In the Bible, the character Dinah appears as a brief detour in the story of her father Jacob and his sons. In The Red Tent, Dinah is the narrator, tel...moreIn the Bible, the character Dinah appears as a brief detour in the story of her father Jacob and his sons. In The Red Tent, Dinah is the narrator, telling the story behind the myth, what actually happened to her mothers and to herself (as imagined by Diamant) both before and after her marriage and the murder of her husband and his family. The novel intends to tell the story of the women in the Bible, but--while Diamant conceives Dinah's story in realistic detail--Dinah has no agency, and the plot stops and starts not with the actions and lives of women, but rather by their husbands, sons, and other male influences. The novel also suffers from unimpressive writing, but it was the male-directed action that disappointed me most and which prevented the novel from fulfilling its intentions. I found this book frustrating and limited, and while it has some potential, I do not recommend it.
The first section of the book ("My Mother's Stories") begins, "Their stories began the day my father appeared" (pg 7). Although not indicative of its entirety, this sentence does set the tone for the rest of the book. The novel intends to be the story of Biblical women, and does delve into women's practices and their time spent in the menstrual hut (the red tent of the title), but the women's characterizations and purpose, the arcs of the plot, and even the female-specific occupations and locations, are all centered around male influence. Jacob's wives are introduced when Jacob appears, and described largely in reference to how they interacted with and appealed to him. Dinah's story begins with her mothers as wives and moves into herself as wife, herself as widow, herself as mother, and then herself as wife and sister (to her brother). In periods where she cannot be categorized by a male relation (for example, after her son goes to school and before she remarries), Dinah does literally nothing, and entire years of inactivity pass in a few paragraphs. Finally, even the female center, the Red Tent (which is forbidden to men, and the home of birth, menstruation, and femininity) focuses energy on being able to produce, conceiving, and producing children by men, in particular male heirs.
To a certain extent, this masculine focus is necessary and unavoidable. The roles of women and men in this era were both structured and limited, and writing a book in which women were social equals to men would be more fallacy than fiction. However, while I expected and accepted differences in gender status and equality, Diamant could have written a book about women within that world--perhaps by decreasing the story's scope, she could have written more about their interpersonal relationships or other struggles and stories that wouldn't latter appear in the Bible. By any number of means, she could have given her characters lives and interests outside of or not strictly defined by masculine influence; she could have given Dinah a sense of agency and self-direction, rather than allowing men, or failing men older women, or failing older women absolutely nothing at all, direct the course of her life. Dinah only does one thing by herself, for herself, with her own power--and when this event occurs, it is so out of place in contrast to the rest of the book that it feels like a different character takes her place00and leaves just as quickly.
Diamant's writing style lacks vivacity and is largely unremarkable; the cast of characters is so numerous that many character descriptions seem no more detailed than the genealogies of the Bible. Conversely, the plot is detailed and differs enough from the Bible myth that it does indeed seem to be the real story behind the story we know. These various strengths and weaknesses effectually annul each other, and my final impression of this book was merely frustration and dissatisfaction: Diamant promised the story of Biblical women, and instead delivered the story of Biblical women as conceived, influenced, and determined by men. While The Red Tent has the potential to be good, it fails to deliver, and instead left me feeling cheated. It would be lovely to see the lives of women, women with personalties, with desires, living under the circumstances and restrictions of their time while still maintaining their own character. That would have been a great book. But this wasn't that book, and the book that this is I don't recommend.(less)
In a land where the Eagle is God and bird omens determine the course of human life, young Aggie Cotter leaves her village for the nearby estate, Murkm...moreIn a land where the Eagle is God and bird omens determine the course of human life, young Aggie Cotter leaves her village for the nearby estate, Murkmere, where she will be companion to Leah, the willful ward of the estate's Master. As she struggles to gain acceptance, Aggie begins to suspect that nothing is what she thought or as it seemed: not Leah, who disregards the superstitions of faith and has an unnatural bond with the mere's swans—nor Aggie's family, or the religion and government that she has always trusted. Murkmere suffers from a number of faults, including poorly constructed characters and an unsatisfying conclusion, yet the book is engrossing and possesses a certain sense of otherworldy magic that keeps the reader constantly curious, always hoping to discover more. Although I have reservations, I recommend the book on the basis of that mystery and magic, and I hope that the sequel delves deeper into that promising aspect.
On the whole, this book is unremarkable. It is peppered by a number of faults: The villains, both large and local, are unoriginal, some following the tired trope of twisting religion for personal gain, some merely evil by nature. The narrator, although the purported protagonist, goes through little character growth and is much less interesting than Leah, who has a more important story to tell. Although the book's climax is satisfying, the ending feels empty—for Aggie, there is no real conclusion; the reader is not privy to the end of Leah's story. Although minor on their own, together these faults combine to take the book down a notch, making it a little too simple to read, a little too shallow in depth.
