Children wishing to dive underwater into a magical sea may love Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings.
Twelve-year-old Merryn wishes to go to sea with herChildren wishing to dive underwater into a magical sea may love Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings.
Twelve-year-old Merryn wishes to go to sea with her farther. She’d also like to treat him to some jam on his toast, but he explains that its sweetness would only attract the queen leviathan. Her turnings are what cause all the world’s waves.
Merryn has no reason to believe her father’s fish tales, but she does have reason to fear for her father’s life one day when he doesn’t return from the sea. To search for him she cobbles together a submarine out of some metal and old bicycle parts. Then she starts peddling underwater. She is leery. After all, she’s already lost her mother to the sea. Her odds of finding her father seem grim. Luckily, magic!
Turns out, all her father’s crazy stories were true. Or, trueish. In her briny adventures, she finds some help from a seal-eyed merrow maiden and Swish, a leviathan, which is like a sea serpent but friendlier. What are not so nice are the unmanned submersibles from an underwater empire built on greed. Also, the ambush of a monstrous bell spider comes too fast to be seen, and a kelpie made of strangler kelp immobilizes her vessel.
When I leafed open the Song of the Deep, I started grinning at once. Stirling Children’s Books has published a lavish little tome, with internal illustrations and a map on the inside cover. I had all the glee of poring over a treasure map, with locations such as Glowkelp Forest, Bone Vaults, and the Undying Cave.
Young Merryn does traverse most (or perhaps all) of the locations on the map, but she does so at speed. I would’ve preferred to linger amidst the spiny blue moon urchins, or meander among the lavender lantern jellies. However, this book wasn’t written for me.
Author Brian Hastings mentions in the forward he wished to write a story in which the heroine did not succeed because of her beauty but her persistence. This may sound like it goes without saying, but as a parent, Brian Hastings was concerned how often his daughter was praised for her appearance rather than her strengths as a person. He is all too correct that we as a society need to take steps against this entrenched mindset, and I hope his daughter enjoys this book, as may many other children between eight and ten, plus or minus a few years, especially if the young readers played the game of the same title by Insomniac Games.
I’m no stranger to companion books for games. This one reads much like a speed run of Song of the Deep. The only parts that aren’t fast are the beginning chapters. The heroine is consistently resourceful and kind throughout and does not grow.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to gather my magic seashell that allows me to breathe underwater, along with the sunstar that’ll light my way beneath the waves. ...more
If you’re looking for the story where gamers are the heroes, try Ready Player One. In this twenty-first-century retelling of the Matrix, our hero hasIf you’re looking for the story where gamers are the heroes, try Ready Player One. In this twenty-first-century retelling of the Matrix, our hero has willingly plugged into a virtual world where he’s playing for the ultimate prize: the inheritance of an eccentric billionaire who created the megagame called the Oasis. Not only does humanity enter this dreamland to escape from the ravaged world but also to go to school, to socialize, and to work. Whoever wins the competition will gain control of the Oasis and of society itself.
The problem is, an Evil Corporation is throwing all its resources behind beating the game. They have warship upon warship of avatars, and if any one of them win, they’ll monopolize the Oasis.
Our hero has every reason to ally with the other gamers. In fact, many people in this world do form clans dedicated to beating the game together. However, Ready Player One is primarily a single-player story. Most of it occurs in extreme isolation, and the protagonist is the greatest recluse of them all.
I was not thrilled with this depiction of a gaming hero. First, it seemed rather stereotypical. Second, it downplayed the importance of community in such megagames. I’ve played MMORPG’s, and thinking back to the lively banter of guildchat made me realize what a different story this could’ve been. In my experience, very little of importance was done alone.
What relationships there were in Ready Player One also made me uncomfortable. The romance is squeezed mostly into a single chapter. The characters never believed they truly could know each other until they had met in real life. The importance of RL was emphasized again and again, which felt dissonant in a book dedicated to virtual spaces.
