward to that!)
The time he spent at the wizard school on Roke was condensed but still interesting - it was rather like reading Harry Potter on fast forward. There's friendship with Vetch, rivalry with Jasper, and a deathly encounter with the shadow that leaves Ged shaken and scarred. It was almost a relief to see him change so from the prideful, conceited boy too powerful for his own good, to one turned wary, careful, quiet, thoughtful, humbled. He became a much more interesting character after that, one you could better sympathise with.
The truth of the shadow was easily guessed well in advance, but it had a good climax all the same. Le Guin, as I mentioned before, does have power over words and knows how to set a scene. It's a little heavy on description, being a very descriptive novel, and it's not the fault of the book that lately I've been having trouble concentrating and stopping my mind from wandering; though the book failed to grab me and hold me consistently. I would like to revisit it and take pleasure in the language, the tone, the pacing. One day.
It seemed a bright enough place to Ged at first, the house under the flowering trees. There he lived, and watched the western sky often, and kept his wizard's ear tuned for the sound of scaly wings. But no dragon came. Ged fished from his jetty, and tended his garden-patch. He spent whole days pondering a page or a line or a word in the Lore-Books he had brought from Roke, sitting out in the summer air under the pendick-trees, while the otak slept beside him or went hunting mice in the forests of grass and daisies. And he served the people of Low Torning as healall and weather-worker whenever they asked him. (p.92)
It's quite dreamy isn't it? Ged's journey - or voyage, as Earthsea is literally a multitude of islands in a vast sea - is both a physical and a metaphysical one. It's one of those voyages of self-discovery, self-realisation, self-actualisation. The proud, vain and quick-tempered Sparrowhawk must come face to face with his mortality, his vulnerability, his humanity. I must say, I loved the setting, the world of Earthsea. There is a map of it, and you'd think it would be too much to take in and you'd get lost amongst all those islands, but actually I found my way very easily. There are also sections of the larger map throughout the book, enlarged somewhat, to help you along. But I feel like I know the place already. It's very traditional, very patriarchal, and a bit odd how in the far north-east the people are very pale-skinned, blonde and blue-eyed, but south of there in the south-east, they are described as black-skinned. I never could get a grasp of distance or climate particularly well, and Le Guin shies away from her own inclusion of these dark-skinned people (to which Vetch and the Archmage Gensher belong).
Because of the mythic nature of the story itself, there's plenty you can read into it at your leisure. It has some real fairy tale qualities to it, like the beautiful enchantress in the tower trying to seduce and entrap him. To be properly engaged in a story, though, I need to be able to really invest in it, in the characters and the world and the point of it all. I couldn't say that this first book managed that, but I have better hope for the next ones....more
A few years ago I bought a copy of Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures, and even though I still haven't read it it brought Moers into my field of visio A few years ago I bought a copy of Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures, and even though I still haven't read it it brought Moers into my field of vision, with various online friends gushing about his books. I was thrilled to find a copy of The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear in one of my second-hand bookshops, but it was this one, The City of Dreaming Books, that I ended up reading first. I started reading it in December ... seven months later, I finally finished it. Why it took me so long to read is something I will probably never understand. This is an excellent book, a wonderful, amazing feat of imagination, wit and skill.
It is the story of Optimus Yarnspinner, a Lindworm: a kind-of dinosaur race that lives in Lindworm Castle, which is a volcano-shaped rock pitted with caves in the land of Zamonia. I think, correct me if I'm wrong, that Moers sets all his books in Zamonia. Anyway, Optimus is here telling us his story (which Moers has translated from the original Zamonian text), of how he got The Bloody Book and acquired the Orm. The Orm is, for want of a better explanation, the creative juices, an almost-mythical artistic euphoria.
Lindworms are all writers by nature, but Optimus has yet to produce anything. When his "authorial godfather", Dancelot, dies, he leaves Optimus a manuscript - the most exquisitely written short story ever, in the hope that it will help Optimus acquire the Orm. Instead, the manuscript so transports and traumatises Optimus that he loses all confidence in himself as a writer.
