Originally published as a short-story in Collier's magazine's "Tales of the Jazz Age" in 1922, Fitzgerald's quirky, fairy-tale-like story of a man bor...moreOriginally published as a short-story in Collier's magazine's "Tales of the Jazz Age" in 1922, Fitzgerald's quirky, fairy-tale-like story of a man born at age seventy who gets younger has been widely available as a novella for many years. This collector's edition has been released to coincide with the movie: it's a lovely little black hardcover with glossy pages and wonderful colour illustrations by Calef Brown.
Benjamin Button was born in 1860 at age 70: bald, shrunken, with a long beard and a querulous voice. His parents are horrified. His father, Roger, refuses to think of him as anything but a baby, even though he has to go out and buy a man's suit for him. He also gets him toys that his son isn't interested in and makes him play with the other little boys on the street.
The story in brief (skip for spoilers; read if the movie preview made no sense to you) As he grows "older", he actually gets younger. At five, he's 65. At 18 he is accepted at Yale but on meeting the registrar is thrown out because of his apparent age. At 50 (or 20, depending on how you look at it), he falls in love with pretty young Hildegarde Moncrief (who likes older men) and marries her. As she ages and he gets younger he loses interest in her and goes to fight in the Spanish Civil War. He has a son called Roscoe. He continues to get younger at the same rate a normal person would age. Finally his wife moves to Italy and he lives with his son. At the age of 20 he goes to Harvard but each year the work gets harder. His own son treats him like a teenager, is impatient and embarrassed with him. At fifteen he gets a letter wanting him to join the Great War as a General - he goes off to the base and is laughed at, until Roscoe comes to take him home. And so it goes, until he's back at kindergarten with Roscoe's son, and then he's too young for that and he spends his time with his nanny until, finally, even the smells and sensations he knows slip away. -------
It's a sad story, especially because from the very beginning we know what will happen to Benjamin Button. There's no escape for him, fate rides heavily on him. He has seventy years in which to live and that's it. So what the hell is this story trying to say? What's the point of it? Is it fantasy, a fairy-tale, a fable, a parable?
I read this yesterday and have had some time to think it over. It could be saying many things, among them: the inevitability of our existence, our death, or how when you're old you're very much like a baby - there's some cute joke about that. It also brought to mind that song, Cats in the Cradle, you know the one, about the father who was too busy and impatient to spend time with his son until he was old, but by then his son was too busy and impatient to spend time with him. So sad. This story is a lot like that. Benjamin just never seems to be the right age, to appreciate things or to be appreciated. The way his own son treats him is especially sad, far sadder than how Roger Button treated him.
Because of the style - and it's written like a fairy-tale, not in Fitzgerald's usual style (which makes it more readable, in my opinion) - it doesn't read as sad, but it does have that tone of inevitability. It has comical moments which are tinged with this tragic inevitability, which certainly makes it sad, yet it's not depressing. I'm no fan of Fitzgerald as you know, but he was capable of writing some truly stunning sentences. You won't find that here. It's sparse, stripped down and lacking embellishment - because none is needed. It is, at times, tongue-in-cheek, but softly so and easily missed.
A quick 10 minute read at most (plus some extra time to study the lovely illustrations), you could easily read this standing in the aisle in the bookshop. But I'm glad I brought it home with me. Yes, this is the first time I've been pleased to read something by Fitzgerald. Fans should at least be able to appreciate this little book as sign of his wide repertoire even if they don't like the story itself.(less)
This cover has one of the most beautiful photos - I kept seeing it in the bookshop, picking it up and dithering but ultimately putting it down again....moreThis cover has one of the most beautiful photos - I kept seeing it in the bookshop, picking it up and dithering but ultimately putting it down again. In the end, a few people on Goodreads got me interested in it - they were talking about how it was the latest book in Oprah's book club but that they'd read the sample story and it was so depressing and they didn't want to read something that upset them.
That actually made me want to read it. I want to be confronted, to be challenged, to be emotionally involved, to be taken out of my comfort zone, to learn something new, to experience something different. Sometimes I want a fun story, or a romantic one, and that's fine too. But I also thirst to have my intellect engaged, and to explore a culture, a way of life, an attitude or understanding, different from my own. And, even though I haven't yet read many, I love hearing stories set in Africa, fiction or nonfiction.