The characters doubted the verisimilitude of each other’s avatars. That’s healthy skepticism. But it should be extended to real life. The persona people project in person may not be their only one. We love to believe everyone has fixed personality traits, but that’s a myth. Social situation plays a large role in behavior, and personality can be fluid from place to place, from time to time. People have been false to each other long before online communication. Deception doesn’t require electronic media.
When the hero meets his best online friend in real life, they quickly accept each other (regardless of appearance) because it feels like they already knew everything of import about each other. And yet this same set of values isn’t extended to the romantic relationship, in which it’s suggested that nothing counts unless it happens IRL.
In Victorian literature, I accept that some measure of passion can be exchanged by letter, and I am even more willing to believe in long-distance relationships through Ethernet cables. True, romances begun online aren’t likely to persist in real life. But it’s not as if relationships originating in the real world are infallible.
Ready Player One may isolate its characters and sabotage its own virtual setting, but you are still likely to love it if you enjoy references to classic video games and geeky 1980’s icons. The high-tech competition revolves around both. ...more
This book illustrates an interesting error in story pacing. The lowest point in the narrative, when the protagonist is most helpless and despicable, cThis book illustrates an interesting error in story pacing. The lowest point in the narrative, when the protagonist is most helpless and despicable, comes after the first quarter, rather than in the last quarter. As the All is Lost point arrives too soon, the reader has less momentum to carry through the darkness, and there's a strong impulse to put the book down. A hero who loses agency is no hero at all.
The characters are nonetheless good, the situations entertaining in their tragedy and believable in their improbability. ...more
If you’re looking for an urban fantasy with crazy awesome characters, read Borderline by Mishell Baker. And by crazy I mean all the major characters h If you’re looking for an urban fantasy with crazy awesome characters, read Borderline by Mishell Baker. And by crazy I mean all the major characters have psychological disorders. That way, no one will believe them if they start screaming they keep the peace between the faerie courts and Los Angeles.
Success in Hollywood isn’t talent so much as who you know, and you need to know fairies. They provide the muse that ignites careers, while staying hidden beneath glamours. They gain the excitement of living in a new world, and humans gain stardom. The arrangement benefits all, and it’ll last, as long as no fey blood is spilled.
Then a baron of the Seelie court goes missing, and Millie fears the worst. It’s a tough first assignment for her, fresh from the psych ward. She has borderline personality disorder, which means she’s always at risk of drowning in mood swings. She makes no apologies for who she is because she can’t. Accepting responsibility for anything could spiral her toward suicide. And that’s far from the only danger. She can fall in love at the drop of a hat.
Millie’s no stranger to suicide attempts. Falling off seven stories didn’t kill her, only took away her legs and filled her with enough iron pins that she can dispel fey magic. That’ll prove handy while dealing with warlock talent agents and A-listers with illusionary powers.
Sure, there are bad faeries, but the true antagonist of the story is Millie herself. She has to overcome her own disorder, keep upright on her prosthetic legs, and get to work.
And her work is full of loonies. Her boss is my favorite character, so I won’t spoil what’s wrong with her. Everyone else on the team might have been as interesting, but there were a few too many characters for all to receive the depth they deserved. I’ll leave you with one of Millie’s thoughts when dealing with a coworker.
“How was I supposed to convince Mr. Paranoid that something other than the truth was the truth, when the truth itself hadn’t convinced him?” ...more
If you want to visit a steampunk mining town where lighter-than-air gel is extracted and used for both airships and magic, then read Steal the Sky byIf you want to visit a steampunk mining town where lighter-than-air gel is extracted and used for both airships and magic, then read Steal the Sky by Megan E. O’Keefe. The opalescent gel is the second most prized resource in the Empire. The first is those men and women who are sensitive to it, especially those with enough command to shape it in crafts of power.
The rogue Detan can command it with rage. If he allows himself to get angry, the gel around him will ignite to the destruction of all. He’s promised himself not to hurt anyone again, and above all he must stay out of the Empire’s clutches. So he skips from town to town, with his friend, Tibs. They help each other stay in control, and they pass the time with general knavery.