I lowered the manuscript, my knees went weak, and I sank exhausted to the ground - no, let's be honest, dear readers: I lay down at full length. My ecstasy subsided, my rapture gave way to desolation. Icy rivulets of fear trickled through my veins, filling me with apprehension. Yes, Dancelot had predicted that this manuscript would traumatise me. I wanted to die. How could I ever have presumed to be a writer? What did my amateurish attempts to scribble ideas on paper have in common with the literary sleight of hand I had just witnessed? How could I ever soar to such heights without this writer's wing of purest inspiration? I began to weep again - bitter, despairing tears this time. (p.29)
Optimus decides to travel to Bookholm - the city of dreaming books - to find this amazing writer. But when he gets there and shows the manuscript to two booksellers, both warn him to flee the city before it's too late. It's not until claudio Harpstick, a helpful literary agent - who admits to being unable to tell good writing from bad and prefers brick laying to reading - points him in the direction of Pfistomel Smyke, a bookseller and collector, that he seems to have any luck in tracking the author of his manuscript. That is, until he is betrayed and ends up trapped in the cavernous tunnels and hazardous warrens beneath the city of Bookholm, left to wander and die.
In looking for a way out, though, Optimus encounters many strange creatures, rare and amazing books - like the animatomes, literary experiments that are more creature than book - and bloodthirsty bookhunters. The legendary and mythical Shadow King seems to be helping him, but there are those who want to make sure Optimus never sees the light of the city again.
This is one amazing adventure after another. Seriously, if you in any way love books - the actual books, those things of cardboard and paper that feel so wonderful and smell so lovely - you have to read this book. Here the actual books take pride of place, there are many different kinds and breeds, as well as weird and interesting literary experiments. Some of the famous authors used are anagrams of real ones: Aleisha Wimpersleake is William Shakespeare; Hornac de Bloaze is Honoré de Balzac; Asdrel Chickens is Charles Dickens and so on. There are some that I'm sure are completely made up, but many more that are clearly anagrams that I haven't figured out.
The booklings were some of my favourite characters, little cyclops beings who dedicate their long lives to learning by heart all the works of the author they are each named after. They give Optimus some excellent advice, which I'll pass on here:
Never write a novel from the perspective of a door handle! Foreign words are foreign to most readers. Never put more words in a sentence than genuinely belong in it. If a full stop is a wall, a colon is a door. If you write something while drunk, read it through sober before you submit it to a publisher. Never write with anything but quicksilver; it guarantees narrative flow. Footnotes are like books on the bottom shelf. No one likes looking at them because they have to bend down. A single sentence should never contain more than a million ants unless it's a scientific work on ants. Sonnets are best written on deckle-edged paper, novellas on vellum. Take a deep breath after every third sentence. It's best to write horror stories with a wet flannel round your neck. If one of your sentences puts you in mind of an elephant trying to pick up a coconut with its trunk, better give it some more thought. Stealing from one author is plagiarism; from many authors, research. Big books are big because the author didn't have the time to express himself succinctly. (p.267)
There are many more gems like this throughout the novel. It's comical, witty, even ironic; highly inventive (reminded me of Roald Dahl) and quite detailed, rich in originality - you never know where it's going next, even if you can guess the general ending. While you're reading it, you really will feel like you're surrounded by books - this is a city that, above and below the ground, is stuffed full of books, a place where reading and writing is the only thing worth doing. None of the inhabitants of Zamonia are at all human; every character is colourful and memorable. The pacing is steady and the detailed narrative may seem slow at times, but it makes for a fully fleshed-out story.
Throughout the book are Moers' illustrations, adding an extra element of fun and life to the narrative. Since the book is so detailed and there's a lot of text on the page, the drawings help break it up nicely. It was also a nice touch to use the Zamonian numerical system for the chapters - they have their own numbers, which sometimes look similar to ours. It all goes towards establishing this as the story of Optimus Yarnspinner, translated by Walter Moers.
I think I realised, when I finally finished it, why it had taken me so long: I didn't want it to end. I stretched it out, visiting Bookholm and Zamonia here and there throughout the months, never losing my place or forgetting what was going on. And then I finished it. And I was sad to finish it. I closed the cover and felt bereft. But, I do still have two more Moers books to read, and in the meantime, you must see this animated song that the German author and illustrator worked on (gotta be quick before Sony blocks this one too!)....more
Aden Stone has never been a normal boy. Abandoned at a tender age into foster care and a string of psychiatric hospitals, he's learnt to keep his diffAden Stone has never been a normal boy. Abandoned at a tender age into foster care and a string of psychiatric hospitals, he's learnt to keep his differences to himself to avoid more drugs and therapy. And he is very, very different.
Four souls are trapped inside Aden. One, Eve, can time travel, sending him back in time and into his younger self, where the slightest change can affect the future. Another, Julian, can raise the dead. Zombies rise from graves if Aden steps foot in the cemetery. A third, Elijah, can tell the future - deaths, mostly, so that Aden knows how everyone is going to die, including himself. The fourth, Caleb, can possess another human being.