Maybe it's a primitive part of my subconscious that centuries of Anglo heritage hasn't quite subsumed, but I feel drawn to this land of human origins, to where it all began - Africa and the Middle East. In a way, aren't they everyone's ancestors? Aren't their cultures and beliefs everyone's heritage? And aren't their problems the concern of us all - not least because in many ways our "western" lands have caused some of them? I feel that if a book is confrontational, upsetting even, that makes it more important to read. To shut yourself off from negative experiences is detrimental, not just to yourself and the development of your world view, but on a collective scale to the world itself.
This collection of five stories - three short stories and two novellas - are set in Nigeria, Benin, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, revolve around the experiences of children from different socio-economic, cultural and religious backgrounds, and show how universal a tragedy is their lot, and the lot of all their people, but especially how the things adults do to each other effect children.
The first story, "An Ex-mas Feast", is set in a shanty in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. There are street children and then there are street gangs - eight year old Jigana is a street child living with his street family in a tin hovel, sniffing glue to keep the hunger at bay. They're all saving so he can go back to school, including his oldest sister Maisha who is selling herself on the streets to rich white men. Jigana loves Maisha and would rather join a street gang than see her become a full-time prostitute.
The story goes back and forth between the present, Christmas, written in present tense; and bits from previous days, written in past tense. Their dialect is a hodgepodge of their native one and English, and can make it an effort to read. Sometimes I don't know if something is meant literally or not - I'm not even sure if Jigana and Maisha and Naema, Baby and the twins are even related to the ones they call Mama and Bapa. I'm not sure but I think not, except for the authority Mama and Bapa have. On the other hand, it's understandable that these children would want to have a family, a home, somewhere they can return to and belong - if they don't actually have one, they create one. But again, I'm not sure.
Akpan wrote the story from Jigana's first-person perspective, and he is wise for his age - that kind of maturity that comes from having no real chance to be a real child. The sense of distance and coldness that infects the prose works in this particular story, saving it from becoming melodramatic and indulgent.
In "Fattening for Gabon", two small children are being cared for by their uncle, Fofo Kpee ("Fofo" meaning uncle), because their parents are dying of AIDs, in his small tin shack by the coast in Benin. Fofo Kpee makes his living ferrying people across the border into Nigeria, and picking coconuts. He quite possibly has some serious debt, because he makes a deal with a corrupt immigration official who he calls Big Guy, to sell the children to child slavers in Gabon.
At first, Kotchikpa and his little sister Yewa are excited, and eagerly learn their lines in order to go over the border, while Fofo Kpee becomes almost paranoid about the deal. Soon his guilt sees him try to flee with the children, but escape is clearly not an option.
Reflecting the various colonial influences, the characters speak a mishmash of their native tongue, French and English, and at times it was even harder to read than the first story. Yet even with the unfamiliar native words sprinkled through their speech, you could still follow what they were saying. Here the distance inherent in the prose made it harder to get into the story - that and the increasing amount of detail present, though it does allow the story to focus on the inner heart and mind without the burden of plot.
As with the other long story, "Luxurious Hearses", not a lot happens: it's all in the details, and the interactions of the characters. But even though the story is written in past tense by Kotchikpa, it's too unemotional, too mature a voice. Yewa, who's only about six, feels like a real child. Kotchikpa is old enough to start seeing things differently, but he's on the cusp. That was a subtle distinction, and yet - and yet the distance created a coldness that made it hard for me to really sympathise, to really invest myself in the story. It could have been much shorter.
After the slow, lengthy story about child trafficking, the third is so short it feels over before it's even begun. Set in Ethiopia, "What Language is That?" feels like filler, like playing Danger Mouse to fill the gap between Doctor Who and Gardening Australia on the ABC. It's about two six year old girls from rich families who live across the street from each other and are best friends - until religious fighting in the streets forces their parents to prohibit their friendship because Selam is Muslim and the narrator is Christian. In their innocent, childlike way, they can't see that it should make a difference.
Because this story is written in present second-person voice ("you" instead of "I"), after the present tense of "An Ex-mas Feast" and the past tense of "Fattening for Gabon", it makes the book start to read like an amateur writer's notebook of experimentation. Yes, there are many ways to write a story, but that doesn't mean you should use it just because it exists and you want to try it. It has to work for the story, and second person rarely works. It aims for a universal voice, to create a common feeling, to involve the reader as protagonist - but often it's just unsettling, creepy or alienating. I'm not sold on it working in this particular story. In a way, it did, but I can't shake off this image of a writer who doesn't understand the "less is more" adage.
