It is as though Stephen King: 1. Took me out to an arid, deserted sepia-toned no-place 2. Lit a sputtering campfire that quickly faded to embers 3. Handc...moreIt is as though Stephen King: 1. Took me out to an arid, deserted sepia-toned no-place 2. Lit a sputtering campfire that quickly faded to embers 3. Handcuffed me 4. Sat me down Indian-style across from him 5. Proceeded to narrate to me in a hoarse, bored drawl over a series of three-to-four weeks the world's longest, most uninteresting story while my head lolled back, my lips grew dry with thirst, and my bum ached
If this book had been written by any writer other than Stephen King, it would never have been published. I firmly believe that an editor, or any discerning eye, never even glanced at this book.
I will say that the only redeeming storyline in this entire book is Don (Pere) Callahan's tale. In it, King writes some surprisingly beautiful prose. Callahan's tale - which is interspersed throughout the main storyline - moves in a pace that a story like this should move - like hurried steps on a Manhattan sidewalk, like a nervous glance backward as though someone might be following you. Because guess what? Someone is following you - me, the reader! And if I'm following your little ka-tet through the boring, desolate redneck wonderland of the Calla for 925 freakin' pages - you better move! However, how much does Callahan's story actually move the plot? Very little. It seems to serve two purposes: to reinforce coincidence as "ka," and as an example of the quality of writing of which King is capable, but which you, reader, are being denied throughout the rest of the narrative.
Besides the sheer grueling pace of this beast, I had a couple of serious problems with this particular book in the Dark Tower Series:
1. Speech Mannerisms: The language of the Calla is annoying. When Roland's ka-tet continue to use these annoying speech mannerisms in their own "palaver" - it comes off as completely ridiculous. Not to mention - exhausting for the reader.
2. Repetition: Certain tropes (Nineteen, for example) are repeated too often. It is bad writing, simply put. While I do not yet understand the "significance" of Nineteen, it has been implied that it is significant. So, so significant. Yawn.
3. Mia: Susannah already has three personalities. Giving her another one is simply a rehashing and reheating of King's own once-interesting characterizations.
So, if the pace is slow, the plot overdrawn, surely in 925 pages there is room for some serious character development, right? Wrong! Besides Jake Chambers doing a little "coming of age," the rest of the characters remain stagnant throughout the narrative - to the point where they seem like thoughtless renditions of themselves. Even Mia - a brand new personality! - is derivative of Susannah's older personalities and is largely uninteresting.
I will also say that I find the subplot of the Callahan's meta-fiction interesting. I find it easy to believe that a quest that traverses time/place/universes, can surely traverse the border between reality and fiction. This development of a fiction-bridging reality could be spectacular if done correctly. Or it could fall off, and go nowhere. I cannot say I have faith for the former.
My enjoyment of Callahan's tale is the only reason I gave this book more than one star.
That said - I won't give up now. Not with thousands of pages of this series already read. I mean, I have to get to that Tower. But, God, God God - I want to give up. God, this Wolves of The Calla book was long. I felt like I was reading it for nineteen years.(less)
This book had an amazing concept. It was full of amazing ideas (the creation of a secret language for an oppressed second class - women). But, it lack...moreThis book had an amazing concept. It was full of amazing ideas (the creation of a secret language for an oppressed second class - women). But, it lacked several things, in my opinion, that prevented it from living up to the proclamation: "feminist science fiction classic."
One of those things was characterization. The first one hundred or so pages in the book had no distinct character for the reader to engage with. There are several plot points expounded in male points of view that readers are supposed to be disgusted by (and are disgusted by!); there is one storyline involving a woman, lacking any real depth, killing out of revenge; and then, there is the mention of some other characters who may be important later. That's it.
In my opinion, having no characters with any emotional depth for the reader to latch onto at the beginning of the story was a serious flaw. It made the pace slow, and frustrated my sense of who or what to believe in in this story.
Another problem I had with this book was the "good guys/bad guys" dichotomy applied by the author. It's simple: All women are good (even the one lady who systematically kills people), all men are bad (even the one guy who appeared to treat a female character like she was equal in intellect and status). I, personally, don't like my contemporary fiction to be so black/white. It is boring, and it is not believable. It narrows the reader's frame of mind and ability to objectively engage with the work. And, if done kind of poorly (as it was here - (view spoiler)[killing babies! C'mon! (hide spoiler)]), it comes off as petty and trite: an authorial position, a fable, a one-dimensional opinion piece - and not a work of fiction.
