You can see my two earlier reviews in this series to get a general idea of what I think of the writing. My only complaint is that, even though the stoYou can see my two earlier reviews in this series to get a general idea of what I think of the writing. My only complaint is that, even though the story remains intriguing, with a lot of vivid characters and scenes, none of the action of the book feels essential to the overarching plot. Yes, some things happen that make a big difference to the main character internally, but the entire book is a kind of catharsis that could have just as easily happened offstage. ...more
A great, concise introduction to the life of Robert Burton, along with a summary of the book that consumed his intellectual life The Anatomy of MelancA great, concise introduction to the life of Robert Burton, along with a summary of the book that consumed his intellectual life The Anatomy of Melancholy. ...more
Another good book for young readers that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys 19th century English culture and imaginative space adventures,Summary
Another good book for young readers that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys 19th century English culture and imaginative space adventures, for this book blends the two quite admirably. Set in an alternate past in which Newton's discoveries led not only to the advancement of physics and math, but allowed a steam-powered generation of enterprising Englishmen to launch themselves into the depths of space, Larklight follows the adventures of a young (11 year old) Arthur Mumby and his slightly older sister Myrtle as they encounter a band of space pirates, life-threatening moon fauna, and the machinations of several greedy men, among them I include a gigantic spider wearing a bowler hat.
The book is meant specifically to appeal to young boys, as the novel's narrator is Arthur Mumby himself, who does not hesitate to insert his own very boy-ish opinions into the text. As a librarian, I've been concerned lately with our forced socialization of boys and girls into different camps. One could assume that the stereotyped gender binaries presented here are the result of the historical context of the story (Victorian England), yet the story does not do much to attempt to reverse these binaries, except in a minor way towards the end where Arthur's sister gets to participate in some typically masculine acts of bravado. While appealing to young boys ideas of gender stereotypes through a narrator that shares those stereotypes might be a good way to attract reluctant readers (?), I would think that any young boy capable of reading a novel that relies on Victorian era imagery and language for many of its jokes would also be capable of surmounting the role that has been set for him by a frustratingly gendered society. It is a minor point, however, it does concern me enough to find it troubling here so many decades after J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, which also reveled in these seemingly harmless boy-girl stereotypes.
Other characters in the book also have their appeal, though the length of the tale and all the different adventures happening within it preclude any real depth, except for perhaps the boy-pirate Jack Havoc, who has a compelling story of his own, which may actually be the most emotionally moving part of the book.
The writing in this story attempts to imitate what an educated young boy of the Victorian period might have written (except for the parts ostensibly written by Myrtle), following a slightly archaic style, with plenty of humorous asides. The writing is everywhere clear and enjoyable to read, easy enough for an advanced fourth grader to read, but with enough difficulty to entertain most readers up to the high school level. The illustrations in this work are also very well done and add some charm to the writing itself. The only complaint I have is that there were moments that seemed as if they would lend themselves to a bit more emotional emphasis, but the tone was kept so light and humorous throughout that one found it difficult to really care about anything (except, as I've mentioned, the part about Jack the boy pirate's past history). The lack of emotional depth or range of feeling is what brings my rating down to a four.
Plot and World-Building 4/5
The first half of this book could very well have a good example to aspiring writers on how to get a reader interested in your novel: the world-building, cast of characters, and inciting events all make for a wonderfully immersive experience. By the end of the book, however, one feels as if there have been a bit too many plot twists, to the point where the reader knows what the resolution will be (the hero survives) and is no longer concerned about it. I read to the end only to say that I finished, but not because I was worried at all about the heroes saving the day. Once again, the gap between myself and a younger reader might be the reason for this lack of interest, but I cannot imagine even 5th graders will be surprised about the way things turn out. I think cutting out perhaps one or two bits of intrigue near the end of the book would have streamlined the plot and made this one a page-turner from beginning to end. As it stands, it is an imperfect testament to the continuing success of cliff-hanger chapter endings, even without the 19th century's serial magazine format.