The fourth story, "Luxurious Hearses", is the longest and the most painful to read - simply because it's set on a stationary bus. On the one hand, it could be read as a superb story that puts a lone Muslim teenager on a bus of Christians, all fleeing north Nigeria for the apparent safety of the south, all bringing their differing cultural and religious values as well as their fears onto a bus while around them Muslims and Christians are killing each other - only to find that it's happening in the south now too. Tempers flare, suspicions turn nasty, the country is a new democracy but only in name: the police are still corrupt, and some want the generals back. They fight over who has the rights to the oil, over traditional beliefs and modern religions, and who gets a seat on the bus. The Luxurious Buses company sells tickets for every inch of aisle space as well as the prized seats - some buses are full of corpses, people killed in the north being returned to their families in the south for burial.
Jubril is the lone Muslim, pretending to be Christian but finding it hard when there are women all around him and the TVs on the bus come on. He undergoes many moments of revelation and change-of-opinions while on the bus, remembering how he got here, his past - born of a Muslim mother and a Christian father - and trying to keep his head down: not easy when your right hand has been amputated for stealing a goat, a sure sign that you're Muslim.
It's a fascinating exploration of the psyche of this fifteen year old, and into the people - the bus is a microcosm of the country, in a way: even when they're more-or-less of the same religion, strife occurs, showing it's not just religious differences that cause these people to turn on each other.
For as interesting as it is, though, it's also a slog to read. There's a wide variety of dialects on the bus, including people who can't pronounce "l" or "sh", making for an obstacle-course of dialogue. The ending isn't pretty but it is a natural culmination of everything that was brewing on that bus.
The final story is perhaps the most tragic - the story of a Rwandan family at the start of the genocide, "My Parents' Bedroom" is about Monique and her little brother Jean, and their beautiful, graceful Tutsi mother and their Hutu father - if you don't know much about Rwanda as a Belgian colony, the Belgians deliberately set the lighter-skinned, more classically beautiful Tutsis up as the superior native race, and the Hutus - darker, broader in the face - as the lower class, creating simmering racial tension that hadn't been there before until it finally exploded and they started killing each other - though soon enough it was the Hutus who were doing the worst.
What happens to Monique and Jean's parents is devastating, and here the distant, chilling quality of the narration creates both distance and intimacy. It's written in the present tense, and for once this does narrow time down to this moment, and not let you escape. Because we see things through Monique's young eyes, it's hard to tell at first what's happening, but as you near the end of the story everything makes sense - a harsh, brutal kind of sense. Like when she sees blood running down the lounge room wall, and how her parents seem so cruel to her even after she's nearly raped by a man in her own bedroom.
The stories are powerful - where they're let down is the writing. Akpan has potential, but he's not entirely successful here. That distance I keep mentioning, it's inherent in the prose of all the stories, even when they're written in first person, and it detaches you from the stories. The dialogue is realistic but too cluttered and hard to read, which breaks the flow and detracts from the point of the story. I didn't feel like it made the characters Other, just that it kept me from really understanding. Which could just be my flaw.
Sometimes it was hard to follow what was going on - the way a child sees things, no matter how mature they are, is going to be somewhat different - and there's plenty you need to infer, or that is implied. Which I don't mind at all, except that I lacked confidence in what I understood to be happening, because there was no definitive answer that reassured you that you were on the right track. Nowhere in "Fattening for Gabon", for instance, does anyone say that they're child traffickers - that one's fairly obvious, granted, but I wasn't 100% because I was wondering about a few other plausible possibilities until I read the interview with the author at the end. It's a small quibble.
All in all, these are some powerful stories, not sensationalised, perhaps a little contrived at times, and they don't try to force emotion or dictate your reaction, which I appreciate. I'll be interested in what the author, who is a Jesuit priest, writes about next - one thing's for sure, it will be set in Africa.(less)
My ratings for the three separate stories are: ☆☆☆ for Turn Up the Heat by Sherrilyn Kenyon ☆☆☆☆ for Hunter's Oath by Jaid Black ☆☆☆☆☆ for The Warlord Wa...moreMy ratings for the three separate stories are: ☆☆☆ for Turn Up the Heat by Sherrilyn Kenyon ☆☆☆☆ for Hunter's Oath by Jaid Black ☆☆☆☆☆ for The Warlord Wants Forever by Kresley Cole
I bought this book specifically for the Cole story, as it is technically #1 in the series and I've already read #2 & 3 - and god it was good! Very hot and steamy, and very well written, it's obvious she wrote it at the same time as book #2 because at the end there they overlap.