And yet, they're his friends, his only friends. Their chatter in his head can become deafening, until one day Aden meets a girl called Mary Ann whose presence sends the souls into a temporary void, giving Aden blessed peace. The mystery of Mary Ann is only the beginning - soon the mystery girl Elijah predicted enters Aden's life, a beautiful, enigmatic girl called Victoria who is the daughter of none other than Vlad the Impaler - otherwise known as Dracula. As a vampire princess, her bodyguard is a werewolf called Riley, who spends more time getting to know Mary Ann than he does keeping Victoria and Riley apart.
But the vampires aren't the only ones Aden's strange powers have called into the area. Soon the neighbourhood and nearby city are crawling with witches, fairies, goblins and other supernatural folk who want to capture Aden, learn his secrets, appropriate his power if possible, and kill him. Even if he weren't falling in love with Victoria, the vampires are his best chance of an ally.
As Aden, Mary Ann, Victoria and Riley delve into the mystery of the trapped souls, they discover a surprising truth - and the chance to free them forever.
As you can tell, this is a novel with pretty much every paranormal creature you can think of thrown in. It comes about fairly gradually, which makes it more believable than if they'd been thrust in your face from the start, but it also makes it incredibly crowded. Part of me would have liked it better if it had just been Aden and the souls (and their strange powers) who supplied the true, the only, supernatural "meat" of the novel. I also find it hard to pinpoint which genre it's mostly aiming for. The beginning was a classic horror zombie attack, but there's not much of that here really. It has an urban fantasy plot, with thick dollops of paranormal romance - too thick, I thought, and too convenient.
That was my main problem with the story: it was often too convenient. I don't mean that the characters had a smooth ride, that things always worked in their favour (except that, really, they did), but that despite the apparent messiness of the premise, it's incredibly neat. And the only reason this bothers me is because the romance side of things, especially, was too neat. Love and relationships are never neat - Romance novels in general take that way too far and create all sorts of ridiculous, real and psychological obstacles for the hero and heroine to clamber over. It's actually refreshing not to have that. But because there's so much crowded in, because it's also Fantasy and so needs to keep the Fantasy plot going, you don't get to spend much time with the characters as they explore their first real relationship. Since that's one of the big draws of Romance for me, it did make this feel a little rushed, a little paint-by-numbers.
But there was plenty to love. It is fast-paced, and Showalter has a firm hand on the various sub-plots, weaving them together like a skilled choreographer. Okay, yes, at times it was a bit rehearsed, sticking with that analogy, but it was also a lot of fun. The premise of Aden with four gifted souls trapped in his head is a good one - I haven't come across it before either, or certainly not to this scale. The voices were sadly a bit indistinguishable, aside from Eve being "mothering" and Caleb being vain and predictable. Mary Ann is a goodie goodie but I found myself liking her anyway - especially because of how firm she was when breaking up with her clichéd-American-football-boyfriend Tucker (seriously, what kind of name is "Tucker"? Ugh).
Aden started out charismatically, but after a while he became surprisingly ordinary. Not a bad thing in order to keep him from being too Other, and it allowed the strangeness to shift to Victoria. Let's face it, if Aden didn't have souls stuck in him he'd be perfectly ordinary. It's not him who has these powers but the souls. No souls, no powers. Although, he probably has something which we won't find out about until after he's freed them all. Seeing as how one soul is freed in this book, that probably allows for four books in the series: one for each soul.
I know I keep highlighting the book's flaws, but I gave it four stars because I did really enjoy it, I did get drawn into this world and I did care for the characters. I've read a few of Showalter's adult paranormal romance and some of them I really enjoyed - this YA novel is aimed at the 16+ teens who don't get embarrassed at French kissing. Or maybe I'm showing my age ... ...more
Miss Alexia Tarabotti has many things against her. First, she is half-Italian and has the nose and skin to prove it. Second, she is a twenty-six yearMiss Alexia Tarabotti has many things against her. First, she is half-Italian and has the nose and skin to prove it. Second, she is a twenty-six year old spinster who must chaperone her silly younger half-sisters to balls where she would like to dance but where no one asks her to. Third, she is assertive, has an independent streak, and talks too much. Fouth, she is soulless.
Her soulless state is a secret from everyone but the paranormals - she is, after all, on the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR) register. The vampires know of her, as do the werewolves and ghosts, but humans don't even know the soulless, or "preternatural", even exist.
