I really liked The Magicians, I did. It was a smart, entertaining novel that took some loving potshots at J.K. Rowling, some mean-spirited and necessa...moreI really liked The Magicians, I did. It was a smart, entertaining novel that took some loving potshots at J.K. Rowling, some mean-spirited and necessary jabs at C.S. Lewis, and criticised escapist fiction in a way that showed the author's obvious love for it while also pissing a whole lot of people off. Unfortunately, nothing Grossman's written in that universe since The Magicians has convinced me that it needed a sequel, much less for it to be the initial chapter in a trilogy. It's ironic that a series that got it's start deconstructing Harry Potter ends up making all the padded, fanservice-y mistakes Rowling did - and at least Rowling never stooped so low as to fill her books with internet humor and dated pop-culture references.
The Magician's Land in particular feels like Grossman wanted to write a book of stories set in the greater universe of Fillory and Brakebills, and ended up stapling them together. You've got about four different stories going on, and they either don't intersect very well or they just don't intersect at all. There's the novella about a group of magical outcasts who bond together "Ocean's Eleven" style to steal a briefcase from a pair of psychotics, a prequel story (one of the ones you always see in anthologies), that goes back to before the first book and delves into the Chatwins and their tumultuous relationship with Fillory, and (view spoiler)[a novellete about Quentin, a creepy mirror world and his attempt to overcome the metaphor of his psychotic, demonic girlfriend to reach self-actualization. (hide spoiler)] All of these are held together with a turgid McGuffin's glue that forms the hook of the novel: Fillory is dying. Just why Fillory is dying is a question that no one seems to care about the answer to - it just is, let's roll with it! Admittedly, it does lead to the most entertaining chapter of the whole thing (view spoiler)[as every magical race in Fillory decides to slaughter each other in an orgy of violence, since they're finally allowed to openly hate each other (hide spoiler)], but since no one in the novel really seems to care about Fillory's impeding non-existence, I really can't, either.
(Don't even get me started on the memes and internet humor. It's the sort of thing I associate with shitlords like Corey Doctorow and other authors who use nerd pandering to cover for their lack of talent. When I read phrases like "the lulz" and "for the win", I die a little inside. When I realized that a major plot point was going to be resolved by (view spoiler)[bringing someone's soul back to them with motherfucking BACON, because bacon is so great guys bacon air fresheners amirite the narwhal bacons at midnight (hide spoiler)], it made me feel like this whole enterprise was a waste of my time.)
Gene Wolfe once said in an interview that he wished he'd put a two-page epilogue at the end of The Book of the New Sun that tied up the loose ends and told the reader about Severian's ultimate fate, so that he wouldn't have been forced to write a disappointing sequel. I wish Lev Grossman had put such a paragraph at the end of The Magicians.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Firstly, I just want to say something: I'm really glad I read a digital version of this book (thanks, Henrico County Overdrive!) because that cover is...moreFirstly, I just want to say something: I'm really glad I read a digital version of this book (thanks, Henrico County Overdrive!) because that cover is just awful. While taut and sexy are certainly adjectives I'd use to describe this book, everything about the presentation of Dare Me suggests it's offering you some tawdry work of cheerleader-based erotica. Which is a damn shame, because Abbott sets about subverting the exact tropes you'd expect such a work to embrace - and doing so while delivering such a nervy, gotta-read-the-next-chapter-NOW thriller is quite a feat.
Now, that being said, Megan Abbott owns. Reading her prose is like walking too close to a transformer; feeling the tingle of dangerous current traveling up the hairs on your arms with every whipcrack salvo of prose. There's not a wasted word to be seen. Her plotting and characterization were already great when she was pulling noir stereotypes apart at the seams in Queenpin, and here she's got it refined down to a science. And that's really the problem with it - at this point, and especially in this novel, it IS a science. Aboott's prose and characterization is top-notch, but following the plot of Dare Me is largely an exercise in following trends: you already know this story from it's storm-cloud opening to the well-rehearsed and expected "twists" along the way. A young, impressionable girl dealing with her nascent sexuality becomes a pawn in a power play between the two dominant female figures in her life; at first one is shown to be evil and the other good, then as more is revealed it becomes possible that the second is evil and the first good, and finally the girl realizes that she may be a little more to blame for all the evil surrounding her than she originally thought. It's the same trick Gillian Flynn pulled in Gone Girl (and is present in a few of Abbott's novels as well), just dressed up in a spangly jumper and doing the splits. It's a fun, fast read - and Abbott is just as gleefully nasty on the page as she always is - but it's definitely the weakest novel of hers I've read so far.(less)
I don't even know why I feel the need to review a Stephen King novel in the Year of Our Lord 2014, I'm about as objective as a character from Rashomon...moreI don't even know why I feel the need to review a Stephen King novel in the Year of Our Lord 2014, I'm about as objective as a character from Rashomon. For me, reading a new King novel is like putting on a warm old jacket, threadbare in places but still comfortable as hell. Is Mr. Mercedes good? By the standards of latter-day King, it's good. It's tightly plotted, a nice detour from the meandering doorstops Under the Dome and 11/22/63 were. Jerome is probably the most problematic character King has written in a really long time, and if you have your Stephen King Bingo Card of Cliches handy while reading it'll be full by the 200 page mark or so, but goddammit it's a fun read, and there hasn't been a sleek, fun Stephen King novel in over a decade (Jesus, when was the last one? Cell? Needful Things?) You could do worse. (less)