I absolutely loved the first book of this trilogy, Shaman's Crossing, but Forest Mage was a disappointment. The plot of the book is this: "the magic"I absolutely loved the first book of this trilogy, Shaman's Crossing, but Forest Mage was a disappointment. The plot of the book is this: "the magic" (which seems to be a sentient being of such power that it's not clear why it requires human help) shoves the protagonist, Nevare, across the country of Gernia until he reaches the Speck forest. It does this by screwing up his life until he has no other options. What really bothered me about this plotline (aside from the fact that, in the context of the trilogy, it's little more than a "bridge book" getting us from Point A to Point C) is that Nevare has no free will. Whenever he tries to assert himself, his situation gets worse. And nothing that goes wrong (even his own sudden obesity) is his fault. It's gone from very easy to relate to his problems in book one, to almost impossible here. If I'd realized after finishing Shaman's Crossing that the rest of the trilogy would be an exercise in determinism, I'm not sure I would have continued at all.
There are some positives in this book: both the world and the characters who inhabit it remain three-dimensional and fascinating, and Hobb's writing style is still good. It is overlong, though; I can't imagine why the publishers thought it was necessary for this installment to be 150 pages LONGER than the first book, and the excessive length plus numerous grammatical, continuity and other minor errors made me think it was a rush job. And it's hard to spend this much time reading about a protagonist who spends most of his time on his own. Supporting characters tend to appear for chunks of the book, then disappear again; there isn't a single one who is present throughout, although many of them are far more interesting than Nevare at this point.
Hate to say it, but I would recommending stopping after book one. ...more
I should have known better than to pick this one up, but at least now I can warn the rest of you. This book barely has a plot, the characters are flatI should have known better than to pick this one up, but at least now I can warn the rest of you. This book barely has a plot, the characters are flat and two-dimensional, and their secrets, when revealed, turn out to be not all that interesting after all. Even if reading a book about women using a book club as an excuse to talk about their troubles with relationships, children, etc., is your cup of tea, you can do better. If it's not, Dinner with Anna Karenina won't win you over. Stay away....more
I started reading this, then realized no matter how interesting Cleopatra's life was, it's not worth reading a 900+ page book by Margaret George. HerI started reading this, then realized no matter how interesting Cleopatra's life was, it's not worth reading a 900+ page book by Margaret George. Her Autobiography of Henry VIII was admirable in the obvious research that went into it, but in retrospect, the plot and characters were just so bland. And this one didn't look to be much better....more
This is one of those books I zip through, only to realize upon completion that the book isn’t actually very good. But since some of Gaiman’s other worThis is one of those books I zip through, only to realize upon completion that the book isn’t actually very good. But since some of Gaiman’s other work has been very well-received, perhaps this just wasn’t the right place for me to start.
As other reviewers have described, Neverwhere is about a young man living in modern-day London, who through an act of kindness toward a stranger gets sucked into the world of London Below, where people live dangerous lives in the tunnels and Tube stations below the city and are nearly invisible to the inhabitants of London Above. He joins a girl named Door and her companions on their quest to find out the truth behind Door’s family’s murders.
In all fairness, this book just wasn’t my cup of tea. First, because it’s essentially an urban-fantasy-thriller; my impression of Gaiman was that he’s a more literary writer—and okay, there’s a Shakespeare reference or two, but this book is still a thriller, with a fast-paced but unmemorable plot consisting of constant rushing about the tunnels of London Below, and characters who are decent and likeable but not particularly well-developed. Second, I didn’t realize that the book was adapted from a TV series, and it reads a bit like a video game: the plot consists mostly of running around and questing after various items, there are lots of tired tropes (the murdered family in the backstory, the mysterious waif with magical powers, the mysterious manipulative villain) and the end is predictable. Silliest was the important plot location that, we’re solemnly informed, can only be accessed “the easy way” once by any individual; the second visit must be via an underground labyrinth. Naturally, this is never explained; do plot coupons, dungeons and boss battles need to be explained? We all understand that the point is to give the player a chance to… but wait a minute, this is a novel, not a role-playing game.
The setting, meanwhile, is an interesting concept but not fully developed; like the protagonist, I feel like I was whisked through a maze of tunnels, but have no idea how to get anywhere and am not entirely convinced they still exist when I’m not there. And Gaiman explicitly raises a lot of questions that are never answered (the magic is never explained at all, nor are any limitations placed on it beyond the requirements of the plot; the villains don’t seem to be human at all, though we’re never told what they are). The parallels drawn between the citizens of London Below and homeless people (“those who fall through the cracks”) are interesting; I’m just not sure that they actually work. After all, the Below-ers are literally invisible to the Above-ers, and there’s some implication that the Below-ers lead more interesting or meaningful lives. On the other hand, part of the point of fantasy is to comment on reality, and the analogies can’t always be exact.
So I didn’t think much of this book, and am not sure if I’ll try a different Gaiman book in the future; but I recognize that it may just be me, and if you’re looking for a quick fantasy adventure (but not necessarily light; it’s gruesome in places) this may be just the book for you....more
After seeing this musical twice in the space of a year, I realized that I really am enough of a fan to track down the companion book. (I love Maguire'After seeing this musical twice in the space of a year, I realized that I really am enough of a fan to track down the companion book. (I love Maguire's book, too. And they are going to make a movie! Maybe.)
So, this is a coffee table book. It is completely gorgeous and very well-designed, with lots of beautiful photographs and sketches and overall a great layout. Which I guess is the point of musical companion books?--I don't know; the other companion books I've read are all for fantasy book series.