Hunter's Oath was really good too, and sweet. I really liked Joren - he was such a perfect balance of strong and powerful masculinity and gentle tender caring lover. Not as easy to pull off as you'd think.
Kenyon's story was the weakest. It started off well but quickly turned into a gun fight - literally. The characterisation was good but it was very short and simple. Not a bad thing, because I was so keen to just skip ahead to get to Cole's story.
The first story is the shortest, the last one the longest. The first story is the weakest, the last the strongest. And if you're not eager to read more of the Immortals After Dark series after reading The Warlord Wants Forever, I'd be very surprised.
[Edit: my cute little stars won't show up unless you're on a Mac, sorry! but you get the idea...](less)
Shatter Me introduced us to an apocalyptic world not far in our future, a world struggling to get by. In what was once the United States, civilians a...moreShatter Me introduced us to an apocalyptic world not far in our future, a world struggling to get by. In what was once the United States, civilians are organised and controlled by the Reestablishment, a military dictatorship that gained power in a time of disorder and uncertainty, an order that proclaims to be making things better.
We also met the heroine of the series, Juliette, who's skin-to-skin touch brings pain and then death. Abandoned by her parents into an asylum, she is there in isolation for nearly a year before being released by the Reestablishment - by a young man who controls her jurisdiction, called Warner. The son of the leader of the Reestablishment, he is a beautiful, young, psychotic megalomaniac who appears to relish torture and who looks upon Juliette as a kindred spirit, someone who must surely want to seize power, wreck revenge and use her gift for death for a greater purpose - his purpose. But Juliette escaped thanks to a young soldier and is on the run, leaving Warner with a bullet in his shoulder.
And that is precisely where the novella, Destroy Me, picks up. Warner was always a charismatic character, a young man seemingly without remorse or the ability to empathise. Because of his beauty, his youth and his obsession with Juliette, we all wanted to get a glimpse inside his head. Mafi gives us that, and more.
The interesting thing is, I was expecting something entirely gratuitous (like Midnight Sun, or the upcoming Walking Disaster, both of which are the same story as their companions, merely told from the male point of view), but actually this novella advances the story, or at least, fleshes it out from Warner's side of the action, showing us his efforts in finding Juliette and Adam, his recuperation and near collapse, and how he feels about his father, who comes Warner's division to "fix things". And we get more than a glimpse into Warner's head - we get a no-holds-barred, dirty laundry exposé into his mind and his heart, and coming closer to understanding - and sympathising - with this would-be megalomaniac than we would otherwise.
Warner is a conflicted boy with a man's responsibilities. He has OCD, is extremely particular and doesn't like to be touched - except by Juliette, whose touch he craves, who he dreams about vividly.
My closet is separated into various sections. Shirts, ties, slacks, blazers and boots. Socks, gloves, scarves, and coats. Everything is arranged according to color, then shades within each color. Every article of clothing it contains is meticulously chosen and custom made to fit the exact measurements of my body. I don't feel like myself until I'm fully dressed; it's part of who I am and how I begin my day.
I've had an obsession with cleanliness for as long as I can remember. I've always been so mired in death and destruction that I think I've overcompensated by keeping myself pristine as much as possible. I take frequent showers. I brush and floss three times a day. I trim my own hair every week. I scrub my hands and nails before I got to bed and just after I wake up. I have an unhealthy preoccupation with wearing only freshly laundered clothes. And whenever I'm experiencing any extreme level of emotion, the only thing that settles my nerves is a long bath.
Everything in Warner's life is ritualised, tightly structured, and image-conscious. He is a product of his father, as we learn, and he is a frightening man. We also learn that what seemed like cruel and cold-hearted actions on Warner's part, weren't always what they seemed - though sometimes they were exactly that. Warner is, in a way, a symbol of the Reestablishment, embodying its need for control and order.
The people are still told that these homes [made from containers] are temporary. That one day they will return to the memories of their old lives, and that things will be bright and beautiful again. But this is all a lie. The Reestablishment has no plans to move them. Civilians are caged on these regulated grounds; these containers have become their prisons. Everything has been numbered. The people, their homes, their level of importance to The Reestablishment. Here, they've become a part of a huge experiment. A world wherein they work to support the needs of a regime that makes them promises it will never fulfill [sic]. This is my life. This sorry world. Most days I feel just as caged as these civilians; and that's likely why I always come here. It's like running from one prison to another; an existence wherein there is no relief, no refuge. Where even my own mind is a traitor. [...] I've developed a reputation as a cold, unfeeling monster who fears nothing and cares for less. But this is all very deceiving. Because the truth is, I am nothing but a coward.