For all of this, Murkmere has a certain charm. By and large the writing style is nothing special, but skillful pacing builds a sense of foreboding, inserts action to hold reader interest, and leads to a satisfying climax that fulfills the sense and scope of the book. More than all of this, there is also a strange, unearthly beauty to the story: in the obsession with birds, in the Leah's still-secretive nature, in the secrets also of Murkmere itself, the book seems to offer a magical world that is not yet explored. I wish that the book did delve more into this world, indulge in the fantastical aspects, show us more of Leah's story and her character—yet even if I wish for more, what is present is atmospheric and interesting, pulling the reader deep into the book (which is quite hard to put down) and keeping him ever curious for more information, for one more glimpse of magic.
It was the mysterious fantastical aspects that kept me avidly interested in Murkmere and it is on that basis that I recommend the book. While far from the best I've ever read, I found myself constantly intrigued. I hope that the sequel better embraces this aspect—the faith without close-binding rules, the magic without fear or superstition—and, even better, that they adopt Leah as the narrator or at least the primary character. However, even in the sequel disappoints, I do recommend this book. It has many faults, but it also has a sense of beauty, mystery, and wonder that I wish I saw in more books and greatly enjoyed the the tantalizing, limited glimpses in which it is presented here.(less)
In a distant garden, a young girl with black-ringed eyes runs wild, the palace demon, sleeping under the cold sky. When a young prince is the first on...moreIn a distant garden, a young girl with black-ringed eyes runs wild, the palace demon, sleeping under the cold sky. When a young prince is the first one brave enough to talk to her, she weaves for him a tale, read from the densely tattooed words that make up the bizarre marking around her eyes. Her tales are stories within stories that range from Princes and Quests to the light-filled Stars which walk the earth, from a sacred city filled with the Towers of arcane faiths to the last of the gold-hording Griffins. In these tales, everyoneno matter how evilhas a story, and nothingno matter how goodis as simple as it first appears. Although the constant interruption of new stories can be frustrating, and Valente's prose can be over-heavy with similes, these are quibbling faults: In the Night Garden is lush and decadent, a peon to the art of storytelling. The stories are imaginative, the narrative voice is artful, the descriptions vivid and colorful in a way I've rarely seen. While I wish this first book (of two in the series) dealt more with the storyteller herself and had a more conclusive ending, the novel is a treasure and a joy to read. I very highly recommend it, and I look forward to reading the sequel.
The joy of In the Night Garden is Valente's storytelling. The author's voice is luxurious and rich with well-chosen words, a wide vocabulary, and a glut of similes. At times the language is too rich, and the style begins to feel repetitive, the appearance of similes predictable. On the whole, however, the language makes this a book to savor, deeply indulging in the short chapters as one would indulge in bites of a rich food. The book's plot is arranged in a series of stories within stories: the tattooed storyteller begins with one story, her protagonists meet people that tell storiesthe folds become so elaborate that there are often four stories being told at once, each wrapped within the next. In order to keep this arrangement manageable, the chapters are short and the narrators often come back to their own stories, grounding the narrative and helping the reader keep track of where he is. The unfortunate side effects of this arrangement are the constant stops and stars and the fact that the tattooed girl's story is left largely unaddressed. The Prince, the reader's representative in the book, calls the narrator on her halting stories and her constant stream of new beginnings, and the style can indeed be frustrating: as soon as the reader becomes interested in one story, the narration sweeps into another. Furthermore, though the tattooed girl's story begins and frames the narrative (and so feels like the most important of the enfolded tales), it undergoes little change and no conclusion, making the end of the book feel abrupt and leaving the reader unfulfilled.
However, the arrangement of stories within stories introduces a level of brilliant complexity and interconnectedness that makes the book satisfying, despite the too-brief glimpses into the framing narration. The numerous tales introduce dozens of vibrant characters and magical locales, follows decisions and Quests, transformations and growths. Everyone, Valente insists, has a storyeven the blood-shorn Beast, even the Witch's goose, regardless of whether or not he is good or evil. In fact, good and evil almost always have stories to tellno matter how clear something seems at first, there are stories, there are complicating factors, things are never as simple as they appear. Finally, these stories are not independent of each other: they impact both storyteller and listener, and as the book unfolds many of the final story arcs are connected to stories from the very start of the book.
