Imagine, you have just died. I know, kinda crappy, right? But! At least all your earthly suffering is over. Whatever caused your death is no longer tr...moreImagine, you have just died. I know, kinda crappy, right? But! At least all your earthly suffering is over. Whatever caused your death is no longer troubling you and you are restored to the prime of your youth and deposited into a vast, almost infinite library filled with every book that could ever be written and where you do not age, you have perfect memory and are able to recall every word you have ever read and every event that has ever happened to you, your every injury and even death are healed overnight, your every culinary desire is met by an automated kiosk and you are surrounded by people who are pretty similar to you in background. You would think that you are in heaven, wouldn't you? Or at least a book geek's version of it. Yet, you'd be entirely and completely wrong. Because you are actually in hell. Or one version of it based on a short story by Borges The Library of Babel.
Until I read the book, just the concept of a library as hell was complete anathema to my mind. The story tells you straight up, however, that this is hell, as you are greeted by a polite but very red demon against the backdrop of bodies burning endlessly in tar and lava and told that you are here because the one true faith is Zoroastrianism, so bad luck for you unless you worship the Lord of Light and Wisdom Ahura Mazda. Here he is by the way:
(I seriously need to go read up on this stuff as this is the second book made of awesome which I have read in the last year which is based, at least in part, on Zoroastrian mythology).
The devil, of course, is in the detail and comes down to how you define a "book". Because for me, you see, in order to be a "book" something needs to not just be shaped as a book (in fact, with the advent of e-books, it doesn't even need to be shaped as a book at all) but also have content capable of conveying meaning (even if it is meaning which I am not capable of understanding). Whereas in the Zoroastrian hell library, a "book" is essentially a paper book of a set size, 410 pages long and with a set number of lines per page and letters per line consisting of about 95 characters on the standard English keyboard arranged in all possible variations which gives us 95 to the power of 1,312,000 possible books, i.e. quite a bit more than there are electrons in the universe and a library that's about 7,16 to the power of 1,297,369 light years wide and deep but the vast majority of which are just a random arrangement of letters and symbols which carries no meaning whatsoever.
Your task in this hell is to find your earthly life story without errors. "If your story is accepted, you will be admitted into a glorious heaven filled with wonders and joys beyond your imagination." Oh, and "you are here to lean something. Don't try to figure out what it is. This can be frustrating and unproductive".
This book was mind-blowing. It is a book about philosophy and religion and the meaning of life – all things that normally make me cringe and move slowly away but here it was all done in such a gentle non-patronising non-head-bashing way, it was fascinating. My only complaint is that it was not long enough. At the start, it is described as a book found by the narrator in the library. So where, I ask you, are the other 302 pages then? Yet, this is a minor complaint. For all its brevity, there is so much packed into the pages of this book. Love, loss, violence, horror, insanity, cattle mentality, sorrow, hope, hopelessness, infinity are just a few of the themes. I'm sure I will be picking this up again sooner rather than later.(less)
So, another series is over and, I'm afraid to say, for me the ending was just meh. Unfortunately, this appears to be the fate of so many series these...moreSo, another series is over and, I'm afraid to say, for me the ending was just meh. Unfortunately, this appears to be the fate of so many series these days. The Soookie Stackhouse, Georgina Kincaid and Dante Valentine books all immediately spring to mind. Like the first two of these three, the main problem with the Parasol Protectorate series, I think, is that there just was not enough plot for the five books and the series went on for longer than the author is convincingly able to sustain the storyline.
This last instalment takes place two years after the ending of the previous book with Lord and Lady Maccon still residing in Lord Akeldama's closet. The latter is the legal guardian to Prudence, the infant inconvenience who is now a toddler causing a lot of havoc and keeping Lord Akeldama, all his drones and the majority of the Woolsey werewolf clan on their toes. That is, until Alexia receives a summons from Matakara, Queen of the Alexandria hive and the oldest living vampire and the Maccons, along with the Tunstells and their troupe whom they take along as cover, set out for Egypt where, inevitably, they encounter adversity, mystery and adventure, leading to the series being very neatly wrapped up and tied up with a bow (a very oversize one with pink and turquoise stripes, to fit in with the general atmosphere).