In a way, Destroy Me is one revelation after another regarding Warner's inner mind, his true feelings, his character, and yet, at the end, we're not much closer to really understanding him. I'm still not sure what future he's picturing with a willing Juliette at his side, except perhaps one in which they dethrone his father and take over. But it's not even that important. Truth is, despite the unforgivable things he's done, my sympathy for him grew, and he became even more interesting than before. Stripped of his outer shell, we meet instead a scared little boy desperately trying to live up to his father's expectations lest he be killed and discarded like everyone else who displeases the man. A little boy who never mentions his mother, who perhaps never had one, and who yearns for a human touch, and love.
It's not surprising that in this environment, he's grown up with a warped sense of morality, a twisted idea of what love is.
I do not consider myself a moral man. I do not philosophize about life or bother with the laws and principles that govern most people. I do not pretend to know the difference between right and wrong. But I do live by a certain kind of code. And sometimes, I think, you have to learn how to shoot first.
Warner discovers Juliette's notebook from her time spent in the asylum, and reads about her isolation, her silence, her yearning to be held, and loved. They have that in common. He doesn't seem to want to follow in his father's footsteps - he's afraid of the man, and rightly so. Their interactions are chilling, the atmosphere tense. Of his father, he thinks:
I've come to believe that the most dangerous man in the world is the one who feels no remorse. The one who never apologizes and therefore seeks no forgiveness. Because in the end it is our emotions that make us weak, not our actions.
But does Warner feel remorse, for what he did to her? Not really. He hasn't reached that understanding, yet. He is by no means a black-and-white bad guy, nor is he a bad guy who can easily be redeemed like in Maria V Snyder's Glass trilogy. Before reading this, he was a psychotic, rather scary man with way too much power. Now, he's a psychotic control-freak who thinks he's losing his mind - and who seems genuinely in love with Juliette, even if he has no words for it. I loved the intensity of his feelings, made manifest in his hallucinations and dreams. Where things will go from here should be very interesting indeed.
There are two things that continue to disappoint me somewhat: the world-building, which remains thinly sketched-out, and the use of present tense. Regarding the world-building, there are a great many questions in my mind that would be easily answered by showing me life in this world; but also, I don't quite understand the time line, or how things got this way, or exactly what the world is like now. And Mafi does not quite use present tense accurately; mostly, her characters are too self-aware without being actually self-aware: the contradiction is sloppy. They have too much insight, there is too much reliance on "telling", not inferring. It is a tense designed to create a strong sense of "in the moment", and it does, but unlike other writers who misuse present tense by using it as if they were still writing past tense (e.g. Suzanne Collins), Mafi's characters spend so much time reflecting and ruminating and being in their own heads, that our own perception of them and the story becomes stunted. Also, instead of playing with the concept of either Juliette or Warner being unreliable narrators - which of course they are, we all are, and their thoughts are literally all we get - they are presented as absolute. It would read stronger were the reader able to participate, rather than being forced into a passive observer. My least favourite place.
That said, I am really enjoying this story, and at least Mafi is consistent and writes well, in her distinct style. I loved the chance to hear inside Warner's head, to see things the way he sees them. It in no way solves the riddle of Warner, only makes him even more interesting. More than that, Destroy Me is probably going to be instrumental to understanding what comes next, in Unravel Me. This is an important stepping stone in the overall story, and not to be missed if you plan to read book 2. (less)
It all begins the day David's wife Stacey is queuing at the bank. A man comes in, armed with a gun, and makes everyone line up, customers and staff al...moreIt all begins the day David's wife Stacey is queuing at the bank. A man comes in, armed with a gun, and makes everyone line up, customers and staff alike, and orders them to give him whatever is most precious to them. He doesn't want their wallets, but random objects of sentimental value - they are pieces of their souls.
Without these objects, strange things begin to happen to each of the people who were in the bank that day. For some, it is a small, passing moment that endangers no one. For others, life changes irrevocably. Dawn Metcalf's lion tattoo leaves her skin and turns into a life-sized beast that hunts her relentlessly through Toronto's streets. Gail's husband turns into a snowman and begins to melt. Jenna Jacob turns into candy, and in the heat of passion, her husband eats her. David Bishop's elderly mother splits and splits until there are hundreds of her, all tiny; she keeps splitting until she drifts away on a gust of wind. And George Walterby, who had given the robber his daughter's dummy, got home to discover his baby girl is shitting money. Stacey, meanwhile, begins to shrink, a small amount each day. When she figures out the pattern, she realises exactly how many days she has left before she shrinks away and disappears entirely.