The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden features language as rich as chocolate and stories within stories that are as organic and as complex as life itself, always with a sense of meaning and magic. From the first page I was swept away by this book, and while it has its faults, and while I sincerely hope that the Orphan's story is better explored in the book's sequel, I hugely enjoyed this novel and I highly recommend it to all readers. It is superb, readable and always enjoyable, a true delight, and has satisfying depth. If this book is at all appealing, I recommend you pick it up. This is a novel I'm glad to own and expect to reread, and other readers will not be disappointed.(less)
Thomas Sutpen is a man with one single, unfailing goal: to forge a dynasty in 1830s Jefferson, Mississippi. A century later, young Quentin Compson, ob...moreThomas Sutpen is a man with one single, unfailing goal: to forge a dynasty in 1830s Jefferson, Mississippi. A century later, young Quentin Compson, obsessed with Sutpen, slowly uncovers the interweaving, ever-expanding story of Sutpen's ruthless ambition, the intervention of the Civil War, and his ultimate failure and destruction through his children. A gothic novel of the highest degree, this book is rich with complicated family histories, race issues, and above all complex character motivations that create a slowly evolving story of increasing depth and darkness. The writing style is lengthy and dense, becoming at times frustratingly difficult, but in the end the pieces of the story unify into a whole truth: a vivid analysis not only of one man's life, but of the lives of those he touched and of Southern identity itself.
The major fault of this novel is the lengthy, wordy, sometimes difficult writing style; the major strength is the complex layers of plot which confuse, reveal, confuse again, and reveal more, building an ever more complex and meaningful complete story. In many ways, this weakness and strength feed in to each other: it would not be the same book if it were written any other way, but the novel may be difficult or off-putting to some readers as a result. Faulkner's writing style is often dense and presented as a stream of consciousness, where topics shift, articles go unspecified, and phrases or words are repeated for emphasis. In Absalom, Absalom! the style is even more exaggerated, with incredibly long sentences and paragraphs. Worse, despite the fact that the narrator changes a number of times through the book, the narrative voice is almost always identical, making it difficult to separate speakers and determine character relations. The difficult, dense narrative may make it hard for the reader to begin this bookit takes a few chapters to get into the rhythm of the writing, and the reader has to accept a certain degree of confusion and trust that the story will explain itself in time.
However, granted some hard work and some faith in Faulkner's storytelling, the novel expands into a story of increasing complexity and great depth. Like the writing style, which often begins with confusing references and repetition before resolving into comprehensible storytelling, the plot is alternately confusing and revealing. Once one relation, motivation, or event is revealed, it again becomes confusing, and then again reveals new informationinformation which often revises previous events or complicates an earlier character. As such, the story may come back to the same event three times, but each time exposes more about the event, the people involved, and their motivations, creating an ever more meaningful story as the truth is revealed. Such complexity would be impossible without the dense writing style, and both style and story aid the other into new settings, rich language, new events, greater motivation.
As the book comes to its conclusions and the final revelations unfold, there is a classically tragic sense to Sutpen's story: stuck between the reality and the appearance of his own success, he watches and enacts the repeated downfall of his personal dynasty and finally himself, all by way of his offspring. Quentin, the reader's companion as he researches and knits together Sutpen's story, must interpret this underlying failure, the crisis of Southern identity: what it means to be a part of, what it means to be great in, the Southand ultimately, of course, this is an identity crisis that reaches from the South to all humanity. The end of the book is heavy with motivation and character, and ultimately fulfilling, even as it raises doubt and a sense of personal dis-ease. So while the writing style can be difficult at times, while the constant confusion and re-confusion of the plot may become frustrating, this is ultimately a satisfying read: satisfying to the very heart of the reader, a brilliant piece of storytelling and a wonderful analysis of humankind. I greatly enjoyed it and very highly recommend itto all readers, even those that have to force themselves through the first few chapters.(less)
In the land of Ingary, where magic can and often does happen, Sophie is a young woman, the unlucky eldest of three. She works at the family hat shop w...moreIn the land of Ingary, where magic can and often does happen, Sophie is a young woman, the unlucky eldest of three. She works at the family hat shop while her sisters go off to seek their fortunes in apprenticeshipsuntil one day, when the Witch of the Waste comes to the hat shop and curses Sophie, turning her into an old lady. Sophie leaves the hat shop and her home town, searching for the cure to her curse and for her own fortune. Her journey takes her to the moving castle of the a fire demon, an apprentice wizard, and the Wizard Howl, who steals girls's hearts. A playful, fantastic, personal book, Howl's Moving Castle is a magical adventure story about very human journeys of coming of age, discovery of identity, and love. However, as the book progresses the plot becomes increasingly complex and muddled, detracting from the book's clarity in plot and meaning; the ending is abrupt and somewhat anticlimactic. Nonetheless, the book remains a fun, swift, and meaningful read, and I do recommend it.
This book is of course the inspiration for Miyazaki's anime film of the same name. While the two have the same concept and many similar aspects, they differ as the plot progresses, and for once the film is actually better than the book: in the book, plot lines, character inclusion, and character growth are often too complex, confusing the story and approaching major themes, characters, and interactions in insufficient depth. In other words: the book lacks the broad narrative sweeps, limited cast, and tight plot of the film, and it suffers for it. This is perhaps most obvious in Howl's character and in the relationship between Sophie and Howl. As the book's protagonist, Sophie's character growth is subtle and well-developed, evolving throughout the book through slow and natural revelation. Unfortunately, the same natural, eventual growth does not exist elsewhere. Howl remains his vain, selfish, shallow self until the book's conclusion; the relationship between Sophie and Howl also remains argumentative and strained until the conclusion. There, in the length of a single chapter, Howl matures and they both realize their true feelings and begin their romantic relationship. Another downfall is the extensive cast. Many of the characters appear only briefly or very late, and become lost in a mess of names and short scenes. Do not mistake: the book is still easily readable, and the plot makes sense and resolves to a logical conclusion. But the plot and the character identities and developments are not as clear as they could be, and the book suffers for it: the story becomes muddled, and so the themes become muddled.
