Everyone needs at least one author they can depend on, someone whose books you just unabashedly love and who can give you what you need when you needEveryone needs at least one author they can depend on, someone whose books you just unabashedly love and who can give you what you need when you need it: a fun story, intelligent, funny, engrossing, exciting, sensual, clever and very well written. If you follow my reviews at all regularly I'm sure you know by now that Kresley Cole is exactly that for me, especially when it comes to this particular series.
Since we've hit book eleven, it might be a good time to recap a bit. This is a deeply involved and intricate contemporary fantasy world, one of Lore creatures - everything from Valkyrie to nymphs, witches to sorcerers, demons to lycanthrope and vampires, all living their own world within ours - as well as on other planes that are rather like completely different planets. The Fantasy geek in me loves this world, being richly developed, multi-layered and full of surprises. The characters get in situations that seem dire and with no possible solution in sight; yet time and again Cole comes up with a clever way to deliver a happy-ever-after ending. It's a puzzle. It's addictive.
There are certain species of the Lore that get more attention than others, namely: Lycanthrope (werewolves), Valkyrie (warrior women who eat lightning), witches, demons and vampires. The main cast that we keep coming back to are the Valkyries, women born of a woman who died in battle, whose parents also consist of two gods who are now sleeping, leaving their "children" on their own. They each have their own gifts, especially as they're all partly some other species, and they live in covens, in groups.
Regin the Radiant is a Valkyrie with a smart mouth and great skill with the sword. Centuries ago, she left Valhalla as a child of twelve to find her sister, Lucia, and goes to enlist the help of Viking berserkers led by Aidan the Fierce. Aidan recognises Regin as his fated bride, and waits for her to grow into a woman. Yet fate has other ideas: although they meet again and fall in love, Aidan is killed before he can wed her, but vows to return.
So begins a doomed cycle through the ages: every time Aidan is reborn into another warrior, and meets Regin again, he remembers his past lives. And as soon as he remembers, he is killed all over again. Regin decides it's past time to change tactics: the only way to keep the man she loves alive is to ensure their paths never cross, and if they do, that he never remembers.
But when Regin is captured by Declan Chase, a human working for the mortal organisation called the Order which knows about Lore creatures and is determined to exterminate them - by catching them, cutting them open, figuring out their flaws and developing weapons against them. At a secret base of operations on an island, Regin is kept prisoner along with dozens of other Lore species, and a few friends. Aidan reborn is a very different man this time around: cold and distant, repressed even, she yet recognises his beserker spirit and this time plans to make him remember, because in his death she sees revenge and freedom.
The plot of this novel is parallel to a couple of other books in the series - meaning that, more than one story is occurring simultaneously, but each builds more on the others, so you still need to read them in order to get the full, complex tapestry. That's what I mean by a puzzle, in part. A few books ago, it was mentioned that Regin was running from her reincarnated lover, and she'd disappeared. I felt like I really knew the story of the Order on this island, because maybe it was only the previous book, but the details are so rich and vivid that it feels like more, and it was great seeing events unfold from a different angle.
It was interesting having a hero who starts off so unattractive, as a person. It was more than his flaws, it was his deeds, and yet that only makes it more intense. I will say that when things shifted toward the end, Lothaire (the "Enemy of Old", an ancient and charismatic vampire) totally stole the show and got me very excited about reading his upcoming story. He's another "bad guy" on the surface who is more than you realise. Part of the fun of having so many different kinds of immortals running around, is that when they do horrible things to each other, you never really hold it against them: they're immortal, after all, and things in this world can be fixed. You know the expression, It's not the end of the world? Well that seems to be the principle Cole works from to create these stories and these scheming, vengeful creatures. What fun!
If you're looking for a fantastic series with witty banter, twists and turns, adventure, unsappy romance, and a richly-developed fantasy world, you should definitely start with this one....more
This review contains minor spoilers for the ending of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
It's been ten years since the cataclysmic events that ended The HThis review contains minor spoilers for the ending of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
It's been ten years since the cataclysmic events that ended The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and the land has changed a great deal. The people don't know what happened that day ten years ago, only that an immense tree suddenly grew through the city under Sky, the Arameri palace, and through the palace itself - and that the godlings returned after untold years of exile. Godlings, and the Three, the original gods who were created by the Maelstrom and who in turn created the universe: Nahadoth, the Nightlord, god of chaos, the first god; Itempas, the Skyfather, god of order; and Enefa, goddess of Earth, the mother creator. The Three were once as close as siblings and lovers, but out of jealousy Itempas killed Enefa and imprisoned Nahadoth inside Sky, giving his leash to the Arameri to use as a means of keeping power and authority over all the other lands. Itempas became the only God, and anyone who worshipped another god was a heretic.
