Stephanie Meyer writes vampire fiction as many teenage girls do -- overblown writing, sexy cold vampires, and a vacuously attractive heroine who serve...moreStephanie Meyer writes vampire fiction as many teenage girls do -- overblown writing, sexy cold vampires, and a vacuously attractive heroine who serves as the readers' stand-in.
And so it's hardly surprising that her megahit debut "Twilight" is essentially a teenage fantasy about finding the Perfect Hot Immortal Coverboy Who Longs For You Alone. Innocuous sparkling vampires, buckets of pointless teenage angst and a plot tacked on at the last minute leave this one of the more bloodless examples of vampire romance.
Klutzy Bella Swan is oh-so-self-sacrificingly going to live with her small-town cop dad, and is appalled by the student body -- all the local boys decide that (ick!) they like her, and all the girls are shallow idiots compared to her.
Then she's struck by the ash-pale, vaguely incestuous Cullen family -- an especially by the Hawt and Brooding Edward Cullen. Edward doesn't seem to like her much, resulting in much Teen Angst. but when Bella is nearly killed by a runaway car, he somehow manages to zip across the parking lot and knock away the car. Bella eventually figures out that he's a vampire-- a "vegetarian vampire" with the power to read thoughts... except hers.
Despite his fears that he'll hurt her, their smoldering chemistry (and Bella's tantalizing smell) draws them into a relationship... at which point, since the plot has had zero non-teenybopper tension, three two-dimensionally evil vampires enter the scene, intent on hunting Bella. The Cullens whisk her away to keep her safe from this trio -- but their enemies have more than one way to find her.
The book "Twilight" is essentially the eroticized fantasies of a teenage girl, purple of prose and taking itself hilariously seriously. In fact, reading this novel feels suspiciously like eavesdropping on Stephanie Meyer's fantasies of having a hot, sparkle-skinned vampire stalking her on a nightly basis to show his undying love.
Unfortunately there's not much more to the plot than that -- most of it involves Bella and Edward smoldering at each other, and Bella's contemplation of Edward's "scintillating, incandescent" body and Greek-god hotness. Furthermore Meyer smears the entire book in wildly swinging emotions, tepid dialogue, and overly ornate, purple prose -- the descriptions of Edward's chest alone may induce choking and diabetic coma.
After a horrendously silly "meet the vampire family," Meyer belatedly realizes that the book needs more than angst and sparkles and Edward is constantly shying away from Bella's virginal neck (what does that imply about sucking blood from animals?). So she tacks in a contrived subplot about evil vampires who are hunting Bella. Just... because they want to.
And heroine Bella is truly an amazing character -- she manages to be a blank slate for mass fantasy projection, while also managing to be whiny, selfish, snobby and superhumanly shallow (since the only person she cares about is the Hawt Rich Guy). Edward is a suitable mate for her -- he broods, smolders and stalks her to show that he loves her eternally. After all, isn't a bipolar stalker watching you sleep the very image of true love?
As for the other characters... well, we have quirky vampire Alice to add some humor to the story. But otherwise, none of them really matter much except to reflect how awesome Edward and Bella are -- and the villains could not be any thinner if Meyer snipped them from sparkly incandescent skin.
Those who dream of eternal angsty love with an Immortal Hottie may find "Twilight" a delight, but it's no more than a thin, flat guilty pleasure at best. (less)
Greek gods, faeries, Arthurian legends, the Trojan war, and the possible end of the world... all centering on a store-room in a small Colorado town. C...moreGreek gods, faeries, Arthurian legends, the Trojan war, and the possible end of the world... all centering on a store-room in a small Colorado town. Carrie Vaughn shatters the urban fantasy mold in a BIG way. "Discord's Apple" is quite possibly her best book yet -- a brilliant, clever fantasy story that flips effortlessly through the centuries and across the world.
After finding out that her father is dying of cancer, Evie Walker returns to Hope Springs to care for him. Despite her best efforts, he doesn't seem to want to live. But she soon notices that weird things are happening -- a strange woman arrives and asks for a pair of glass slippers, and an old man requests a sword for "the lad." And then there's Alex, a strange immortal man who wants to die.
Just so you know, it's revealed pretty quickly that Alex was a friend of the legendary Odysseus who was enslaved and made immortal by the god Apollo. It's a pretty interesting backstory.
Evie soon realizes that the storeroom under her house is filled with mythical and magical items -- the golden fleece, the sword Excalibur, and quite a few other things. And unfortunately, the goddess Hera and her allies are determined to break into the Storeroom and take its power -- and if she succeeds, the world as we know it will end...