Despite the muddled plot, many other aspects of the book shine like diamonds. From the premise, to the characters (at least the better developed ones), to the lively sense of humor, to the land and magic of Ingary, Jones creates a colorful, vivid, truly human story. There is a certain amount of playful irreverence to every aspect of the book: Howl is a beautiful man who seduces beautiful womenand spends two hours in the bathroom every day. Sophie turns from a dull young woman into a batty old lady, taking out her frustrations by vicious house cleaning and calling even Calcifer the fire demon "young." The book's setting is similarly off kilter and playful: Howl's moving castle, which frightens Sophie's city, is the same castle that Howl uses to run away from girls, identities, and obligations; in the land of Ingary, magic is at once part of life (so Sophie is entirely unsurprised by her curse) and complete unexpected (so she is frightened of the cursed the scarecrow that chases the castle). Jones exhibits a rare sense of humor. Nothingnot suffering, not journeys, not loveis taken too seriously, and so her book is continually amusing, but at the same time, everything is meaningfulbrief plot points come back at the end of the story, and the humorous, faulted characters do go on to immense personal growth. This unusual and delicate combination makes for a book that is funny, colorful, and always a joy to read, but is at the same time intensely authentic, human, and meaningful.
I hugely adore the Miyazaki film based on this book, so I will admit that I was disappointed to see how different the film and book are, and even more disappointed that (as very rarely happens) the film is in this case a better story. Nonetheless, I was delighted by Howl's Moving Castle, and I do recommend it. There are some definite faults, and the book is ultimately too complex, muddled, and abrupt, but it remains a delightful read. Jones's style is a pleasure, her characters are faulted, funny, and ultimately realistic, and Sophie's journeythrough places, meeting people, and finally discovering herselfmakes for a truly wonderful story. This book was not everything I hoped it would be, but I'm still glad I had a chance to read it. It is a young adult title, but I recommend it to all readers. Any age group can and will appreciate the humanity and humor of this text.(less)
Helen is a ghost: for the last 130 years, she has haunted a series of hosts, following their lives until death, seeing everything without ever being s...moreHelen is a ghost: for the last 130 years, she has haunted a series of hosts, following their lives until death, seeing everything without ever being seen. But one day, in the class room of her current host, a high school English teacher, someonea young mansees Helen for the first time. Although scared, Helen is also intrigued, and the two become friends, starting them on an unusual journey as they struggle to find a way to be together and to come to terms with their pasts and the lives of the young people that they come to possess. A Certain Slant of Light is a well-conceived take of life after death, an honest and often harsh assessment of human life and relationships, and a very strange take on the usual coming of age story. The book's originality is its chief strength, as neither the writing nor the characters and character growth are exceptional. An unique, readable, but ultimately forgettable text that does not seem to be geared towards young adults.
Despite the apparently innocuous setting and many of the charactersa modern American high school, peopled by the usual disparate selection of students and middle-aged teachersthis is a far cry from your average young adult novel. The protagonist is a long-dead ghost, and the couple that makes up the primary storyline is a pair of adult ghosts occupying the bodies of teenagers. This originality and break from convention is the book's greatest strength. Whitcomb's conception of this version of life after death is detailed and delicate, granted an ethereal aspect by the writing style. As a result, the otherwise unexciting stories of self-discovery and star-crossed love become unusual and all the more interesting, with a great part of that interest invested in discovering why the ghosts exist and what abilities and influence they have. The ghosts also bring to life the only YA-related portion of the book: the troubled and repressed lives of the young adults whose bodies they possess. Their mature and removed insight makes these stories poignant and points out how things go wrongand how no one intends for them to do so. For all of these reasons and more, the ghosts are the highlight of the novel, defining plot and style and proving to be the most important and meaningful aspect.
Unfortunately, in all other respects this book is not exceptional, meaningful, or particularly interesting. Both the romance and the coming of age stories that fill the pages of the book are, in all ways excluding the ghost aspect, nothing new. The lovers have to fight through social conventions and their personal histories in order to feed their passionate new love; the characters must come to terms with what they have done, putting aside their long-held shame and fears to reevaluate their lives and learn to forgive themselves. Even the YA-aspect is nothing new: the children must stand up to the status quo of trouble and repression in order to resolve personal and family issues and reclaim their own lives. The conclusions to all of these threads are predictable, and the last chapter of the book is a simplistic, perfect ending. The writing style, again excluding the ghosts (upon which Whitcomb writes with delicate grace) is similarly unimpressive: well-structured, but alternately dry and maudlin, and without a distinctive style. A Certain Slant of Light is by no means a bad bookthe characters are realistically conceived, the narrative voice approachable, the plot and writing both swiftly readablebut it is not astounding, distinct, or in any way remarkable.