The final problem that I had with the book was this - the notion that women should have their own language in the first place. Don't get me wrong! I love imagining the subversive power that a secret language has for the oppressed secondary citizen! It was wonderfully done, and very inspiring! But...
Elgin, and by extension, her characters, believe that one's native language creates one's reality - how one perceives the world (Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis), and allowing the women in this story to create and use their OWN language will change their reality. I am all for that notion, ladyface!
The problem with all this is that Elgin really believes - IN REAL LIFE - that women should have a language separate from men. And - in doing so - that we would be essentially better off as separate from them altogether? (What's up, Charlotte-Perkins-Gilman-Radical-Crazypants?)
She believes there are things one can experience as a woman that men could not possibly conceive of. We-ellllllll....
1. There are things that an other experiences that a member of an elite, ruling, or "mainstream" class could not possibly conceive of, true... But, women are not the only other in any conceivable reality, and sometimes, even if they are the other in one reality, they may be the elite, ruling, mainstream in another (in Elgin's case, see: female linguists v. female non-linguists - who dictates what language is/means/can be in that scenario? A-hem, linguists. So, already female non-linguists are the double-other, yes?)
2. The notion of putting "Experience Before Language" and writing "outside of the patriarchy" is a nifty one (Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva, Showalter)...But, does it call for an entirely new language, or simply a new way of USING language? See, the manipulation of a language already existing is, in my opinion, the more subversive and empowering act...
3. The terms that Elgin includes in her Laadan Dictionary seem to be: I. several ways of experiencing empathy II. descriptions of situations that make one feel overworked and unappreciated III. different ways that a body is touched, wants to be touched, doesn't want to be touched
I find these to be somewhat generalized as "female" concepts. They border a tad on the side of the insulting. This is because these are HUMAN concepts, and can occur with MEN as much as they can with WOMEN. They have simply been ASSOCIATED with WOMEN, as a "norm," and not ALLOWED to be ASSOCIATED with men - because of the SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF GENDER.
Right? Guys? You experience empathy, right? You feel unappreciated? You sometimes want to be touched, or are uncomfortable when someone is trying to touch you, right? But, you're not allowed to talk about it, because doing so would be UNMANLY, right? Michael Kimmel? Are you there? Can you hear me? Let's all talk about this. In English. Our language. Together.
Overall, I would recommend this book for its interesting obsession with language and reality. For its "Oh no, they didn't!" factor. But, Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale) did it better: she gave us better reasons for these fucked behaviors, gave us a couple of good men to save our faith in the HUMAN race, made me love Offred (sorry, Nazareth, not gonna happen), and made me cry. She wins. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The book opened like so: "Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well." Oooooooh. Enter the world of Karou, raised by an...moreThe book opened like so: "Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well." Oooooooh. Enter the world of Karou, raised by an otherworldly - but loving - family of chimeras, who becomes the apple of an avenging angel's eye. Akiva, a Seraphim soldier seeking to destroy the chimeras, is drawn to Karou for reasons unexplainable. Then they fall in love. Then, they figure out WHY they are drawn to each other.
The somewhat dainty "Once upon a time..." fairy-tale/fable motif that opened the book is suspended for a bit of teenage realism as the story takes off... In the beginning, there's a few vague mysteries hinted at. But, for the most part we were introduced to the story's protagonist, Karou, basking in all the teenager-y-ness of modern times: artsy, angsty, angry, snarky, funny. I adored her.
And her strange lifestyle, her bizarro foster family of chimeras? It took very little suspension of disbelief. It was convincing from the get-go. In the world of paranormal romance (fantasy, really) the seamless convergence of worlds is key. How your world holds up might make or break me, as a reader (unless you're Libba Bray, I guess).
Laini Taylor wove the two worlds together so seamlessly. It was as if the two worlds just were. Wow! Now, she's getting Gaiman-esque. I don't know what "Gaiman-esque" means when other people reference Neil Gaiman, but for me, it is something specific:
It is something I see in almost all of Gaiman's work, even the short stories. It is this seamless converging of realities, yes! But, it is also the way the story - which seems to have been told hundreds of times before even though you've only read it once - is fresh and new and perfectly rounded out just like a fairy tale. In some ways, it does not claim to be more than a story. But, its a story so good that it is real and true. (What?!? I dunno, this is why I want to marry Neil Gaiman's books and have their babies.)
