Killer horses! Death and blood! People dying as they compete in a deadly race! Were you expecting an action-flick? Because you might need to calm down...moreKiller horses! Death and blood! People dying as they compete in a deadly race! Were you expecting an action-flick? Because you might need to calm down for a sec before you can enjoy The Scorpio Races.
Well, I just LOVED this book! High 4 Stars - more like 4.5. It was very well-written - it reads more like a work of literary fiction than a paranormal YA. The setting and characterization are key in this book; the romantic elements evolve slowly and organically (never rushed or overwrought); the book has several moments of real tenderness that are are hard to find in YA Romance, where relationship-building is far less subtle than real-life love ever is.
This book is "supposed to" be about a race to the death on man-eating horses. Some people are comparing it to The Hunger Games, most likely because of the danger and the competitive element. But, this book is nothing like The Hunger Games. Readers expecting a fast-paced romp on a killer horse are bound to be disappointed by the book if it's marketed this way. This is actually, for the most part, a quiet and thoughtful book with believable characters and an absolutely gorgeous setting. The small-town feel of the island, and of the villagers who live there, are all well-drawn and well-crafted by Stiefvater. It is a book about "place," one's place in the world and the freedoms one seeks to come of age.
The Scorpio Races is a story told in alternating point-of-views: Puck Connolly's and Sean Kendrick's. I have to say that it took some time to "get to know" Puck, the female lead - even in a first-person present tense! Eventually, Puck becomes a good female lead, in my opinion - she is challenging and independent, and ultimately gets the characterization we were hoping for in the later chapters of the book.
But, the character of Sean was really the masterpiece of this work. Through Sean's POV the setting of the island really comes into being, so much so that it is like a character in it's own right. His relationship with the horses, and particularly Corr, are the strongest in the book. Seriously, tears, guys. Tears.
The minor characters, like Mutt Malvern (guy with something to prove) and Dory Maude (the female avuncular character), are also really well done. The sons of fishermen, the mainland tourists - everyone was drawn pitch-perfectly. ------------------------------ I dropped a star for: Pacing: it took a quite a few pages to "get into" the book, and to really flesh the Puck's character out. I wasn't sure that the first-person present tense was the best choice for this type of pacing and plotting. Something about the book reeks of nostalgia - why contradict that tone with the first-person present tense, when a more reflective one could've worked better? Could it be that the FPPT made the book drag a bit because there was more reflection than action? Dunno - maybe.
The Capall Uisce: I could've used more myth-building here, because I had a hard time wrapping my head around these water-horses that primarily live in the sea, but who can be removed and broken-in and train alongside regular horses. For instance, if a horse was a carnivore, I thought to myself, it would have different teeth. And if it had different teeth, it would have a differently shaped skull. And if it had a differently shaped skull, it wouldn't even look like a horse.
I swayed back and forth between trying to imagine a realistic water-mammal and a fantastic element. Something kept Stiefvater from a definitive position of the horses as magical, or at least magically-real, and I think it is possible that could've been better explained either way.
Unbelievable Motivations: Now, don't get me wrong - for the purpose of the story, I'm happy Puck is in the races. But, why did she sign up for them? Her motivation was very unclear - which would've been okay if the ambivalence was a plot-point, but it wasn't exactly. Puck's motivations are hinted at, but for the reader, they are never fully realized.
Also, (don't worry this isn't technically a spoiler, just a backstory tidbit) even though the dad was a fisherman and the "mom rarely went out on the boat" with him, the one day they go out on the boat together a capall uisce eats them both?!?! Hmmm! Very useful, Maggie Stiefvater, if you're trying to create ORPHANS. But, it reeks of convenience. ------------------------------ All in all, there is a timeless quality to The Scorpio Races which was surprising. There's radio - but no TV - which can align the setting somewhere in the early 20th century, but the reader never knows for sure - no, there's too much that may or may not be different from our own history, our own timeline, to categorize the setting so easily. Maybe it's just "island life"/"small-town" element, but in The Scorpio Races, rest of the world and it's technologies are inconsequential. We don't care about where/when we are, as readers, because we have fallen in love with this exquisite setting.
In a sense, things seem very "old-fashioned" in The Scorpio Races, but to the credit of the writer they are never "stale" or "old" always seeming "modern" rather than "historical." I like this, because unlike a contemp-YA book wherein the protagonist might text her BF "OMG I H8 My Mom TTYL" rendering the book completely outdated and useless in five years (if it isn't already), The Scorpio Races would've been a great book ten years ago, and will be a great book ten years from now - even after the PNR-craze is over (will it ever be over?) and they stop marketing this book for the same audience as Love Bites: The Fairywalker Academy Journals, and someone shelves it next to more thoughtful works of great stand-alone fiction like Jellicoe Road or The Bridge to Terebithia.
Finally, I am in love, love, love with Sean Kendrick. Almost to the point that I am annoyed with myself! I feel like a fourteen-year-old girl right now, even though I turned 30 three days ago. That's how big my book-crush is. Seriously. Sean Kendrick? Just read this book.