I admire this book for Whitcomb's ghoststheir conception, and the style in which she writes about their lives from their point of view. It is a promising concept, entirely unique with a distinctive ethereal air that makes many moments in the text delicate and poignant. On the whole, however, I found this novel to be something of a disappointment. None of the plotlines live up to the potential of the ghosts themselves, and the conclusions are trite and so simple that they undercut the complexity of the story and interpersonal relationships within it. I also want to note that I don't consider this book to be a YA novel, and I don't recommend it to YA readers. The bodies that the ghosts possess are young adults, and the plot lines that revolve around those assumed identities are applicable to young adults, but on the whole this is an adult novel that incidentally includes some teenagersas evidenced by the mature relationship between the lovers, by the sex scenes, by the age of the ghosts before their death, and by the "coming of age" which is more of a discovery of identity than a creation of identity. I recommend A Certain Slant of Light to readers who are interested in a detailed conception of ghosts as characters and are interested in an alternative take on many standard storytelling cliches, and the book is swiftly, sometimes compulsively readable. However, I do not strongly recommend it, I do not recommend it specifically to a YA audience (although, even with the sex scenes, it is appropriate for YA readers), and I don't recommend purchasing it. This is a fast, innovative, but ultimately disappointing book, and probably it will not hold up well to rereads.(less)
(A book I've read too many times and which is too precious to me for me to review; every review I try to write comes out wrong. On the day of Bradbury...more(A book I've read too many times and which is too precious to me for me to review; every review I try to write comes out wrong. On the day of Bradbury's death I wrote,
"Bradbury wrote as someone who loved books, who saw them as magical and valuable and defining, who fought to save them from every fire, who could cast a man in the shape of a book and book in the skin of a man, and I had never encountered that before. [...]
"Bradbury taught me to consume pages like fire, and he told me I was not the only one who thought doing so was important, essential, a vital part of society and self. Indeed, he told me, it is one of the most important things anyone can do.
"And to do so is beautiful.
"Against that, every specific is irrelevant."
And that's the best I can hope to say for now.)(less)
In England, 1643, a young girl named Coriander lives happily with her father, a successful tradesman, and her mother, who makes medicines from plants....moreIn England, 1643, a young girl named Coriander lives happily with her father, a successful tradesman, and her mother, who makes medicines from plants. Many years later, as a young adult, Coriander sits down to write her life's storyboth in our world, where tragedy befalls her family and Puritanism takes over England, and in a fairy world, where she fights to restore a young prince to freedom. In both stories, Coriander both discovers and creates her true identity. Part fairy tale, part historical novel, and part coming of age story, I, Coriander is written in an accessible first-person narrative and delightfully combines the real and the fantastic, but on the whole is an unremarkable book. Only moderately recommended.
The first person narration, Coriander's character, and the coming of age story that runs throughout the text makes this an accessible story that should appeal to young adult readers. Coriander tells the story in her own voice (but not, thankfully, in a diary, so the style is not artificial, and the story is told skillfully), and she is a forthright, vivacious, modern young woman despite living in the 1600s. Her voice is approachable, making her a sympathetic character. Her liveliness will appeal to modern readers, and provides a welcome lesson about discovering and being true to oneself, even in the face of oppressionfrom individuals, or from society itself. Apart from the narrator, the novel's strength lies in the its thoughtful combination of magic and reality. Each takes place in a different world, but these two worlds are united in Coriander, and both are essential to the discovery and creation of her character. The magic is often delightful, sometimes scary, and always fantastic, adding an unusual edge that breaks the novel out of the mold of historical fiction and makes Coriander's journey all the greater and more important. On the whole, the narrator, narrative, and double settings combine to make this an approachable, swiftly readable text that is meaningful, fun, and relevant.
For all of these positive qualities, however, I, Coriander is not a remarkable or particularly memorable text. There is no single cause for this deficiency. In part, the magical world that Coriander enters is not conceived in much detail or very well explained, sodespite the fact that she sets out to rescue a princeher journey there has only a limited importance to and impact on the reader. Many of the book's antagonists are simple, exaggerated, half-comical brands of evil, so while what they do is frustrating or scary, they are not complete, realistic, or truly frightening characters. The book's conclusion is at once too short and too simple, wrapping up very quickly but never truly identifying how Coriander's journey has changed her, or what personal rewards there are for her growth. For these reasons, and for a few others, the book, although certainly not bad, is ultimately unremarkable.
