I'm pretty sure I would happily read another trilogy with these characters. Oh, or, like a lengthy mystery series! Or In Treatment: Crypto-Dragons Edi...moreI'm pretty sure I would happily read another trilogy with these characters. Oh, or, like a lengthy mystery series! Or In Treatment: Crypto-Dragons Edition. (less)
This volume seems primarily like a missed opportunity. There's a nice diversity of heroines (ethnic diversity, if not much evidence of bodily diversit...moreThis volume seems primarily like a missed opportunity. There's a nice diversity of heroines (ethnic diversity, if not much evidence of bodily diversity) and there's actually only one werewolf story. But these really are pretty slight - and also, especially for a volume themed in this way, pretty vanilla. (less)
Seraphina is a great book, YA with the emphasis on the A.
I hope that's intelligible, because I'm not really sure I can explain it. Certainly, "adult t...moreSeraphina is a great book, YA with the emphasis on the A.
I hope that's intelligible, because I'm not really sure I can explain it. Certainly, "adult themes" are present in this book, but they're present in, i.e. The Hunger Games and that's a book for a less ambiguous audience. Rather, there's something nicely messy about Seraphina, and it's not so streamlined as some YA lit can be. (This is a descriptive, not normative, account I'm offering!) (I mean, YA is often demonstratively/didactically messy - "here is what it's like to grow up it's awwwwful so many feelings and hormonnnnes children.") Actually, Seraphina reminds me a bit of The Miseducation of Cameron Post but, you know . . . with dragons . . .
The more striking resemblance, though, is with my favorite Patricia McKillip novel, Song for the Basilisk. And there's a similar understated funniness - both Hartman and McKillip have a way of putting colorful people on the sidelines of their stories, or of treating them gently but with open eyes.
And, by the way, Ellen Kushner didn't blurb this for nothing.
I'm having a hard time pinning down the other things I liked about Seraphina. That was part of the reason I held off so long on writing down my thoughts - I hoped something would swim up to me and I'd go "AHAH! Exactly that." But that didn't happen. I just want the next book already.(less)
There is a little too much plot in this one, but I really enjoy the characterization and it does a number of unexpected things. I like that Wells can...moreThere is a little too much plot in this one, but I really enjoy the characterization and it does a number of unexpected things. I like that Wells can translate her fantasy of manners skills to a series of books about, basically, dragons. This is a nice continuation of the stuff that made The Cloud Roads work, plus some character development! (less)
I'm a big fan of Martha Wells' other books, which are sort of genre-mixings, especially The Death of the Necromancer, which I think is a really wonder...moreI'm a big fan of Martha Wells' other books, which are sort of genre-mixings, especially The Death of the Necromancer, which I think is a really wonderful fantasy of manners action adventure sort of thing. The Cloud Roads is high fantasy, but successful books are about relationships anyway - it doesn't matter if the characters have wings or not (I guess it matters, but . . . you know). More specifically, there's a self-awareness (but definitely self-awareness, not cynicism) common to Wells' books that I also really appreciate. Moon, the protagonist of The Cloud Roads, is so inward-focused that it's turned him kind of dim sometimes - just because he's not used to thinking outside himself, or to creating actual relationships. This quality of self-awareness in the writing is also present in the characters, so you feel they have inner lives, that they actually think about the things that happen to them, rather than just . . . emoting for the sake of plot or effect (which can happen in the best books, and isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, but it's nice to have both).
Anyway, despite a fairly large serving of existential and romantic angst (because, I think, these things are handled quite matter-of-factly and not sensationalized), The Cloud Roads quite delightful and the world-building is interesting. Although it's not, whatever, "life-changing," it's thoroughly enjoyable and accomplishes what it sets out to do. Ideal for summertime.(less)
Cranky dragons are legit my favorite thing about these books. The higher the ratio of cranky dragons, the happier I am. And Cast in Ruin was a particu...moreCranky dragons are legit my favorite thing about these books. The higher the ratio of cranky dragons, the happier I am. And Cast in Ruin was a particularly plot-driven, dragon-heavy installment in this series.(less)
I mostly find these books diverting, and I usually forget exactly what happens in them pretty soon after I finish each of them. This is kind of inconv...moreI mostly find these books diverting, and I usually forget exactly what happens in them pretty soon after I finish each of them. This is kind of inconvenient, since although the books are largely self-contained there are some callbacks to others in the series, and I've forgotten some of the characters. (Also, I seem to have skipped an important book for Tiamaris, my favorite secondary character. Which is just SOP when reading Sagara West books, frankly.) However, I do admire how thematically tight they are, and I always enjoy them. The main character is the kind of grumpy, underslept, overworked, frazzled public servant I often enjoy spending time with (Discworld/The West Wing/Southland/Veep), thrust in over her head despite her best efforts to stay under the radar. They read a bit like a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and one of Pratchett's Watch books: they solve crime and save the world! I hope some day we'll get something a bit more . . . domestic, and less apocalyptic, because I think the characters can stand it.
"When all of this is over - if we're still alive - I want a vacation." He smiled. "If you consider lessons with members of the Imperial Court a vacation, I'm sure Marcus will be happy to sign off on it." "I could probably get around Sannabalis." "True." It wasn't Sanabalis he was thinking about. "I don't suppose a mouse could get around Diarmat." "Lord Diarmat, and no, not if his reputation is anything to go by. Are you ready?" "No, I never am. I just make do."
I don't really care about the love triangle because . . . I almost never care about love triangles. But it's kind of mildly interesting in this book, maybe because although people talk about their feelings a lot more, the actual love triangle takes a definite back seat to the end of the world. (As it ought to.)