Anyway, there is a little less content than there might be. There is not a full libretto, although most of the script is here, illustrated with really great pictures. It's kind of weird when there's a break in the script and part of a scene is just summarized. I guess there are copyright reasons for this, but then other musical companion books evidently do have a full libretto (the Rent book for instance). Maybe they are worried about community playhouses stealing their show. I mean, it's such an easy set to put together, right? There's a lot in here about the set and costuming and such--I am genuinely impressed by how much attention is put into detail that random audience members don't even notice. Or at least there was a lot of stuff I hadn't noticed.
Other things I learned from this book: - Gregory Maguire is not really a fan of the ending. He had to do some mental gymnastics to convince himself that it's sad enough. [I actually don't think the musical has a particularly happy ending. The first time I did because it wasn't what I was expecting. The second time I thought it was more of a downer, although not for exactly the same reasons as Maguire.] - They did once have a black guy play Fiyero on Broadway. Not in the original cast though. [Why is it that you can paint a main character green but yet having an actor who is not Caucasian is so difficult?] - Broadway musicals go through a really long production process, including lots of readings for small audiences (with real actors who might or might not end up actually playing those parts) and then real unofficial performances, where they look at what's working for the audience and what isn't and change stuff. Really, it's a wonder Broadway ever produces a flop. I wish I lived in a city where this stuff happened. (Well, not really. But it would be cool to go to an early performance and then see how things had changed.)
What I didn't really get from this book, and was hoping to get (perhaps unrealistically), was more of a sense of how they developed the plot and characters and why they made the decisions they did. There's this part where the actress who played Glinda in the readings and the original cast (everybody who had anything to do with the musical is interviewed in this book, although in very short snippets) says that Glinda was hardly in the original script. Well, that's very different from how it turned out--what was in the original script?
I mean, maybe this is just me, I love to analyze stuff that I love (it's a pity I don't love very much classic literature), but I find it fascinating how much the Wizard of Oz/Wicked story changes with each adaptation and yet how each new version is in conversation with the ones that came before it. So you'll see a Chekhov's gun in one version that won't fire until the next one--for instance, the way the Scarecrow in Baum's book talks loudly and often about how vulnerable he is to fire, but nothing comes of that, at least until the 1939 movie, where the Witch keeps throwing fireballs at him. Then in Maguire's book, Elphaba thinks the Scarecrow might be Fiyero, but only because she's having a nervous breakdown and is delusional--but in the musical, he is the Scarecrow.
And I wonder if the people who made the musical realized they were making the same changes in the hero/villain dynamic from Maguire's book that were made when Baum's book was turned into a movie. Both take a story whose heroine goes voluntarily into a confrontation with a villain who doesn't know she exists, and turn it into a story where the villain hounds her into it--is it the moral ambiguity the developers are afraid audiences won't like, or is it just a matter of getting villains onstage more? There are a lot of similar things that I wonder about. I kind of hope that if they do make a movie, they adapt it all over again, just to see what they do. In Baum's book we're told in a brief aside that the Witch had used the flying monkeys to drive the Wizard out of the West--doesn't somebody want to do something with that? Because I want to see it.
Anyway, this is going far afield from the companion book, which obviously is not some kind of literary analysis. Get it for the pictures.
The Well of Shades begins right where Blade of Fortriu left off; those who haven't read its predecessor should start there. Stylistically, it's much lThe Well of Shades begins right where Blade of Fortriu left off; those who haven't read its predecessor should start there. Stylistically, it's much like Blade of Fortriu, and it's a good, entertaining read. There's a new central character, though: Eile the impoverished, angry teenage mother. I never really warmed up to Eile, which partially explains why I was less than delighted with this book. The first two books in this series followed basically the same people, but here our #1 viewpoint character is a girl we've never heard of, whose #1 priority is her 3-year-old child... whom we've also never heard of. Admirable as her devotion to her daughter is, and interesting as it is to see King Bridei's court through the eyes of an outsider (who... doesn't even speak the language...), I was irritated that the focus on Eile & Saraid was at the expense of characters I already cared about. That said, Eile's character development is extremely well-done; no one can say Marillier is afraid to delve into the psychology of battered women, even when the results aren't pretty.
As for the rest of the book....
What I Liked:
Like Blade of Fortriu, The Well of Shades follows several different characters over their own personal story arcs; it does so well, and Marillier handles difficult points of view (Breda, Brother Suibne) skillfully. There was actually a villainous character with understandable motives... okay, the Widow is hardly the major villain here, but she's a nice break from the random practitioners of mindless cruelty that we see elsewhere. I had some sympathy for her. There are a handful of little, true-to-life moments that just made me smile, like Eile practicing her Gaelic by discussing the weather with the king's bodyguards and her hilarious conversation with Conor when he still thinks Faolan is a bard. And there are some great minor characters. Would have liked to see more of many of them (Ferada, the teenage Bedo and Uric, Conor, Liobhan...).
Anyone who's read the Sevenwaters trilogy knows that Marillier is a genius when it comes to writing about families. You find yourself caring about the main characters' relationships with their parents, siblings, uncles, etc. But bizarrely, aside from main characters' relations with their spouses and/or young children, she seems to be avoiding families here. People's reunions with long-lost relatives happen off-stage and leave much to be desired; even Tuala and Broichan's surprising relationship isn't really dealt with on a practical level. And then there's Faolan's character. Why change what was so good? He was interesting in the first two books, but by the end of this one might as well have changed his name, since he was unrecognizable. It seems like the same end could have been achieved while staying a little more true to character. There's a plot device one writer I admire calls the "Cliff of Justice", where the set intervenes and kills the villain (i.e. he fortuitously falls off a cliff) at the key moment in order to save the hero from moral quandary. It is always a cop-out; this book is no exception.
Of course, if you read #2, you'll probably read this one no matter what anyone says, and don't get me wrong, it's a well-written book. For me, though, it lacked the emotional resonance of some of Marillier's other work, which was disappointing. ...more