This tiny little book - beautifully bound and illustrated, with soft paper that makes it feel much older than it is - hits a great many of my reading preferences: it's set in Toronto, and I love reading books set in places I'm familiar with; it's a modern-day fable, and quirky as hell; it's magical realism, which always tickles and delights me; and it's a moving story about a couple whose marriage is on the rocks - despite their two-year-old boy, Jasper - and who have to fix what's wrong with their relationship before Stacey's shrinking can be arrested. It's a story made up of little stories, each one fascinating and imaginative, poignant and pleasing, as well as, at times, sad and even tragic.
This is the first book by Kaufman I've read, though based on my enjoyment of it, I've since ordered a couple more of his books. In eight-eight pages, Kaufman's strength was in creating the weird and wonderful, spinning dark tales with clear prose that blur the lines between horror and whimsy. I did feel that there was something, something I personally sought, missing - I don't know what, but for as much as I loved this, it holds me back from really loving it. Yet it's so well brought together, nothing drags, and there's hope for Stacey at the end.
Perhaps it's that we never find out the truth about the robber, who may or may not have met his end at the paws and jaws of Dawn's lion. Why did he do it? Why did he later make phone calls to them, as if he wanted to help them solve their dilemmas? This, I guess, is what makes it a fable. The questions, the hints of possibility. That, and what happens to the individuals themselves. Some of them escape with what seem like safe, if still bizarre, events - like what happens to Jennifer Layone:
On Thursday 22nd February, one day after the robbery, Jennifer Layone was searching underneath the couch for the remote control when she found God. He looked almost exactly like she'd expected him to look - long white beard, robe, sandals, the whole thing. But he was very dirty. It was dusty underneath the couch, and since she was doing laundry anyway, she took him with her to the laundromat.
Jennifer put him in a washing machine. She was running low on quarters, so she washed him with a load of jeans. She must have forgotten to check the pockets because when she took God out of the washing machine, he was covered in little bits of Kleenex. This disappointed God. He wouldn't look Jennifer in the eyes and he left the laundromat without saying goodbye. Now she was no closer to God than she'd been before the robbery. [pp.22-23]
I just love that one, it's so neat and perfect and weird and I can just picture it, it reminds me of British sketch comedy. From the fun and chuckle of that story, to the awful tragedy of Grace Gainsfield which near brought me to tears, this little book - novella - packs quite the punch. There's also a great sense of atmosphere in the scenes, rendering them vivid in my imagination - balancing the surreal with the tangible to create a story that's almost plausible.
The black-and-white illustrations, done in silhouette style, beautifully complement the stories and add to the fairy-tale quality of the whole novella. If you want to see them, check out the book trailer.
This is an utterly delightful novella, the best kind of fable with its balance of dark and light, tragedy and hope. Skilfully told, beautifully paced with a throbbing sense of tension and suspense, I whole-heartedly recommend this to readers who delight in the strange and unexpected.(less)
It's the year 6036, and thirty-three year old Fran is regretting leaving her comfortable, if dull, life in Adelaide for a colonising expedition in spa...moreIt's the year 6036, and thirty-three year old Fran is regretting leaving her comfortable, if dull, life in Adelaide for a colonising expedition in space. Her ship has been captured, she's separated from almost all of her fellow space-settlers, and the future looks dire. Locked up in a bare cell with a number of other females from different species on the planet of Olman, Fran can only keep young Margaret company as they listen to the sounds of alien warriors being tortured in a nearby cell.
Fran isn't one for sitting down and taking it, though, and she riles up the others to think of escape and freedom. One of her cellmates has an idea, but it requires Fran's willing participation. The warriors are Darkons, and while at the moment they're barely surviving, if they are awakened, sexually, then they become almost invincible. They would certainly be their best bet at escape.
There aren't many options available, and as one of the only human females there, it's up to Fran to awaken the warriors. At the time, she's thinking mostly of escaping this hell-hole, but all too soon the reality of what she's unwittingly committed herself to becomes clear.
I have to be clear: I haven't read Legend Beyond the Stars, the full-length story that begins this series and establishes the whole premise, and I think my reading of this novella suffered for it. The problem was that this was too short a story - too short to explain things, establish anything, create a clear context or even develop the characters. I feel a bit unfair, but all I can do is speak of my experience reading this novella.