Carrie Vaughn has been around for some years with her werewolf-centric urban fantasies, and more recently with a book about dragons. But as far as I'm concerned, "Discord's Apple" is where she goes from being AN urban fantasy author to one of THE urban fantasy authors -- it takes her writing skills onto a whole new level.
Part of this is Vaughn's strong writing -- has a strong, smooth style with lots of vivid descriptions and some brilliant magical battles. She's as comfortable writing about modern-day Colorado as she is about Stonehenge or the fall of Troy, and she fleshes out Alex/Sinon's character along the way by giving glimpses of the cruel, luxurious life he led after Apollo enslaved him.
Another high point is that Vaughn just combines different myths SO WELL. The fairy godmother was a bit much, but her seamless intertwining of Greek myth, Arthurian legend and modern fantasy is simply breathtaking. And she weaves in some glimpses of past Walkers who guarded the Storeroom, giving a true feeling of historical depth to the story.
And Evie is a thoroughly likable heroine -- a no-nonsense graphic novelist whose entire worldview gets popped on its head when she discovers that myths and legends are (mostly) real. Alex comes across as a little nuts at times, but he has the right mixture of warmth, mystery and strength to make an excellent love interest. And there are countless striking side-characters -- Merlin, Odysseus, the cruel and beautiful Apollo, and Robin.
Carrie Vaughn has turned out some excellent fantasy in the past, but "Discord's Apple" is undoubtedly the best, richest book she's written yet. And I'm dying to see what her future books will be like. (less)
It is official -- Stephanie Meyer is the oldest emo teenage girl on the face of this planet.
How else could she have written a book like "New Moon," t...moreIt is official -- Stephanie Meyer is the oldest emo teenage girl on the face of this planet.
How else could she have written a book like "New Moon," the second sparkle-vampire romance in her bestselling Twilight series? Unfortunately this is no deep and intense romance -- it's basically a big oozing lump of teenage melodrama and horrendously purple prose. And the resolutely obnoxious heroine Bella Swan doesn't help with her endless moaning.
Bella's whether-you-like-it-or-not birthday party is wrecked when she cuts herself and prompts Jasper into a feeding frenzy, and the Cullens realize that she's just too tasty to be safe. So they leave town permanently. Cue emo music, for Bella's life is empty and worthless without Edward.
No, seriously -- it's empty. We have blank pages with month names on them, presumably to show that life is utterly empty and pointless when Eddie boy is absent -- "that I wasn't the heroine anymore, that my story was over."
But when she deliberately tries to put herself in danger, she hears Edward commanding her to stop. So she buys a motorcycle and starts immersing herself in extreme sports, hoping to hear him over and over again -- and she also gets to know local hunk Jacob Black, who has a supernatural secret of his own. But her near-suicidal antics have disastrous results for Edward, who believes her to be dead... and takes drastic action.
For the record, being seventeen-plus and/or breaking up with your True Luv are a fate worse than death. Teen Romance = True Luv. Catatonia and suicide are valid responses to being dumped. And life is an endless vile morass of nihilistic doom without a Sparkling Undead Coverboy to validate your existance and keep life from being ordinary.
At least, that is what "New Moon" would have you believe, since Stephanie Meyer smothers it in enough teenage melodrama and endless whiny angst to choke a blue whale. Thankfully her purple prose has been toned down -- presumably due to the absence of the "godlike" Edward -- but unfortunately page upon page of whining and suicidal despair is not a good substitute.
The entire story is pretty much devoted to the ever-passive Bella moping and whining as the sound of the world's smallest violin plays. Meyer attaches hilariously melodramatic significance to such scenes as Bella trying to get raped and murdered by a random bunch of guys, or having a recurring emo nightmare about being -- oh gasp of horror -- alone. You'd think being single was a death sentence.
Belatedly, Meyer realizes that post-breakup angst is not enough to carry even this thin plot. So she quickly spins up a bunch of Bad Evil Restrictive Vampires (with a not-so-subtle anti-Catholic bent), and Edward attempting suicide by the most hilarious method possible -- public sparkling. Such scenes almost mock themselves.
And Bella's endless woe-is-me-for-I-am-a-plain-mortal angst doesn't make her more vulnerable and likable -- it just eats up pages. And while Meyer tries desperately to show Bella's obsession as being True and Eternal Love, it never seems like more than a teenage girl's overwrought crush. And in a feeble attempt at a love triangle, Meyer makes Bella flirt callously with Jacob Black -- a sweet, nice, friendly guy who deserves way better.