Though I might recommend this book to young readers and any fan of steampunk-fantasy, the interest that the book has as a genre piece outweighs the universal interest it might have had if it were written with stronger main characters and a more dynamic style. Books rated at 5 stars I would recommend to anyone who likes books of any kind. 4 star books I would share with people who are fans of a larger umbrella genre such as fantasy, literary fiction, historical fiction, sci-fi, etc. 3 star books are still worth reading for folks who can't get enough of a sub-genre like steampunk or urban paranormal, and I feel that is where I would place this book (3 stars for a solid effort and recommended to those who LOVE steampunk)
That's all for now - cheerio and happy reading! ...more
(This review is currently in draft form and needs to be revised)
The first quarter of this book was of four-star quality, and I could have envisioned i(This review is currently in draft form and needs to be revised)
The first quarter of this book was of four-star quality, and I could have envisioned it going towards five-star quality if the rest of the narrative had been perfectly executed. The writing was strong, imaginative, and full of vivid imagery. The writing remained clear and consistent throughout, but after the first quarter of the novel, there seemed to be less poetry in the narrative, sacrificed to the telling of the plot and the unraveling of the main mystery.
Seraphina is a likable narrator and one that we enjoy cheering on. She has a complex inner life (made literally more complex by the insertion of a dead parent's memories), but she mostly deals with this turmoil by suppressing feelings and thoughts until they burst out of her at the most inopportune times. The odd thing about this, however, is that her personality is not like someone that tends to suppress things. She is, for the most part, a straightforward and honest person self-reflective, emotionally quite mature, to the point were I started to assume that she was at least twenty-five years old, forgetting if at any point in the narrative her age was actually mentioned. On looking back, I see that she is supposed to be sixteen (!) years of age. This seems preposterous: I can't imagine what royal family would entrust the directorship of the royal orchestra to a sixteen-year-old who is never described as a prodigy, although she does have a 'special touch' when it comes to performing solos.
This, like several aspects of this book, is not a big deal in itself. It is certainly a flaw when you could change the age of the main characters from sixteen to twenty-five and not actually make a difference in the narrative, but it is a small flaw. These series of small flaws are what bring this story down to a three-star level, when I very much wanted to give it a four-star rating. Other small bothers for me included the development of the romance: it was great at first, at times rivaling that of Charlotte Brontë's slow-burning tension in Villette or Jane Eyre. The male love interest (I suppose it is no great spoiler if I name him now as the Princeling) is an intelligent character with the unique trait of perspicuity and the desire to learn the truth about everything. He is a young philosopher, as is Seraphina, and the two bond over their shared love of wisdom books by older sages. However, as all stories ask for conflict, the tension introduced between the two, while not artificial, seems exaggerated. That exaggeration is okay in the context of a book like Sarah J. Maas' Crown of Midnight, where the reunion between the angered parties is just as exaggerated and intense as the schism. But in this book, the reunion is measured and subdued (as the two characters, being philosophers, one expects it would be), and make you question why the schism was there in the first place. Intense, vow-breaking love follows afterwards in a spectacle that is neither satisfying nor exciting, leaving you with a dull, head-scratching ending.
I thought at first that this was a stand-alone book, but now that I know it is a series, I would have liked to see this romance develop over several books. We could have believed more in the love, in that way. The best kind of romance is one that is burning and burning and bubbling until it simply can't help but explode in passion. Here, the romance is made actual in a mere formality of gesture, and one is left wondering where the feeling is. Sure, the narrator tells us that she feels these things, but we don't actually get to see it or feel it.
There is not a strong antagonist in this book either. No one is left around for the sequel either - just a bunch of faceless dragons we never actually meet in the first book. This dissuades me from putting in the time and effort of reading the sequel. Not that I did not enjoy the book and, if I had infinite time and energy, would certainly read the sequel, but with there being so many great books out there to read, I don't find myself much motivated to do so. ...more
A vast and perfect book. This is no ordinary claim. Many books are vast and good, but the longer a book generally is, the more likely it is to have imA vast and perfect book. This is no ordinary claim. Many books are vast and good, but the longer a book generally is, the more likely it is to have imperfections. A perfect sentence, though still difficult to come by, can be written by almost any dedicated writer. The more sentences you string one after the other, the more likely are there to be inconsistencies, lapses, dullnesses, et cetera. Somehow, by some serene magic, Ms. Clarke is able to avoid all of these things to produce a novel that is absolutely wonderful from beginning to end. Every single word of it - the footnotes included.