Finally-finally, it might go without saying, but Yikes! Beware of the injury and death of animals in this book. It'll make you sad-faced.(less)
Philip Pullman might have the biggest pair of balls in YA Lit. In my first foray into Pullman's work, he killed God and encouraged teen sex to heal th...morePhilip Pullman might have the biggest pair of balls in YA Lit. In my first foray into Pullman's work, he killed God and encouraged teen sex to heal the world. In The Ruby In The Smoke: A Sally Lockhart Mystery, his teenage heroine is encouraged to use drugs to fill in the plot-holes of her life, and she shoots and kills an evil pirate, with a gun she had locked and loaded in her handbag. Lolz - love it!
The setting of The Ruby... is perhaps my favorite setting ever: Victorian London. The East End, Wapping, The Seven Dials - been there before in real Victorian novels - and this felt just as authentic to me as it did when I was reading the literature of the period. (In fact, because of this book, I can't get the setting out of my head, and have followed with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).
As you might expect, there are several Victorian-y or "Dickensian" moments in The Ruby..., including some very lucky coincidences and an inheritance plot. This was a very enjoyable read...but, it's hard to imagine a young-YA feeling the vibe of this ultimately-kind-of-dark mystery. Tell you what though - I'd want to hang out with the totally-rad-actual-YA that did read the Sally Lockhart mysteries...Yeah, we'd be friends...(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)
Once Upon A River was a surprising book. I did not expect it to be so gritty and realistic - but I ended up really enjoying that aspect of it. The pro...moreOnce Upon A River was a surprising book. I did not expect it to be so gritty and realistic - but I ended up really enjoying that aspect of it. The protagonist, Margo, was very well rounded and defined. She was determined and real - fascinating even while being completely unrelatable. She's a unique and strong character. However, I will say I want to slap every male character in this book: don't look for romance in this book...just a buncha rapists.(less)
I never thought that at the end of a 900-ish page novel, I would be so sad to close the book. Sure, this book is so big that it made my bus rides ridi...moreI never thought that at the end of a 900-ish page novel, I would be so sad to close the book. Sure, this book is so big that it made my bus rides ridiculous for the better part of two weeks, so heavy that I would knock myself in the forehead with it while I was reading in bed. But, these magicians have been my BFFs for weeks! I already miss their bro-mance.
I absolutely adored this book, and would recommend it to just about anyone, as long as they are fond of one thing: simply amazing storytelling. Run and get yourself a copy. Buy it, because you will be sad when you have to give it back to the library (or your friend). Don't be daunted by the length! Don't be daunted by the British-ness! Or the time period (1806-1817)! Or the magic! This book was written for you, I promise.
Come back, Jonathan and Gilbert. I miss you already!(less)
This book was a little bit frustrating at times. Gemma Doyle, the series' heroine, needs to get her act together, make some decisions, act like a grow...moreThis book was a little bit frustrating at times. Gemma Doyle, the series' heroine, needs to get her act together, make some decisions, act like a grown up and figure it out. I won't say exactly what she's got to figure out [spoilers, and all]...But, there are some dire consequences to her actions (or inactions). But, at points in this book, you'd never know it!
I had a hard time with Gemma's inaction and indecision. I didn't think it weighed out compared to the "girls-can-too" mentality that Libba Bray has been reinforcing throughout the rest of the narrative.
I also had hard feelings about the author's choice of ending for the ongoing love story. (view spoiler)[She sacrifices an Indian boy for an English girl, essentially. (hide spoiler)] I found it to be an easy way out. I'm a bit torn by it actually. On the one hand, Gemma is (view spoiler)[not forced to make a lifeling decision regarding her lovelife or marriage when she is sixteen (hide spoiler)]. On the other hand, Gemma never had to make that tough decision - (view spoiler)[do I give it all up (and I mean ALL, it was 1895) for an Indian boy? Or do I choose to move on and live my life a different way? Do I walk away? Should I walk away? (hide spoiler)] - Instead, Bray makes her dilemma easy. Yet another decision Gemma is not forced to make. I have mixed feelings on this to say the least.
Regardless, this was a fast-paced book with some truly scary parts in it! Those Poppy Warriors? The Mummers? It got quite creepy in the final installment. My love for Felicity grew. My fear for Pippa was tangible.
I really enjoyed it. By the end, the author had become so much better - as a writer - in my opinion, too. Her character's voices became more cohesive and confident. Her choices of characterization and motivation became more believable.
Finally - those book covers? Is there anything more beautiful staring down the shelves at you?
Why do I like Rebel Angels so much more than A Great And Terrible Beauty?
That's easy: Balls.
Not THOSE kinds of balls. These kinds:
Maybe because all t...moreWhy do I like Rebel Angels so much more than A Great And Terrible Beauty?
That's easy: Balls.
Not THOSE kinds of balls. These kinds:
Maybe because all those par-tays made the pace of the novel seem faster and the story more compelling. But, also, we get to see Gemma interact with her family and the snooty-high-society all around her. This makes for some excellent characterization of both the major and secondary characters.
Would this series have been able to sustain itself without a love-triangle? Someone should have researched that... Hellooooo, Simon Middleton! I guess you're here to try to coax our Gemma out of The Realms. By getting her drunk and unlacing her corset... (Victorian date rape?) I think we'll take Kartik any day, thanks.
Meanwhile, is Felicity Worthington the best character in this series, or is it just me?(less)