While Fran's situation is explained, albeit in short detail, the broader context is missing. There's no explanation for why her ship was captured and all the colonisers imprisoned, or why any of the other females were locked up either. I don't think this would be explained in the first book. There're hints that there is a major inter-galactic war going on, when one of the aliens mentions that the Darkons are resisting and the Elite Guards of Olman are planning a major strike against the Darkon home world. But nothing is explained, and without the right context the scenario of Awakening the Warriors didn't quite hold up. I would hope that the first book fills in these gaps.
But let's take this as the erotic space-opera novella it is. It has a conventional, simple plot structure divided into three short sections: the prison, where Fran sexually awakens the warriors, and from which they flee amid much gunfire; on board the ship they escape on; and the last stage on the space station where Fran and Margaret are nearly captured again. There's not a whole lot to it, which made me think that I prefer longer stories to novellas. But mostly I was disappointed by how formulaic it was. I've read quite a few stories generally classified as Paranormal Romance, and this shared many of the same tropes. The Darkon Warriors could have been alpha vampires, or werewolves. The two Darkon who survive and are awakened by Fran are called Jarrell and Quain. Jarrell is younger, sweeter; Quain is older and very alpha - macho, even.
Since this is a novella, there isn't all that much sex in it - two scenes only, though with two men involved it feels like more. Again, the condensed nature of the novella format made the lusty writing come across as a wee bit silly. I often had to stop myself from rolling my eyes and work at going along with it. Again, the problem with a novella is how squished it feels, how rushed the sexual attraction and progression becomes, and how dependent the story is on romance conventions and familiar language. If you had enjoyed the first book and got into the world-building and set-up, it would be easier to enjoy this for its own sake and not worry about any of these quibbles. I didn't realise it was a sequel or a novella until I started reading it, but for all my criticisms, there were enjoyable elements to this story.
Fran is likeable, she rises to the occasion and becomes a strong heroine. She's got a sense of humour, and she doesn't over-think things or get self-indulgent in her thoughts and reflections. The writing is capable and flows well, and regardless of how corny you might find some of the lines, they are fun and Gilchrist made an effort to add a dash of originality. I found myself more curious about the world and its politics then this short story allowed, and rather wish there was a more serious, lengthy story available that really developed it. It makes me both interested in reading Legend Beyond the Stars but also wary, afraid that my questions won't be explained and I'll come out of it even more confused and frustrated.
Aside from anything else, this is a snappy and exciting story. The fast pace and novella format don't allow for dull moments, and the sex is quite steamy. Unfortunately, the Darkon warriors are under-developed as characters, and come across as mere muscle-men-with-demanding-cocks. Like any other intelligent woman, I find that sexy men are only sexy when they have personality and some brains, too. So overall, this was a frustrating mix of good and unsatisfying, exciting and disappointing.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via Netgalley.(less)
This is a short book, containing one novella - Breakfast at Tiffany's - and three short stories: "House of Flowers", "A Diamond Guitar" and "A Christm...moreThis is a short book, containing one novella - Breakfast at Tiffany's - and three short stories: "House of Flowers", "A Diamond Guitar" and "A Christmas Memory". Most people, I'm sure, have seen Breakfast at Tiffany's and are familiar with the story. I first watched it about seven years ago, and to be honest I can't really remember much, mostly the final scene with the cat. Told by an unnamed narrator (who could well be a young Capote or a manifestation of him), it is the story of when Holly Golightly came into his life, how she effected it and how she left it. Holly is a young, very popular socialite, self-centred and spoilt but lively and desirable and always surrounded by hopeful men (whom she lives off).
Maybe she isn't spoilt exactly, but Holly is the kind of woman I can't stand: with the desire to have their own way, put themselves first and not really care how their actions effect others ... "spoilt" is the nicest word I could use. She did remind me of some people I've known over the years. They're always popular, and I don't really get why except that I do, I just can't believe it works. People always want to feel validated by these popular ones. They yearn to be important to them. They feel at the centre of things when they're around them because they seem such fun. Holly was a much more likeable character in the movie, I seem to remember. At the same time, she's a tragic figure and not terribly bright (or maybe too clever? There's something deceptive about her). But she is a whirlwind.
I far preferred the three short stories that follow, which were very well written and delightful, even when sad. "House of Flowers" is set in Haiti, about a beautiful young woman from the mountains who becomes a much sought-after prostitute until she marries a man from the hills and goes to live with him and his grandmother, who is a mean, watchful old thing.