Detan is sometimes clever, often too clever for his own good. Scared of swords, terrified of his own power, he relies mostly on his fast talking. The character has some callbacks to P.G. Wodehouse’s Berty Wooster, with their menacing aunts and broken engagements, but Detan has more drive and efficacy, just enough so the book isn’t a farce.
“You are a common crook,” Watch Captain Ripka tells him.
“I am not common,” Detan says.
Ripka would rather do legal paperwork than attend noble parties. The only thing she fears is the silence in her unlived-in house. She squashes tarantulas under her boot while staring meaningfully at Detan. If Dragon Age has taught me anything it’s that I have a soft spot for hard-edged guard captains. I wish Ripka had led more of the action in the book, but it’s a bit of a muddle because her appearance is so often stolen by Pelkaia, the doppelganger.
Pelkaia prefers to be called an illusionist. She shapes the gel into more than face masks. She uses it to reinforce her diseased bones, to give her the strength to take revenge on those who killed her son. He worked in the gel mine and not by choice. There he died, and now Pelkaia will tear down not only his taskmasters but also the city authority and the Empire bureaucrats who drove them to unsafe measures.
The town Aransa was built around the gel mine. The only problem is that the settlement is clinging to the side of a mountain, parched in full blow of the desert winds. Also, the mine is more like a volcano that could explode at any moment. In the meantime it bathes the town in ash that turns the moons red.
The citizens of Aransa don’t get much entertainment. Their favorite sport is seeing criminals executed by being forced to walk around the volcano until their boots and feet melt, and the prisoners have no choice but to fall and embrace the obsidian shards. Good times.
I can’t blame Detan for wanting to skip town. The trouble is, Pelkaia catches him up in her obsession for revenge. He has to break the law for her, and if she has her way, there won’t be escape for anyone. ...more
When I sit down to read Arthurian Legend, I expect an epic struggle of humanity against cruel fate and tragic love. What I didn't count on was joy.
ThWhen I sit down to read Arthurian Legend, I expect an epic struggle of humanity against cruel fate and tragic love. What I didn't count on was joy.
The Once and Future King is broken up into books. The first, the Sword of the Stone, inspired the Disney movie of the same name. Never thought I’d say this, but Disney's adaption is less silly and whimsical than the source material. Merlin has mice in his beard and spouts modern-day references, as he lives backward in time instead of forward. Sir Pellinore gallumps haplessly after the mythical Questing Beast, which he comes to care for like a dog. You know, a dog with the head and neck of a snake, the body of a leopard, the haunches of a lion, and the feet of a hart. The story should delight children and adults with childish hearts.
The second book, the Queen of Air and Darkness, contains both cartoon scenes like those of the previous book interlaced with ones where the mists gather for the inevitable tragedy. The transition is not easy, but White succeeds while introducing exciting philosophical themes in Arthur’s rule. The young king creates the Round Table and his order of knights to try to encourage a realm where brute strength is used to protect the weak, rather than exploit it.
The next two books, The Ill-Made Knight and the Candle in the Wind submerse us fully into the chilling humanity of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere. Their portrayal deserves a standing ovation. None is given short shrift as a character. Their doomed happiness is unforgettable. By the end of this section, I was choked up and had to blink rather fast.
The trouble was, there is another book. The Book of Merlin returns us to the cartoony whimsy. If the first transition from playful to serious was difficult, the reverse was impossible. It was rather like ending a symphony with circus music. My advice is to not read any part of the last book. The ending of the Candle in the Wind can stand by itself. If you believe curiosity will get the best of you, at least promise yourself to wait a week or a month to begin the Book of Merlin.
As far as I understand, the Book of Merlin was not originally accepted by White's publishers. It was added to the Once and Future King only much later, perhaps after the author’s death. This is never a good sign. Please trust me when I say not to read it as part of the rest of the story. It is more like an appendix, the author's musings as he wrests with the horrors of World War II....more