I found I, Corainader to a swift read, with an entertaining and identifiable protagonist, a tidy plot with delightful magic, and somewhat overdrawn conflicts and villains. I do recommend this book to those that stumble upon it, but I only recommend it moderately. This isn't a book worth seeking out and probably not worth purchasinginstead, I would recommend borrowing it, because I doubt it holds much reread potential. It is appropriate for and will probably be enjoyable to young adult readers, probably in a lower age bracket (10-14 years).(less)
In the Relics, the slums of the courtly city Antyre, a young boy is kidnapped and a young girl is left beaten and alone. Four years later, a new noble...moreIn the Relics, the slums of the courtly city Antyre, a young boy is kidnapped and a young girl is left beaten and alone. Four years later, a new nobleman enters the court: Maledicte, a beautiful, sharp-tongued, and dangerous youth with a mysterious background. He attracts the attention of the court, but Maledicte has intentions of his own--beneath his coats and padded corsets, he is really Miranda, a Relics streetrat, who has come to reclaim Janus and to revenge those that kidnapped him years ago. But Maledicte has made a dangerous pact with Black-Winged Ani, goddess of love and revenge, and must deal with the machinations of the court, Ani's growing power, and Janus's own ambitions. Mixing aspects and styles that have appeared in other books--magic, political intrigue, gender issues, decadence, decay--more skillfully than any other in the genre, Maledicte is a delicately plotted book peopled with realistically faulted characters, and it is an exceptionally decadent read. I greatly enjoyed it, highly recommend it, and plan to purchase it and read it again.
Maledicte is in the line of other fantasy novels that combined political intrigue, gender/sexuality, and magic--such as Bishop's The Black Jewels Trilogy or Cary's Kushiel's books, for example. However, Maledicte excels where these other attempts falter, using these elements to serve the story, rather than allowing them to run rampant over it, and combining them with strong storytelling, plot, and characters. The world of the book is completely of the author's creation, but convoluted politics and exposition do not overwhelm the text. Instead, Robins constrains both politics and worldbuilding to roles that precisely suit the story: they create plot and setting, but overwhelm neither. Miranda-cum-Madelicte's gender and sexuality is handled with skill and great respect: gender defines Maledicte's identity, and it complicates his various relationships, but Robins treats it with matter-of-fact respect and distance. As she does with other aspects, Robins constrains the issue of gender to its purpose as a character builder, and leaves the rest of the theorizing and contemplating to the reader. Finally, the book's magical elements manage to be both realistically grounded and truly fantastical without digressing into magical rule-making--or worse, faulty magical rule-making. From the delicate art of poison to Ani's ability to possess or heal her followers, magic sets the book in a world entirely unlike our own, but one with sensical structure and consequences. As Ani gains power, her threat is immediate and great, but without exaggeration or plot holes. In other, fewer words: Maledicte combines promising and successful concepts that appear in other dark fantasy books, and does so in a way that succeeds brilliantly where these other books fail.
Running alongside these promising and brilliantly-handled aspects is a delicate plot and a cast of realistic characters that make Maledicte a true, decadent delight of a book. As expected in a book of political intrigue, there are any number of plot twists and unexpected revelations, but Robins measures and times them well. Without cheap cliffhangers, and with few predictable twists, the book is still many-layered and slowly revealed, creating a plot that is compulsively readable without being overdrawn. The climax is satisfying, both in action and in revelation, and the ending is bittersweet, complete (but not simple) and entirely realistic. Throughout the book, all of the characters are faulted but few of them are unlikable. Some are hasty, some are conniving, some are lusty, and all of them have a flexible moral sense; they clash, love, argue, and kill each other, and they are all realistic and almost all of them are sympathetic, despite and even in the midst of their faults and their sins. While not a simple or a happy book, the combination of detailed plot and realistic characters make it a dark text that is violent, politically and personally, and truly engrossing to read.
My (probably singular) complaint about this book is the rapid changes in point of view. Although the narrative remains a limited third person and more-or-less consistently follows Maledicte's storyline, the narrative focus changes between the various figures that Maledicte interacts with, from his servant to the King and sometimes (but rarely) Maledicte himself. The result is a slightly distanced narration (simplifying gender issues) that still constrains its interest to Maledicte's story, making him a realistic and sympathetic character. However, the constantly shifting narration can be a bit unsettling and sometimes hastens the pace of the story. On the whole, however, I found this an entirely enjoyable book with remarkably few faults. It contained many promising plot elements, done with more skill and greater success than I have seen in any other book, and both the plot and characters were dark, realistic, sympathetic, and a pure joy to read. For me, reading Maledicte was like eating dark chocolate--every piece was decadent, worth consuming slowly and savoring in detail. This book far exceeded my expectations and I very highly recommend it to all readers, particularly to fans of dark fantasy. You will not be disappointed.(less)
When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to arrange for an English home purchase for Count Dracula, he becomes a prisoner in Dracula's castle and disc...moreWhen Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to arrange for an English home purchase for Count Dracula, he becomes a prisoner in Dracula's castle and discovers horrific and unnatural facts about Dracula himself. Not long after, strange events occur in Englanda unmanned ship beaches on shore, a madman awaits his master, and a young woman with unexplained puncture wounds on her neck becomes pale and ill. These events bring together a diverse cast of characters who tell the story through their diaries and letters and work to understand and to defeat Dracula. The diary-style narrative, although contrived and somewhat frustrating, makes the book accessible and swift flowing, and the book is of course a rich, classic horror text and a foundational vampire novel. Recommended to all readers, including those that don't generally read classics.