Where with the previous book I was a teensy bit bored, with this one, I was a lot bored. In fact all of the first half of this book was just filler, with the author re-visiting some of the more memorable places and characters from the previous books - the hat shop now run by Biffy, the Woolsey Hive (with notable appearances from Countess Nadasdy and Mabel Dair), the fleeting return of Felicity Loontwill in a flurry of spite, the sudden reappearance of Lady Kingair (in the nude in certain placess, no less!) and a single appearance of Guatve Trouve (to deliver a replacement parasol) to name but a few.
The charm and humour of the earlier books has fizzled to a point where a lot of it read like bad panto tipping over into complete absurdity at several points (yes, I am talking about the hideous trouser ripping episode involving Tunstell and the overabundance of silly names). Most of the book could have been illustrated with images like these:
Not a great visual backdrop.
After the leasurly self-indulgent intro, the actual story and the wrap up were far too rushed and felt desperate and emotionally manipulative. (view spoiler)[Two major caracters die or are on the point of dying only to be miraculously rescued a few pages later, for crying out loud. (hide spoiler)] But the most disappointing thing of all, is that the main mysteries of the books - the Order of the Brass Octopus, the nature of the soulless/soulstealers (what/why/how are they?) etc - remain unanswered pretty much completely, unless you count the fact that Alexia's abilities are discovered to be cancelled out when she is submerged in water (I am not even going to mark it as a spoiler because, really, after five books, that is what we find out?!?).
Having said that, there were a few things that I liked which saved this from being a one star disaster. While I still feel that too many pages were dedicated to it, I did like the relationship between Biffy and Lyall. It was nice to have a homosexual relationship which was genuinely sweet and not reduced to riduculousness. I admire the fact that Alexia stays human and the elegant solution introduced by Carriger to deal with Connall's immortality and that Alexia never descends to the depth of Bella's vanity to obsess about her aging. But the thing I like most of all is the fact that, unlike in the vast majority of urban fantasy and PNR, Alexia remains very much her own person, with her own separate interests, friends and responsibilities and does not immediately turn into a woman-sized appendage of her virile sexy werewolf of a husband, entirely subsumed into his world, beliefs and persona. I can respect that. And I still love certain characters enough (Madame Lefoux and Lord Akeldama please make your way onto the stage) to be content to simply watch them. I almost feel nostalgic already. Almost.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Thinking is bad for you. The heroine of this novel, Rae Blaise or Sunshine, as she is better known, finds this out the hard way after she drives out t...moreThinking is bad for you. The heroine of this novel, Rae Blaise or Sunshine, as she is better known, finds this out the hard way after she drives out to the lake to have a think and avoid arguing with her mum. Because while there, she is kidnapped by a group of vampires, dressed in blood red silk and chained in a room with another vampire, Constantine. But clearly, Sunshine is a bright girl (I am still unsure exactly how old she is supposed to be, early twenties, I'd guess) and learns her lesson quickly and pretty much stops thinking from then on. At least enough for her latent powers to reveal themselves and take over her logical processes.
I am doing this all wrong, aren't I? Because, actually, I loved this book. I couldn't put it down. And even the fact that listening to Sunshine is like talking to someone with a severe case of ADD because she keeps diverting and sidetracking until you lose all sense of what she was talking about to begin with and the fact that the book was like the worst kind of tease, sucking you in, turning you on and dumping you with barely a hint of a resolution, no answers to most of the questions and no sequel in sight wouldn't put me off.
I liked Sunshine. Despite her ADD and obsession with baking (I hate cooking with a passion). She felt real. She was sometimes snarky, sometimes frustrating, sometimes puzzling but always interesting and complex and believable as a character.