That all ended, though the people don't know that as punishment for his crime and for his scorn for mortals, Bright Itempas was cursed by Yeine, the new goddess of the Three, the one who created the tree that changed the city's name to Shadow. Cursed to "wander among mortals as one of them. Unknown, commanding only what wealth and respect you can earn with your deeds and words. You may call upon your power only in great need, and only to aid these mortals for whom you hold such contempt."
As a mortal who cannot be killed, Itempas lived in squalor in the newly-changed city of Shadow, so named because of the shadowy darkness created by the giant tree's massive roots that created new neighbourhoods, new obstacles. Until the day he is rescued from a bin by a young woman called Oree.
This is Oree's story more than it is Itempas' - who refuses to speak for a long time and so she names him "Shiny". No one knows who he really is, that's part of his punishment, his curse. But Oree is friends with godlings, including Madding, her ex-lover, and with Shiny in her life she starts to see - and understand - more of the godlings and even the gods. She is blind, but has an ability that allows her to see magic, so that she can see godlings or when mortals like scriveners use magic. She has some magic herself, and when she paints or draws, she can see, but it's something she keeps secret. She came from a continent called Maroland, a land that was destroyed by Nahadoth when he was let off his leash at the bidding of the Arameri. It was an accident, but now the Maro have only a small piece of land granted them by the Arameri as recompense. Oree left her village when her father was killed after the magic of ten years ago, and lives in Shadow, making a living selling touristy trinkets in the Promenade.
Her safe and content life changes forever the day she discovers a dead godling in the alley near her stall, and the priests of the Order of Itempas are suddenly looking too closely at Oree. She is forced to go into hiding when her taciturn housemate, Shiny, decides to protect her the priests and several of them die. But there is worse out in this new uncertain world than the Order: a new cult, one of many that has arisen in the last ten years, is after Oree and her gift for drawing magic pictures. They have their own plan to "fix" things, and that plan, as insane as it is, suddenly puts the lives of mortals and immortals in great danger.
While this is a kind of stand-alone story, it would be best to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms first, for backstory, context and to understand the world and characters. You're not exactly thrown in and expected to know it all, and there's a glossary as well, but this story is told from Oree's first-person perspective, and she doesn't know Yeine's story and it helps to have that other perspective and prior knowledge, shadowing the story.
This was highly enjoyable, but I didn't quite love it as much as the first book. It was a less contained story, being more scattered in terms of multiple plot-lines and themes, while its predecessor felt more cohesive because it was set in one location and followed a tighter storyline (perhaps an influence of Bright Itempas, god of order? Whereas now Nahadoth, god of chaos, is free in the world? ;) ). It was an exciting story, and an unpredictable one, but because I wasn't sure where it was going I couldn't quite relax into it. It didn't have the romantic angle that the first book had; as a love story - if it is one - it's a sad one, one too full of realism to have the ending you'd expect. But it has the right ending, and one that clearly sets up for the third book.
I liked Oree a lot, though with so much action going on around her it wasn't always easy to get a strong idea of her personality. I liked how she interacted with Shiny, even after learning that he's Itempas - how floored would you be by that? I mean, can you imagine the god that you'd been brought up to believe in, suddenly turning up in your life? (and wreaking havoc?) Itempas is a great character: he's such a bastard, really, but he's a god: he's not human, doesn't think like us, doesn't see things in the same way. And he's not only suffering from guilt at killing his sister and lover, Enefa, but he's also used to being the only god. As the god of order and rules, he likes things to be clean, tidy, straight-forward. I loved too that he manifests in human form as a black man (with completely white hair): he looks like a Maro, like Oree, who's also black. There being no graven images of the Three, no one outside the top Arameri elite would know what he really looks like. There is a great lesson here, about gods and how humans create them in our own image (even though, in this world, the gods are real) - as Oree says:
You know the truth now about Itempas. He is a god of warmth and light, which we think of as pleasant, gentle things. I once thought of Him that way, too. But warmth uncooled burns; light undimmed can hurt even my blind eyes. I should have realized. We should all have realized. He was never what we wanted Him to be. [p.202]
Like with the Greek and Roman gods, the gods and godlings here represent certain facets of humanity - hunger, secrets, debt etc. - and their lives are like soap operas. One of the lessons that the ex-mortal Yeine is trying to impart, is that they must show more respect and care for mortals, not use them or scorn them. Likewise the humans learn that they cannot make decisions on behalf of their creators, including deciding who lives and who dies. There is much at play here, and it is a rather scary, unpredictable world that they live in. The allure of a single god, a god of order, is undeniable.