A horror classic, Dracula is both an atmospheric, foundational vampire novel and an accessible, swiftly flowing text. The narrative is composed of a number of chronologically arranged diary entries and sundry letters and clippings that follows a cast of approximately seven characters through one united plot. The diary-style narrative means that the book is composed largely of many short entires within average-length chapters, and these short entries make the book accessible to all readers and make it flow swiftly. As such, this is a good book for readers that don't often read classics (and the footnotes answer any question in period locations and phrases). The letters and diary entires are also personal, honest, and detailed, building realistic characters and meaningful emotions. However, the narrative style has two weaknesses: it's contrived, although there are sections that describe how and why the entires were chronologically arranged, and more importantly it puts the reader in the position of knowing much more than the characters, especially in the first half of the book. This dramatic irony becomes quite exaggerated as the reader, overlooking the entire story, can clearly see the danger, while the characters still bumble about in the dark, constricted to their own points of viewand the more exaggerated the dramatic irony, the more obvious and more frustrating it becomes. On the whole, however, the diary narrative is an effective storytelling style.
And the story itself is exceptional. Stoker intertwines the horror of the unholy undead with the draw of power, sensuality, and beautiful young women. He engages both in equal measure: his vampires are at once grotesque and amazing, from Dracula's pale face, garish red lips, and inhuman animalistic tendencies to the seductive and rawly sexuality beauty of his brides and the growing sensuality of the human women that he seduces and transforms. (Furthermore, the mythology that surrounds the vampires, from garlic to daylight, will be immediately recognizable to modern readers.) Alongside these inhuman forces is a cast of realistically conceived and motivated humans, originally brought together through love and friendship, ultimately united due to Dracula and in order to destroy him. Through the diary entires, the story moves at an equal pace through emotions and plot, the Victorian descriptions are rich and detailed, the horror elements are atmospheric and intense. This is truly a fundamental vampire novel.
I'm glad that I finally got around to reading Dracula, and I was very pleased with the text. It is lengthy, sometimes predictable, sometimes (although primarily because of the narration) frustrating, but on the whole it is also a compulsively readable, detailed, atmospheric, and core horror text. I recommend it to a diverse audience: horror/fantasy/vampire fans, classics fans, and also readers that don't often read classics, who I believe will find the writing style approachable and easy to understand. The Penguin Classics edition includes supplementary material, including footnotes that help clear up confusion, and an introduction and appendixes that provide more information for the curious reader. Very high recommended.(less)
Gabriel is a hacker and a remote viewer, and he loves the thrill of digging up information, of reading the thoughts of others, of discovering secrets....moreGabriel is a hacker and a remote viewer, and he loves the thrill of digging up information, of reading the thoughts of others, of discovering secrets. When a former lover comes to him for help, he puts both of his skills to use to track down a missing son who he believes is dead. But when the trail leads him to Morrighan and Minnaloushe Monk, two captivating women, one sensual, one powerful, both with an intense interest in magic, alchemy, and memory, he becomes entranced by the sisters and begins to forget the reason he is there. Season of the Witch begins slowly, and the narrative voice remains vaguely irritating throughout, but the characters are vibrant and the plot eventually resolves into an intelligent, multilayered mystery that embraces sensuality and vivacity, mysticism and alchemy. Despite its faults, including a slow beginning and a too-simple, too-quick resolution, this is a readable and inventive book. Not outstanding, but still enjoyable, and recommended.
The first and most prevalent weakness in Season of the Witch is the narrative. The protagonist is a hacker, and the setting is modern, and so the narrative voice, despite being a bland third person past tense, is also tech-inclined and modern. "Slamming the ride" describes remote viewing episodes, swearing and idioms pop up constantly, and there are descriptions of trendy penthouses and pizza box-filled hacker's dens; meanwhile, diary entries, quotes, and summary and present-tense passages break up the solid narrative. The narrative style is difficult to adapt to, making the beginning of the book slow and unappealing, and never becomes truly enjoyable. Some descriptions and characterizations, particularly of the Monk sisters and the Monk house, are delicate, intentional, and delightful, but they are the exception rather than the rule. On the whole the narrative is the book's weakness, and it makes for a poor start.