Stylistically, Ms. Clarke does not attempt to 'astonish' the reader. There are a few moments of spectral beauty, of romantic elevation, (usually when magic is being done, or rather, when a character is experiencing the effects of magic). But the primary interest of Ms Clarke's writing is not in richness of language. While by no means prosaic, the book's style is geared towards readability and consistent flow. Paragraphs have an elegance and a tempo to them that one would expect out of a 19th century author, but which it is extremely difficult to find in our post-Hemingway cohort of writers. We find that those who do attempt to write with something of a more archaic style often make their writing too florid. There might be the beauty and surprise of older, less used words that we delight in seeing once more, but there is also usually a mess, something like the effect produced by an unweeded garden gone to seed. Ms. Clarke's writing is the very opposite of this - all elegance without poise. All refinement without being stiff. Cleverness, sly wit, the subtlest of smiles lurking somewhere within each paragraph, without the bitter kind of irony that many modern authors rely upon to give their writing an artificial sense of importance.
The footnotes in particular are a consistent delight. I never found one of them tedious in the least - never skipped a single one. This was not because the story itself was found wanting in interest, but because Ms. Clarke's style is of such a vastly engrossing quality that I wanted to read anything she had to say about anything in this alternate-version of early 19th century England. The novel is an amazing feat of world-building in that we are never given over to long descriptions about the nature of the alternate world of Faerie, or the history of magicians that precede the title characters. All the world-building is done through stories - stories given by all different kinds of characters, some trustworthy, others more fanciful, some the stuff of legend and hearsay, others the surmises of historians and journalists. Every footnote is like a tiny entrance into the land of Faerie, where we get a peek into the kind of mischief wrought by the inhabitants there, while yet preserving the mystery and wonder that made us attracted to magic and folklore in the first place. Rather than trying to make world-building into a science, Ms. Clarke has made more enjoyment out of it, brought her imagination to bear upon the fruitful magical lore of England and broadened its scope. If you hear what I am saying, and understand exactly how difficult this is to do and how few authors have actually done it, then your awe should be second in immensity only to your desire to read this book as soon as possible.
We are loath to compare contemporary works to those of our predecessors: who could today write something that would stand anywhere near a book like Jane Eyre in sentiment, romance, horror, and, yes, style? We don't expect it of our contemporary books: it seems an impossible task. And though it may have taken Ms. Clarke upwards of 14 years to write this novel, the efforts of those many thousands of hours have not gone unnoticed. Only an immense kind of devotion, a love for the period, a keen intelligence and a rare talent combined could have produced a work that not only stands against the greats of an earlier era - Dickens, Bronte, Eliot, Austen - but, in my humble opinion, outstrips some of them. This book will stand against the likes of Bleak House and Middlemarch and Jane Eyre. And for those that love not only well-written characters, but fantasy, magic, history and the inherent comedy that lives in all scholarship, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell may well be a superior work, even compared to those high peaks of long-form literature.
The best thing about this book was the authenticity of 19th century slang that Pratchett must have obviously studied a lot of in order to write this bThe best thing about this book was the authenticity of 19th century slang that Pratchett must have obviously studied a lot of in order to write this book. Taking a well-known literary character and transforming his story, including Charles Dickens himself as one of the characters involved in the story, is a wonderful conceit and I think Pratchett executed it nicely. The appeal is certainly towards younger readers, however, much of the historical curios that only an adult would recognize make this a difficult book to recommend. Very literary fans of 19th century fiction might think the plot is a bit silly, while younger readers to whom this might otherwise appeal may be lost on the many references to historical people and events, as well as the rich, but archaic diction. It's not something that I would likely read again, although it was enjoyable while I was reading through it. ...more
An interesting investigation into the curious work of government censorship, during a time in which the authority of the King was completely revered aAn interesting investigation into the curious work of government censorship, during a time in which the authority of the King was completely revered and respected while, at the same time, reviled and mocked in a way that is almost unimaginable even in our time and place. ...more
Forgive me for not giving this book five stars. Mantel's writing is a joy to immerse yourself in. I found my thoughts flying towards this book at anyForgive me for not giving this book five stars. Mantel's writing is a joy to immerse yourself in. I found my thoughts flying towards this book at any moment in the day in which there was a lull, because I knew that I could open these pages and immediately fill that space with gorgeous writing. Everything here feels real. This book is not an escapist adventure into an older time period, but rather a reminder that things never really change, and the brutalities we were once capable of facing head on have now been concealed, such that they are easier to commit, by anyone.