This was a beautifully written follow-up to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and a richly realised story in its own right. ...more
his is another book that's taken me over two months to review, but while certain plot points are a bit fuzzy and some themes have slipped my mind, myhis is another book that's taken me over two months to review, but while certain plot points are a bit fuzzy and some themes have slipped my mind, my overall impression of the book is still clear in my head.
Astrid Llewelyn lives with her somewhat crazy mother in a garage apartment at her uncle's house. All her life she's listened to her mother Lilith's stories of killer unicorns and how she - they - are descendants of a long line of female unicorn hunters, but she's never really taken Lilith seriously. Not until a unicorn attacks her boyfriend, nearly killing him, and Lilith connects with the resurrected Cloisters in Rome: the ancient training school for unicorn hunters.
Astrid can acknowledge that unicorns are dangerous, blood-thirsty creatures, but that doesn't mean she wants to be a unicorn hunter and stay a virgin forever: as soon as a unicorn hunter loses her virginity, she loses her special abilities like fast healing and immunity to unicorn venom and horn poison, and becomes prey just like everyone else. Resentful that her mother is forcing her into this "career" - one that could see her dead in no time at all - Astrid still becomes one of the more promising unicorn hunters among the eclectic mix of girls at the Cloisters. But she knows that all she has to do to get out of it is lose her virginity, and she's just met the perfect candidate: a handsome art student, also from the States, called Giovanni.
This is quite a bloody and violent book, full of guts and gore and young girls - children - being mauled by slathering beasts. There's nothing cute or sane about these unicorns, and the utter danger of the job of unicorn hunting couldn't be clearer. I had to agree with Astrid about her mother: she seemed to have a screw loose, pushing her daughter into near-suicide, all for the glory of the family name. It was a relief when she snapped out of it. Lilith wasn't the only character obsessed with something, though: Astrid was annoyingly obsessed with losing her virginity, to the point that I got sick of hearing her thoughts on the topic and wanted to give her a kick up the bum. She was a more satisfying character when she stopped thinking about herself and started working with other hunters to protect people from killer unicorns. Also, the whole "a hunter must be a virgin" thing bothered me so drawing attention to it like that didn't help.
While Rampant had some great elements and breathed fresh life into unicorns - honestly, the idea of them as scary, dangerous, poisonous, man-eating monsters makes a lot more sense to me than the cutesy version ever did - I still found myself struggling to keep reading. It couldn't hold my interest for very long at any time, and seemed to drag on without really going anywhere. This was more of a personal-growth story for Astrid than an adventure one: more character development than plot, and yet I didn't feel that Astrid grew all that much as a person, not as much as I would have expected considering all she goes through. There's drama, but it failed to grab me. The other characters, the other unicorn hunters, blurred together into a faceless mass and some of them seemed to be forgotten as quickly as they were introduced, which didn't seem right since it was such a small group living in close quarters.
The unicorns were interesting but I could never really get a grip on their size or scale - the largest is described as being as big as an elephant, which I had trouble picturing. I guess draft horses are as big as my imagination can really go, which is disappointing for me but hardly the author's fault. I certainly wanted to know more about them, and by the end there are hints that the unicorns aren't the mindless evil the hunters have been led to believe - there's something sinister going on, a bigger picture they're not yet aware of.
The plot of human conspiracy and evil scientists was a bit sketchy for me, and in general the plotting seemed haphazardly put together, with glaring details overlooked, obvious questions not asked, and a lack of pacing that made the ending flop about without much direction. That's what struck me, anyway.
Overall, the points I liked about the story about equal those I didn't, and I don't mind that I got the second book, Ascendant, before even starting this one - I have hope that the story will pick up and get more involved, and Astrid will become a more interesting heroine. ...more
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.