"A Diamond Guitar" is set in the States, about a quiet oldish man in prison who befriends a young Cuban who arrives with a guitar studded with cut glass. "A Christmas Memory" is a bittersweet tale about a seven year old boy and his elderly spinster aunt who lives with the family; she's his best friend, and he's remembering their Christmas traditions. These three stories were engaging, beautifully told and make up for the lacklustre tale of silly Holly Golightly and the men who made fools of themselves over her, which she took full advantage of (one thing's for sure, the novella captured the time and place very well). As a study of human character, it's honest, insightful - even subtle. I have to hand it to Capote, he is a remarkable writer. Still didn't care for it though.(less)
This companion novella takes place after book two, Unravel Me, and before book three, Ignite Me. The previous companion novella, Destroy Me, which f...moreThis companion novella takes place after book two, Unravel Me, and before book three, Ignite Me. The previous companion novella, Destroy Me, which follows from book one, Shatter Me, was told from Warner's perspective and was extremely intense and absorbing, and perfectly set up my high expectations for Unravel Me, which weren't just met, they were exceeded. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Fracture Me.
Told from Adam's perspective, it doesn't add a whole lot to the story and didn't flesh out Adam's character in the way that Destroy Me did for Warner. As if all Mafi's creative power went into creating Warner and there was nothing left for Adam. I liked Adam in Shatter Me, I liked him a lot, and things got a tad messy in Unravel Me which really upped the ante, but in Fracture Me, Adam backs off entirely as he puts his brother first, and seems to lose all interest in Juliette.
Is this Mafi neatly getting rid of the love triangle that dogged the first two books? If so, it works, and I'm all for tying up that loose thread. But what really disappointed me was that Fracture Me felt inorganic, constrained by its need to fill in a bit of background that Juliette's unable to witness, and overall, a bit pat.
Where were the feelings that had seemed so strong, before? Where was his passion (other than that for his brother)? Where were his ideals, even? This novella not only failed to flesh out Adam, it added nothing to my understanding of this post-apocalyptic, dystopian world, either. If Warner was able to give us a bit of insight into the Reestablishment, Adam should have been able to give us insight into either the rebel organisation, or what life was like for regular people. I've been getting increasingly absorbed by this world and the players in it, but reading Fracture Me was decidedly anti-climactic. (It didn't help that I got my memory of the ending of Unravel Me mixed up - now I'm not sure what I was remembering, exactly, and I don't have the books on hand to check, but I kept expecting Adam and Kenji to break into the house and rescue Juliette; it wasn't until I started reading the teaser chapter one for Ignite Me that I remembered what had happened.)
I also find it disturbing that, in the machinations of the plot, so many people are killed and then forgotten. If you've read this far in the series, you know what I'm referring to. I should hope that they had an evacuation plan, an escape route, since Castle's so smart, but considering how he fell apart, it doesn't look like it. Juliette, in her self-absorbed, self-indulgent way, would probably care more than the more "human" Adam, whose only thought was for his brother. Understandable, but what about after finding him safe? Adam always struck me, before, as a young man of integrity, feeling, compassion, morals, generosity of spirit - all good things. Such is my disappointment with this novella, that not only did I not get to know Adam better than before, but that my impression and understanding of him was so greatly diminished. (Likewise, he didn't offer much of a perspective on Juliette.) Though I did like this bit:
A shot rings out. [...] A guy on the far left falls to the ground and I'm shaking with anger. These people need our help. We can't just hang back and watch thirty unarmed, innocent people get killed when we could find a way to save them. We're supposed to be doing something, but we're standing here for some bullshit reason I can't understand because Juliette is scared or Kenji is sick and I guess the truth is we're just a bunch of crappy teenagers, two of who can barely stand up straight or fire a weapon, and it's unacceptable.
Still, despite all these complaints, I am still just as enthused for Ignite Me as before. With a series like this one, it's clear that Mafi can achieve great heights, and great lows. I will shelve my expectations, then, and try not to hope too much for a book to match Unravel Me. If you're reading the series - and, again, despite my complaints - it is worth reading the novellas, including this one, as they do help flesh out the plot and fill in some gaps between books, things Juliette's not privy to.
And in the meantime, I am rolling my eyes at any and all projected hypotheses regarding Kenji. If Mafi turns him into a new love interest for Juliette, I will be utterly disgusted and will lose all respect. I'm certainly not convinced Juliette's got that much going for her that she attracts so many, very different, men, but more than that, doesn't Kenji deserve his own story? His own love life? It's the way everything revolves around Juliette that starts to annoy me. Can't she just be friends with him and leave it at that?(less)