Human society is ugly and fierce. Hilary Mantel shows us one man's attempt to work through it and secure something for himself amidst that ugly ferocity. But the way in which he accomplishes it is not any the less ugly or fierce. We must read on, fascinated, that such a man was possible, that such a time period was possible, and that we are no the less different now, for all of our comforts and technologies. The baseness of men will never change. We are beasts in the jungle, fighting not just to survive, but to climb to the top of the hierarchy of our particular pack. Apes and wolves, all.
Why not five stars then? I could not recommend this book to everyone. Perhaps that is not a good criterion, but I feel that my goodreads ratings should at least have some practical purposes, and I feel that one purpose may be the ability for me to take anyone I meet and say, "Look at these books I gave five stars to. Read them. You will not be disappointed."
Anyone who loves pure and perfect style will enjoy the Cromwell books. Anyone who enjoys the full and complete deployment of character and personality, engaging with dire events will enjoy these books. But someone who reads to feel a gripping plot, to learn about themselves, or to escape into a rich imaginative world may not like these books. I have not, of course, exhausted all the reasons why people read books. That is something I am still learning about, myself. But I would worry that those who do not have an unyielding love for style would find it difficult to remain committed to reading all 650 pages of Wolf Hall and all 450 pages of Bring Up the Bodies. You must care deeply for words, for characters, for atmosphere, to enjoy these books. Many others will have to look elsewhere. ...more
Let's face it: Caelena is annoying. Her habit of never telling anyone anything important, even when it endangers them or her. The fact that she is wilLet's face it: Caelena is annoying. Her habit of never telling anyone anything important, even when it endangers them or her. The fact that she is willing to go through so much crap for the sake of her 'freedom', not daring to actually take on the role intended for her, when at other times she acts like such a complete badass that she could easily assassinate the King and be done with it. At one point, she takes on a room of like, twenty fully armed men trained in combat and kicks every one of their asses with hardly a scratch. And yet, for some reason, she is unwilling to just kill the King and escape with her freedom and whichever loverboy she happens to favor at the moment? All these 'flaws' have to do with the plot, of course, because if Caelena wasn't guilty of these things, there would be no story.
And that's the only problem with this book - Caelena's abilities are overwrought compared with her actual attempts to use them. Her character is too powerful to be limited by the plot that she has been placed in, such that she actually does have to make these consistently stupid decisions in order to keep the plot going. Her only real trap is herself, and the plot loses believability for that reason.
Why four stars then? Because the writing is good, the emotions are real, and the author's imagination is powerful and compelling. Even when Caelena's behavior makes you face-palm (multiple times), you still want to read on and find out what happens, because the author is an excellent craftswoman. The world is intriguing, and little revelations follow one after the other to make your faculty of fancy curious for these new discoveries. The worldbuilding is not entirely original, but it is unique enough and beautiful enough that no scene is boring, lacking in substance or chilling intrigue.
In sum: this book fails hard with suspension of disbelief, but so long as you are willing to consciously suspend your disbelief, you will enjoy everything: the characters, the drama, the romance, the tragedy, the mystery, and the magic....more
Very readable, relatively short biography that tells you everything a novice should like to know about this man's short and intense life. It includesVery readable, relatively short biography that tells you everything a novice should like to know about this man's short and intense life. It includes every relevant political event that happened during Robespierre's lifetime, fitting his decisions and actions in the context of his own personal history and the events that were going on around him. It is one interpretation of Robespierre, but as the author says in the preface, it is not an extreme one either favoruably or unfavourably. This is the best introduction I would recommend to anyone who wanted to know more about the real historical man over whom such a bloody banner looms. ...more
This is a difficult book to rate. The bottom line: it was an entertaining read. It makes you want to read to the very end. But 'enterActual rating 3.5
This is a difficult book to rate. The bottom line: it was an entertaining read. It makes you want to read to the very end. But 'entertaining' was also because of how ridiculous the main character was. Sarah J. Maas would be a genius if this characterization was intentional, although I kind of doubt it was, at least to the extent that I find Ms. Sardothien ridiculous.
The author is the epitome of an ingenue: she makes absurd situations and overblown emotional reactions appear plausible, mixing high-romantic feelings with youthful insouciance and tough-talking. This could not be the work of a practiced veteran, which is why it is both laughable and highly entertaining, like the best of fan fictions.