Wait - J.R.R. Tolkien knows what I mean. Guh! He talks about this great tree of tales, where all the stories exist as leaves on branches. And the author of a fantasy (or, a fairy-story), doesn't discover the leaf - which is/has always been - but instead unfolds it, tells its story, this story that already exists. "One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps."
So, at the end of The Daughter Of Smoke & Bone I just picture J.R.R. Tolkien and Neil Gaiman and Laini Taylor all hanging out picking the leaves of this Tree of Tales and giving them to us in a way that we're surprised by them, but at the same time deeply familiar with them, culturally or spiritually, or whatever.
"The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered...while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost." [Tolkien "On Fairy-Stories"]
Let's just say - Taylor's story presents questions, so many questions! But, never about the believability or viability of her world. Only about her story itself. Why does Brimstone collect those teeth, why does Karou have those tattoos on her hands, who were Karou's parents, really?
The Daughter Of Smoke & Bone is quite an accomplishment for a genre (paranormal romance/romantic fantasy), where the love story is allowed to cast a shadow over the more foundational aspects of storytelling itself. Characterization, conflict, resolution - sometimes, those are left out for the better love story, and it makes for a shitty book. But, not in Laini Taylor's case: the love and the longing work perfectly in a beautifully imagined world.
Laini Taylor's The Daughter Of Smoke & Bone is so well done. She is an excellent storyteller with an excellent imagination. The hamsas, the teeth, the smoke, the bone, the myth of the two moons - all delicately revealed. No extraneous details, everything fits.
So, what happened to her fifth star?
"You need to just let this breathe..."
Once, a kid in my fiction writing class said that to me in his critique of my short story. He held up my story and had circled my OMG! First Kissing Scene. "You need to just let this breathe..." It was his only criticism. And he was the One Kid in class whose opinion I most trusted (you know THAT kid in the creative writing class, the one who is better than you, and therefore whose opinion you hinge your every hope on).
He was right, of course. That scene was trying to convey some "big emotions," some big chemistry, and ended up overwrought and prolly terrible to everyone who wasn't me.
Kissing scenes (intimacy scenes) are hard to do right. Like battle scenes! There is chaos there, and emotions all over the place, spewing everywhere like blood or saliva - take your pick - and the reader often finds herself somewhat lost in them, searching for, like, little moments in the paragraph to latch onto, rushing through them to wrap her head around what is actually going on.
I have a really hard time reading battle scenes. And kissing scenes. For the same reason.
So, here goes: my only criticism of Laini Taylor's The Daughter Of Smoke & Bone, which was otherwise a beautifully realized story - as well as a beautifully written story: Lady, you should have just let some of that lovey-dovey angel/demon stuff breathe for a minute.
Ultimately, there is this climactic scene of closeness between Karou and Akiva. In this scene, an action - (view spoiler)[breaking a wishbone (hide spoiler)] - will lead to the truth about who and what Karou is and what exactly their love is about. Man-oh-man, was that scene drawn out. It was pages and pages long!
Paraphrase: And she was drawn to him, and he was drawn to her. And something was pulling her, and something was pulling him. And they were drawn and pulled. Draw/pull, draw/pull, draw/pull. Chapter ends. Draw/pull. Chapter begins. Draw/Pull. Flip pages, draw/pull.
Suddenly, I am lost in a sea of flowery, overwrought prose. Drowning in it, really. Waiting for action, resolution. Waiting for solid-ground storytelling again. (view spoiler)[Break the fucking wishbone! (hide spoiler)]. And it came. And it was explosive. And lovely!
But, someone should've told her to calm down a little bit a for a minute there. No doubt some people live for these intimate moments in romance books. But, I am not one of them. Laini wasn't being a bad writer, per se. But, she was letting these emotional moments fog up the place for a minute, and I found it somewhat unnecessary. Or overlong. Almost - dare I say - boring.
Don't think I hate LOVE, or something. I don't! But, love scenes and battle scenes, man. Sometimes, they can be just too much. They just need to be careful pieces of writing.
...Read this book! It is excellent. Although I am slightly distressed to find myself in the middle of another series for the third time this year (Goddamn you! Game Of Thrones!), I CANNOT wait for more of these characters. In the meantime, I can't wait for some more Laini Taylor - she's outstanding.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)