"New Moon" is a prolonged, near-plotless slog of teenage melodrama, and it's nothing short of amazing that a grown woman could write such a book. Only for those who enjoy a fine whine. (less)
Love Lesson From Twilight #4,267: "Love" turns all guys into controlling jerks who don't do anything except compete to see whose dingdong is bigger.
S...moreLove Lesson From Twilight #4,267: "Love" turns all guys into controlling jerks who don't do anything except compete to see whose dingdong is bigger.
Sadly that's most of what's going on in "Twilight: Eclipse." You would think that a vampire army out for revenge on the main character would be the distinguishing characteristic of this book... but no, it's smothered in a thick coating of phlegmlike teen angst, whining and bickering. It gets to the point where you WISH the bad guys would arrive and kill everyone else.
Edward is pestering Bella to marry him. Bella doesn't want to because she's not "that girl" who got married right out of high school. Jacob wants Bella to dump Edward and be with him instead, so he forces her to kiss him and has her break her hand on his face. Jacob is now as jerky as Edward.
Meanwhile, the evil Victoria is raising an army of newborn vampires to come to Forks and kill Bella. Yes, seriously -- she raised an entire army to kill ONE bland human teenager. Not the Cullens, or the people of Forks. Just Bella. And since the entire universe revolves around Bella, both the werewolves and the Cullens are desperate to protect her. So they overcome centuries of mutual hatred and join forces to protect her.
"Eclipse" is an appropriate title for this book -- a promising and exciting plot gets eclipsed by Stephenie Meyers' sexual fantasies about having two teenagers drooling over her. I honestly wanted to see more of the newborn army and all this mayhem they were supposed to be causing... but instead I got a bad teen soap opera that the CW would be embarrassed by.
As usual, Stephenie Meyers' writing is a slushy, plotless disaster -- rambling dialogue, clumsy literary references to make it sound "deep," endless whining and snobbery from Bella. And the dialogue is so cheezy you could spread it on crackers, especially Edward. The two worst examples are "Look after my heart -- I've left it with you" and "Sleep my Bella... you are the only one who will ever touch my heart. It will always be yours. Sleep my only love." Can anyone read that and not vomit?
And as usual, the characters are utterly repulsive. The only characters who get any good development are Rosalie and Jasper, both of whom are given complex, well-rounded backstories that make me like them much better than the actual lead characters.
Bella is completely passive, whiny and a huge liability to everyone else. And though it's obvious she'll never dump Edward for Jacob, we're tortured with endless posturing and squabbling from both of them. They both act like controlling, stalkerish jerks who do things like sabotage Bella's car or force her to kiss them (which gets kudos from Charlie).
"Eclipse" is suitably named -- any semblance of plot, action or characterization is eclipsed by the creepy love triangle. Give it a miss, and go read some Jim Butcher. (less)
Lloyd Alexander's "Chronicles of Prydain" have become a classic staple of fantasy literature, a few rungs below "Lord of the Rings" and a few inches d...moreLloyd Alexander's "Chronicles of Prydain" have become a classic staple of fantasy literature, a few rungs below "Lord of the Rings" and a few inches down from "Chronicles of Narnia." In this volume, all six books in his series are brought together, showing all of Prydain's beauty, richness, humor and sorrow as one big book.
"The Book of Three" opens with Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran yearning for adventure -- and getting more than he bargains for when he chases the pig into the woods, and is nearly run down by a sinister horned rider. Soon he teams up with a wandering king-minstrel, a sharp-tongued princess and a furry creature called Gurgi to save Prydain from the power of the Horned King.
"The Black Cauldron" has Taran and the others setting out to destroy Arawn Deathlord's evil cauldron, which turns dead men into unkillable zombies. But other forces are after the cauldron, including three peculiar witches who insist on trading something for the cauldron. What is worse, the company faces treachery from someone in their own camp...
"The Castle of Llyr" ties up some loose ends from the first book, as Princess Eilonwy is sent to the isle of Mona to become a fine lady. But she has barely arrived when she is kidnapped by a minion of the evil enchantress Achren, her "aunt." Taran sets out to save her, but must team up with the young man who wishes to marry Eilonwy -- even though Taran is rapidly falling in love with her.
"Taran Wanderer" has Taran setting out to discover his past, since he feels he can't ask Eilonwy to marry him if he is lowborn. With only Gurgi at his side, he encounters evil wizards, malevolent bandits, and finally learns that his father just might be a shepherd... until a new revelation leads him to learn of his true worth.