So imagine her shock when a vampire in a very cheap shirt tries to bite her neck. Her soulless state neutralises him, but he keeps trying, so she is forced to use her trusty custom-made parasol to fend him off. When she accidentally kills him, the head of BUR, Lord Conall Maccon, is soon on the scene. Lord Maccon is also alpha of the Woolsey pack and he and Alexia have constantly butted heads ever since the hedgehog incident when they first met a few years ago.
It's soon apparent that something's not right with this dead vampire, aside from his embarrassing fang lisp. He didn't belong to any of the London hives, even though he smells - according to Lord Maccon - of the Westminster hive. The cases of disappearing vampires and werewolves, and the appearance of new rogue vampires, increases, and Alexia herself seems to always be in the thick of things. A wax-faced man keeps trying to kidnap her, and Lord Maccon has set BUR paranormals to guard her. It might not be enough to save her life, but as long as she can get a cup of tea and some decent cake Alexia is up to the challenge of discovering what is really going on.
One of the fun things about genre fiction is how fluid the boundaries are. Soulless is such a rich mix of genres and sub-genres that trying to pinpoint them all makes you dizzy, and yet it works wonderfully. Marketed as Fantasy/Horror, I can tell the publisher was also a bit confused as to how to sell this one, because it could just as easily have ended up in the Romance section. The romance isn't the main point of the novel, though, which is why it fits better in Fantasy - it does have a happy ending, romance-wise, though. The steampunk elements are slight and generally subtle, but important to the plot, and there's definitely a touch of the gothic.
Set in a more mechanised London - roughly 1870s, going by the clues - with a history of vampires and werewolves incorporated into society dating back to Henry VIII (the real reason behind the schism with the Pope), it seamlessly integrates new and fictional history into Victorian society without losing any of the prim and proper-ness of the period (more on that in a bit).
The story is fun in more ways than its mish-mash of generic tropes. Possessed of an ironic humour with a slight tongue-in-cheek touch - aimed at the social mores of the day - Soulless has witty banter and intelligent observations. Alexia can be at turns annoying and loveable, but always sympathetic. Lord Maccon the werewolf has his moments of also being a bit of a twit, but there's balance between wanting to laugh at him and respecting him that saves his character from being a buffoon. Besides, he's a romantic hero.
Theories about the soul are integral to the story, including the idea that vampires and werewolves exist because of too much soul, rather than none at all. Alexia, having no soul, can revert a vampire to human just from a touch. Aside from Alexia's own calmly reasoned opinions on the subject, the "truth" of the matter is very much open and quite fascinating to think about.
Soulless also breathes fresh life into the paranormal genre, blending more traditional vampires etc. with a few new twists. These aren't ridiculously handsome, all-powerful specimens: if a man was bald in life, he'll be bald as a vampire. The addition of the ultra-gay Lord Akeldama, who left his hive over disagreements about waistcoats, pokes irreverent fun at the hyper-heterosexuality of contemporary vampires.
There are a few slow points to the plot, but I often found the book hard to put down. The "bad guys" you can spot from the beginning, so it's not much of a mystery; the attempts to abduct Alexia add danger and threat to the tone of the story, and it's nicely dark and even macabre at points. It bothers me that, despite it's very English setting, it's littered with American spelling - absolutely jarring and completely weird, when they do that. Removes some of the authenticity of the setting and period, too.
The Victorian time period - which is lengthy (1837 - 1901) - has already produced great works in literature, such as that of Dickens, H.G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Contemporary genre fiction though has been slow to utilise it, especially Romance which possibly gets side-tracked by the illusion of gloom and prudish hide-the-ankles-of-the-table sexual repression (whereas they were just as horny and sexually active as any other period - and sex also took on what we would now see as gothic overtones, such as in the treatment of female hysteria by giving orgasms - the vibrator was invented around 1870 for doctors to give their upper class female patients orgasms).
It's fantastic to see writers like Laura Lee Guhrke (in Romance) and now Gail Carriger, bring new life to what is arguably one of the most fascinating time periods in British history - fascinating for all the changes that occurred, for being the "beginning" of the modern period, for being a time of flux and inventions and new ideas and Freud and vivid contradictions and even the beginnings, late Victorian-era, of feminism. There is some Fantasy of the steampunk variety already set in this period, but not a lot. I certainly hope to see more genre fiction set in this period, but it will need some thorough research....more