I've never read any McKinley before but I new fairy tale retellings were usually her thing but that this wasn't quite her usual thing, being a gritty and dark urban tale about vampires. Yet I am not so sure. This is a dark vampire tale but with a healthy dose of fairy (tale) dust sprinkled all over it, I think, and some sunshine. It is a Beauty and the Beast story, which Sunshine tells to Constantine during their confinement and which, I hear, McKinley is a teeny bit obsessed with but it is not really a romance (damn it!).
Yes, Constantine is definitely the Beast of this piece. He is ugly and alien and he smells. No sparklingly brooding underwear models here. No sighing over anybody's eyes and beautiful chests. Yet Sunshine, and I along with her, grows to love him despite herself and the "resolution" to their relationship at the end, while it is incredibly frustrating in its unclarity, is also incredibly sweet (I did tell you this was a fairy tale, right?).
But back to the unclarity (and the biggest fattest BUT of this book). Questions. Questions, questions everywhere. Where did Sunshine's father and the entire Blaise family disappear to? What are the "bad spots"? Why does Sunshine's mum avoid her all the time and why did she leave her father? What precipitated the Voodoo Wars? Has the presense of supernatural beasties always been the reality of this world or have they just crawled out of the woodwork at some point? What is the Goddess of Pain? What is Mel? And so on and so forth. Answers are not forthcoming.
You know that scene in the middle where naked Sunshine lands on equally naked Constantine but, while he initially appears into this, he soon comes to his senses and won't put out and Sunshine is all frustrated with engorged labia and parts to match. Well, I swear McKinley put this in just to illustrate graphically how she was going to leave her readers at the end of this book. Coitus interruptus, are you bloody kidding me? I need the other two books (at least) in this series, which Mckinley is not writing.
I was going to take a star off for that but then, I know for a fact that I am now going to go read every single other book that McKinley has ever written and come back to this one over and over looking for that something that I have possibly missed but really just to spend some time with Con and Sunshine again, even if they are not doing anything new and Sunshine is mainly blathering on about her cinnamon rolls as big as her head. And if that doesn't make a book five star worthy, I don't know what does. (less)
Woo hoo. Finally, we have a book that proves conclusively that freaky goth boys can be hot too and totally datable. I'm kidding. I was quite surprised...more
Woo hoo. Finally, we have a book that proves conclusively that freaky goth boys can be hot too and totally datable. I'm kidding. I was quite surprised by this book, actually. In a good way. Because I inhaled it, gulped it down and loved every minute of it.
Isobel is a blond and pretty walking cliche. She is a cheerleader, she doesn't read much, she goes out with an extremely hot football player called Brad and is part of a "crew" consisting of other cheerleaders and football players. Her boyfriend and friends are fake and mean and one wonders how she managed to never realise this before the events of the book unfold. Isobel is paired up for a school lit project with Varen Nethers, who may as well have lived in a galaxy far far away for how much he was on Isobel's radar prior to that point, because he looks a bit different and likes to wear black (translation: he is a goth weirdo who talks to himself, practices witchcraft, has an evil eye tattooed on his left shoulder blade, lives in the basement of an abandoned church, sleeps in a coffin and drinks blood, or so the school rumour mill has it).
Isobel is not best pleased about being paired up with the school freak, but when her hot boyfriend reacts in a completely irrational hormonal way to the news, she starts noticing things that she hasn't before. Like the fact that her boyfriend is a bit of a prick, that her friends are a bunch of stuck-up nasty brats and that the freak boy is actually surprisingly attractive. The last part in particular was pretty well done. I mean, I am well past the age of finding teenage goth boys attractive, but hats off to Ms. Creagh, she did manage to make me catch my breath in a few places. The chemistry between Isobel and Varen was amazing and the relationship developed in a realistic believable way, no lame cop outs like the fated to be together instalove crap that seems to be so pervasive in PNR literature.