Although the narrative never becomes enjoyable, it does quickly become acceptable as the characters of Morrighan and Minnaloushe come to life and the plot begins to unfold. Soon, the book is readable, a mystery rich with mysticism that appeals to both the curious and the intelligent reader. As mentioned, the sections describing the sisters are the highlight of the book: the descriptions themselves shine with rich language and visuals, and the sister are vibrant characters, independent of one another, each with her own appeal, and conceived in wonderful detail. The plot exhibits similar vibrancy and careful planning, although it has such high hopesalchemy, magic, epiphaniesthat it is doomed to fall short of its goals. That is to say: the idea makes for a brilliant plot, thoughtful, many-layered, and with well-timed revelations, but it does not transform the reader or stay with him long after reading the book. On the whole, the plot is clever and intelligent, and so despite faults in the writing, this book is an entertaining, swift read that manages to keep the reader actively involved in both the plot and the ideas without cheap cliff-hangers or too-complex theorizing.
I cannot imagine rereading this book (there are simply too many others worth reading!), but I am still glad that I read it. Due to the narrative voice, I nearly stopped reading, but after the first fifty pages, I was sufficiently interested in the sisters and in the plot to continue reading. From then on, the book went swiftly, well-paced and multilayered. There are some too-abrupt turns, and the ending wraps up very quickly, but on the whole this is a good booknot exceptional, not particularly memorable, but intelligent, well-intentioned, and readable. If you're interested, pick it up, although I would suggest you borrow rather than buy. I do recommend it.(less)
A direct sequel to Tithe, Ironside picks up two months after Tithe left off. At Roiben's coronation as King of the Unseelie Court, Kaye, drunk on faer...moreA direct sequel to Tithe, Ironside picks up two months after Tithe left off. At Roiben's coronation as King of the Unseelie Court, Kaye, drunk on faerie wine, declares herself to Roiben, who in turn sends her on an impossible quest to prove her love to him. Meanwhile, Kaye decides to tell her mother that she is a changeling, and the Queen of the Seelie Court attacks Roiben, leading to a series of quests wherein Kaye must find her human double, find a way to save Roiben, and bring Roiben a faery that can lie before she can see or speak to him again. Continuing with the vibrant magical atmosphere and faery world of Tithe, Ironside is the work of a much more mature and accomplished author: the characters are more realistically flawed while still being sympathetic, and the writing style is skillful and polished. Meanwhile, the story is still otherworldy, emotional, and honestly confronts difficult subjects. This book is not perfect, but it is a magical and enjoyable read, and I do recommend it.
I should note here that I have not read Valiant, which falls between Tithe and Ironside in the series. However, these two books do make sense without Valiant.
After reading Tithe, I had high hopes for Ironside. I hoped that it would have the same intense and well-conceived since of magic, but that it would exhibit Black's increased experience as a writer, and have better characters and a more polished style. I'm glad to say that my hopes were fulfilled on all accounts: Ironside contains all of the good qualities from Tithe and avoids many of the pitfalls of that first novel. The characters return, and continue with many of respective flaws: they drink and shoplift, they have deadbeat parents, they are immature and over-emotional. Yet these flaws are more realistic and the characters have gained good qualities. They have GEDs, they have real problems behind their emotional complaints, and they have become affectionate and sometimes even thoughtful. These are now characters that, however unusual or even non-human they may be, the reader can identify with, and the text benefits for it. The text also benefits from an experienced and matured writing style: the plot flows at a smoother pace and the climax and conclusion are better crafted and more complete, the repetition of phrases and actions is largely absent, and the overall text reads smoother and exhibits better editing. This book is written by an experienced author, and it is a sympathetic, well-paced, skillful piece of work.
Alongside these clear improvements, the magical and human aspects of Tithe remain in all of their glory. Black's faeries are vividly conceived and described, from the grotesque and violent Unseelie Court to the apple blossom-strewn Seelie Court. Even better: The Unseelie Court now has a sympathetic ruler, and the Seelie Queen is a villain, adding realistic complication and interest to the darks and lights of faery politics. Kaye's search for her human double explores new aspects of Black's faery life and culture, as does the journeys of the two human characters, one of which desires to be more than human, the other of which hates faeries. The multiple quests of the plot are a classic storytelling structure, and they create subtle but important character growth in all of the main characters. Black does not try to avoid mature subjects, but rather explores everything from homosexuality to love to death in a way that is respectful, honest, and still appropriate to a young adult audience (that is, there are no explicit sex scenes or exceptional gruesome deaths). Both magical and distinctly human, Ironside is at once enjoyable and avidly readable as well as meaningful and personally relevant.
While Ironside is by no means a perfect book (the characters and plot points are cliche, the dark court remains pointlessly dark, and Kaye and her friends in their personalities and experiences are not entirely realistic or deeply explored; all in all, it is not the most skillful or most memorable text), it is a great improvement and an enjoyable read. I believe that it makes more sense and is more enjoyable if the reader has already read at least Tithe, so pick up that book first. But Ironside shows a true step forward in Black's work as an author as well as being magical, meaningful, honest, edgy, and an approachable and swift read. I was happy that I picked up this book, and I do recommend it.(less)