Caelena Sardothien is inconstant about almost everything - one minute she is fussing over her clothing, the next second she is thinking about how she wants to punch someone in the neck or stab their eyes out. The are some wondrously head-slapping moments when the captain of the guard (Choal, Chaol, however you spell it) and the Prince Dorian interact with her one after the other, and her feelings towards them flare and wane just as quickly as one of the men leaves the room and the other steps in.
Yet, somehow, the character gets our sympathy, perhaps precisely because of how helplessly lacking in self-awareness she is. She is no calm, cool, calculated narrator that knows she is more intelligent than everyone else in the book. No, Caelena only thinks she is more intelligent and stronger than everyone else, but this is really a cover-up for how insecure she is on the inside. It's actually quite an in-depth characterization, although it is not really obvious until the end that this is the case. Caelena's delusions of grandeur end up being validated, anyway, so the psychological crisis she is going through on an internal level is kind of moot. I think the author somehow knows that Caelena only acts and thinks this way because she has been scarred emotionally and this is conveyed as a consistent undercurrent that, I think, allows us to go along with the protagonist's insane vacillations about everything.
The writing itself is fine, not terrible, but nothing to write home about, although there are some moments in the final chapters that are quite nice. Catherine Fisher's prose in Incarceron/Sapphique has always been my golden standard to beat when it comes to YA novels, and although Maas comes nowhere near that excellent efficiency, I actually enjoy her writing more than the writing of, say, The Hunger Games.
In sum: the characters in this book are outrageous enough to be enjoyed quite for their own sake, although there is a compelling story to go along with it, and a conclusion that expands the world in a vivid, exciting way. ...more
The only bad thing about this novella is the cover: in the story, James is dark and rugged, a cold and ruthless assassin, who is yet capable of depthThe only bad thing about this novella is the cover: in the story, James is dark and rugged, a cold and ruthless assassin, who is yet capable of depth and feeling - much different than the eager, blonde, high school water polo player pictured on the cover.
The cover aside, this is something I've been longing to see: a well-written, no fluff, fantasy story set in an older time period, starring roguish characters fighting against a corrupt nobility. There are too many George R.R. Martin imitators on the market right now, too many Hunger Games wannabes, and too many horrible, masochistic YA romances, contemporary or paranormal as they may be. I have been aching for a fantasy story that was well written enough to feel realistic without going overboard with the gore and horror and freakyness you might find in Game of Thrones or its many imitators. Here is a novella that made me excited for what the author will do in the full-length to be released later this year.
Livia Blackburne's style is elegant and economical. No frills, but none are necessary, especially since we are seeing things from the third-person limited perspective of the young assassin James. The prose pitches you headlong into a narrative that I felt hard-pressed not to finish in one session (and which I would have, if my lunch break had not ended!). The pacing is strong, with the action consistently rising in intensity, with a beautiful climax at the end. We have forgotten what good writing can do to us - it means much more than the romance or the plot itself ever could. Good writing makes us care, because it makes us see into the small details that matter.
We smell the blood James has stained himself with, again and again. We see how James notes more and more of Thalia's beauty every time she dances, without even making it explicit to himself. We feel the mounting hatred he has for the pettiness of the people around him, and the injustices of the nobility, but all so beautifully subdued (just like his character) and written into his actions, never ever once told to us explicitly. This is the effect of good writing - conjuring something inside us that we only realize after the fact.
That is precisely why we are always told to show and not tell. Because in the showing, when it is done well, is where the magic happens.
Really looking forward to Ms. Blackburne's debut. ...more
While I absolutely adore Hilary Mantel's style and feel that she has few other peers in that regard, I did not give this book a five-star rating becauWhile I absolutely adore Hilary Mantel's style and feel that she has few other peers in that regard, I did not give this book a five-star rating because the plot did not cohere as powerfully at the end as I would have expected for a book this size. True, it is difficult to make known history very dramatic and suspenseful, and the fact that this is the first book in a planned trilogy makes it so that the most intense aspects of her subject matter - what made her choose to write about this era in the first place - have not happened yet. Stylistically, it is as good as A Place of Greater Safety, but I would recommend that book over this one because it feels like a complete work, and has such a power and beauty to it that I feel that was lacking in Wolf Hall, though the writing itself was as marvelous. I immediately began to read Bring Up the Bodies as soon as I finished Wolf Hall, because when it ended I merely felt like it was a break in a story that needed to be continued. ...more