What really made this book for me though, is the incorporation of Poe's life and works into the story. I have read a lot of Poe as a teenager but I have not known anything about his life, so it managed to educate me. Poe died in very mysterious circumstances. Here's what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
"On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious, "in great distress, and... in need of immediate assistance", according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, at 5:00 in the morning. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name "Reynolds" on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring. Some sources say Poe's final words were "Lord help my poor soul." All medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost. Newspapers at the time reported Poe's death as "congestion of the brain" or "cerebral inflammation", common euphemisms for deaths from disreputable causes such as alcoholism. The actual cause of death remains a mystery; from as early as 1872, cooping was commonly believed to have been the cause, and speculation has included delirium tremens, heart disease, epilepsy, syphilis, meningeal inflammation, cholera and rabies."
It is amazing how well this and other details of Poe's life are interwoven into the story (like the fact that he married his 13 year old cousin). In fact, the whole book can probably be described as one big speculation on what happened to Poe. A very imaginative and absorbing speculation.
Other things that I loved include the part where Isobel essentially wonders through Poe's Masque of the Red Death. Gwen is one of the best BFF side-kicks ever. And it looks like the remainder of the series is going to be a story of a princess rescuing her prince from the "ivory tower". How kick-ass is that?!
I do have a couple of criticisms, hence the four stars. I felt the writing was bumpy in a few places. For example, if I am told that a boy looks at the heroine like a complacent cat, that really doesn't scream hot love interest to me. He also glares "past the ridge of his levelled brow" at one point. I don't know about you, but my mind immediately supplies an image of a pithecanthropean or frankensteinesque overhanging monobrow, when faced with that description. On the whole, however, the prose was pretty good. Evocative and haunting without being over-written.
My only other problem is the massive cliffhanger at the end. It was unavoidable, I suppose, but it really doesn't make me feel any better. I can't believe I now have to wait until 2012 to read the next instalment. (less)
I am generally a very sceptical person. I am an atheist, I don't believe in the supernatural and most conspiracy theories make me laugh. Unless I have...moreI am generally a very sceptical person. I am an atheist, I don't believe in the supernatural and most conspiracy theories make me laugh. Unless I have seen it or there is (or I think there is) hard scientific fact (or respectable theory) confirming whatever it is, I am not going to believe in it. So, despite the many glowing reviews of this book on this site from people whose opinions on literature I have come to respect, I still didn't really believe that a collection of short stories about kissing written for young adults could be awesome or something I would enjoy.
How wrong I was. This book is Awesome with a capital "A". It is beautiful, clever, poetic, magical and sweet without being twee with that delicious undercurrent of darkness which marks out the best fairy tales. The writing is fantastic, lyrical without being flowery and spicy in a way that makes you want to taste the words and shape them with your mouth and roll them around on your tongue. Almost every page provided a sentence or a passage that would make me stop in my tracks and just read and re-read it and wonder.
I am not overly-familiar with the mythologies which inspired these stories. I have never read Christina Rosetti's "Goblin Market" to which the first story alludes. The second story seemed like a retelling of the Orpheus descending into the underworld to retrieve Eurydice myth (which I vaguely remember) but with a Buddhist (or is it Hinduist?) twist (colour me clueless in respect of the latter) and the last story is, apparently, based on Zoroastrianism which I have just looked up on Wikipedia (it is also known as Mazdaism, which made me heh but only coz I iz very immature) and it apparently used to be one of the largest world religions but I have never heard of it up till now. I have heard of Zarathustra but only by proxy of hearing about Also Sprach Zarathustra a book by Nietzsche (not read) and a piece of music by Strauss (heard the bit that was in 2001: A Space Odyssey which is possibly one of the dullest movies ever but I am going off on a tangent here). Anywho, the fact that I was unfamiliar with this stuff did not detract from my enjoyment in the slightest (I generally don't tend to let my ignorance get in the way of things).
These stories managed to bring a bit of magic into my prosaic middle-aged life, where a kiss is mostly just an everyday meaningless meeting of lips and reminded me of a time when a kiss (or the idea of it) was a world changing, life altering, devastating thing. The last story was probably my favouriute, just because it was longer and more layered and complex than the others but they are all fantastic. So, thank you to all the goodreads reviewers who have lead me to this book which otherwise I would not have picked up in a million years (I'm with those who think the cover is hideous) and I hope that all of you other sceptical readers out there will give it a chance.(less)