"The High King" wraps up the saga, with Taran returning home. But no sooner has he arrived than he learns that noble Prince Gwydion has been half-killed -- and the magical sword Dyrnwyn has been stolen by Arawn Deathlord. Now the heroes set out one and for all to attack Arawn's stronghold and get back the sword -- but how can they defeat a deathless army and a shapeshifting enemy?
Finally, "The Foundling" fills in a few of the gaps with short stories that illustrate the backstory of the Prydain novels. Among the stories are the tragic history of Dyrnwyn, how the wizard Dallben was reared by the three witches (and where he got the Book of Three), and the love story of Eilonwy's parents.
Take two parts "Lord of the Rings," add a bit more humor and comedy, and stir in bits and pieces of Welsh mythology. That pretty much sums up the Prydain Chronicles, which is one of the rare series that is meant for kids, but is as rich an experience for adults. Even better, if they know the origins of the old legends and myths that make up the edges of these stories. Alexander populates this little world with evil enchantresses, deathless warriors, eager teenagers and talking crows, all the while coming up with an original storyline that doesn't smack of lifted legends.
In a sense, the whole series is a coming-of-age story, where Taran learns wisdom, maturity, loss and love. Oh yeah, and that that Chinese curse about interesting times is quite correct. Princess Eilonwy and the bard-king Fflewddur Fflam add a bit of comic relief, but they are also strong characters in their own right, as is the fuzzy sidekick Gurgi, who goes from being an annoyance to a loyal and lovable friend.
"The Chronicles of Prydain" are fantasy at its best, mingling myth and legend with a fast-paced plot and endearingly quirky characters. Definitely not something to miss. (less)
Long before J.K. Rowling ever wrote about Harry Potter, there was another owl-toting, bespectacled young wizard with a destiny.
And somehow it doesn't...moreLong before J.K. Rowling ever wrote about Harry Potter, there was another owl-toting, bespectacled young wizard with a destiny.
And somehow it doesn't surprise me that Neil Gaiman was responsible for that wizard's creation in "The Books of Magic." This brilliant four-part graphic novel is full of shadowy art, strange happenings and wild magic -- and while it was intended to be a story highlighting the more magical DC characters, it ended up taking a life of its own.
Timothy Hunter is playing alone in the street when he's approached by four men who ask him a simple question: "Do you believe in magic?" Obviously he says no, but after a brief demonstration of it, he reluctantly agrees to be taught in the ways of magic.
First, the Phantom Stranger takes him back on a first-class history tour -- the birth of the universe, the fall of Atlantis, the teenage life of the great wizard Merlin, the rise of magic in many different lands and its eventual wane. Then Tim takes a trip to to America with John Constantine to get acquainted with some of the more mystical creatures there... and ends up up to his neck in trouble
After that, Dr. Occult takes Tim into the world of Faerie, where he comes across a great sleeping king, gets caught by Baba Yaga, and shown Gemworld, Skartaris, Pytharia, a tiny glimpse of Hell, and a brief trip into the Dreamworld. He also counters Queen Titania, who seems to have a connection to him. And finally, Mr. E takes Tim into the future and shows him great wars, the return of magic, and the possible death of the world -- as well as his own future fate...
"The Books of Magic" isn't a comic book as you know it -- it's a journey across worlds and time, where an ordinary preteen boy discovers that he has the potential to be the greatest magician in the world. And though it was apparently meant to highlight various magical characters, Gaiman's story is more Joseph Campbell than comic book hero.
And Gaiman weaves a truly spellbinding, deceptively simple story -- he takes us into rivers of blood, goblin markets, a dying Earth, skull-faced kids, and even the childhood of a teenage Merlin. His dialogue is exquisite and rich ("Arthur sleeps in Avalon, and he sleeps here, as they all do. And perhaps he sleeps in your world too. Sometimes I suspect he sleeps inside a waking mind, waiting for the day to rise and free his ancient kingdom... Perhaps he sleeps inside thee, boy?").
I'm a little more split on the artwork -- somehow I just can't warm up to Paul Johnson's artwork, which makes Tim look very odd; and Scott Hampton's is of good quality but confusing to read. But John Bolton's artwork is absolutely exquisite (especially when he depicts the grandeur of a newborn universe, the towering angels and the ancient magics), and Charles Vess's tour of Faerie is some of the best work he has EVER done.
"The Books of Magic" is far more than it was intended to be -- a brilliant hero's journey through the worlds of magic. A deserving classic. (less)