Also, at some point I decided Sanabalis was Werner Herzog. This definitely makes reading the book and his lines more fun. It's a strategy I'll be adopting more often in the future.(less)
I liked The Magicians a lot. It could easily have been derivative or snide (and some of the press surrounding it was pretty snide about the points of...moreI liked The Magicians a lot. It could easily have been derivative or snide (and some of the press surrounding it was pretty snide about the points of origin, but the novel itself never wavered). But The Magician King . . . is a mess. There doesn't seem like any intrinsic-to-the-genre reason, although I know people complain about middle books all the time. Rather, the problems with The Magician King are problems specific to The Magician King.
First, Grossman does a terrible job keeping track of characters. People mostly drift along and in and out, and except for Quentin and Julia no one gets much depth. Okay, maybe this was a problem with The Magicians too, but that book was so intensely located inside Quentin's head that it mattered less - and anyway, there were plenty of vivid side characters pushing their way through, particularly Alice and Eliot. But nothing much happens with anyone introduced in The Magician King, so it's tricky to invest in the novel or the characters. Most egregious is the lack of any convincing relationships between the characters. There are a few groupings where everyone is meant to have deep and genuine feelings (I don't mean romantic feelings, necessarily, here) for their friends/lovers/comrades/etc - but that closeness, that depth never makes itself felt in the plot or in the language.
Second, much of The Magician King takes place in Fillory and frankly the world-building isn't strong enough or evocative enough to make you ever "buy" Fillory. Honestly, it's like the book doesn't want you to care about anything that happens in it. Grossman did such a great job making Brakebills seem like a real place - "real" isn't exactly what I mean, but he did a good job of that Hogwarts/Narnia/Pern/Hobbiton thing - and Fillory never gets beyond the surface stuff. The significance of Fillory to Quentin has always been clear, but what's it like now to be there? I wanted something more visceral, more affecting to read. But there's no connection in The Magician King.
Also, I know I am unusually vehement among readers of fiction for my dislike of split narratives, where one half (or third, or whatever) moves forward in the "present" of the novel and the other movies forward in the "past" of the novel. This always strikes me as ineffective and lazy, a way of communicating allegedly-important backstory (backstory is almost never that important! the parts that are important can be communicated in the present! that is why they are relevant) without having to look at it with a really critical eye. But Julia's story is embarrassing anyway - it really has no redeeming features, and hits home how poorly realized the female characters are in these books. (Alice was vivid enough in The Magicians, but we all know what happened there, so.) It's disturbing that, in a series of books about feeling like an outsider, women are still so consistently (and committedly! like, when you have to go out of your way to do it, there are some issues) Other, and usually are victims too.
Lastly, the narrative voice generally slipped from self-aware to self-conscious.(less)
1. Hmm - I suppose I wasn't completely sold on this book, maybe because it can't decide if it wants to be a tightly plotted adventure story or a medit...more1. Hmm - I suppose I wasn't completely sold on this book, maybe because it can't decide if it wants to be a tightly plotted adventure story or a meditative look at art and storytelling (with family baggage). Frankly, at 250 pages, it's not long enough to do both - or, anyway, Frost is not an economical enough a writer to do both. Either of those approaches would have been fine by me, since I am perfectly capable of enjoying both kinds of books when they are done well. In this case, however, Shadowbridge pulled me in two directions without committing to one. I know that this is the first of two books, but that seems to be frankly unnecessary.
2. One really concrete structural change I can pinpoint, and I think it would have made a big difference to my appreciation of the novel: I'd rather Frost had cut the section where we learn all about Leodora's past life and growing up. The novel would have been better served if he'd eliminated the flashback all together, and let us infer the relevant information from the characters' present lives. Instead, the ~50 pages bloat the novel, condescend to the readers, and slow down the pace. This section does not cut down on portentous allusions to the characters' past lives. I assume its purpose is to give us some character development and also wold-building, but frankly the characters have fairly strong personalities and they don't belong to any particularly unusual archetype and anyone even a little bit able to think analytically will figure it out. (And frankly, figuring things out is one of the pleasures of reading!)
3. I know this was on the honors list or whatever for the Tiptree Award, but actually I don't think it does very much with the themes of gender and sexuality?
4. Sometimes this book is funny, and then I enjoyed it. Well, maybe smart-alecky is a better way of putting it - anyway, those are the good parts. And the world-building is also interesting, or would be . . . it's kind of specious. I also thought the stuff about art and music and stories was interesting but - well, not sufficient. This book needed to be more elegant or denser, but it certainly shouldn't be two books (Lord Tophet is only 240 pages). So, yeah.(less)
This review is going to be one of those exercises in futility, I suspect. Particularly, the kind of futility that comes from trying to puzzle out popu...moreThis review is going to be one of those exercises in futility, I suspect. Particularly, the kind of futility that comes from trying to puzzle out popularity. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
I spent a lot of The Name of the Wind trying to puzzle out why so many people have reacted to it with such enthusiasm. I liked it okay - it's thoroughly enjoyable. It is the fantasy version of Fritos, or something - movie theatre popcorn? Maybe, I'm not sure. Probably the best thing about it is a lightness, a playfulness that keeps the novel from getting dragged down by all the familiar ground it treads. I know SFF books have well-deserved reputations for sincerity and earnestness, but irony has also started to leak into the genre. The Name of the Wind isn't really funny, but it is self-aware (sort of) and it isn't solemn or heavy or anything. I'll probably read the next books, if the ever stay on the library shelves long enough. I suspect, like this one, they will be speedy, entertaining reads.
But. There was something idle about reading this - my enjoyment was all surface-level. I don't even like George R. R. Martin's books, and I resent that it's currently impossible to talk about the genre without mentioning them, but there is something pricking about Martin's work: it gets under your skin, even if you don't think it's that good. Rothfuss didn't get under my skin, and I don't think the world-building is particularly vivid. His dedication mentions Narnia, Pern, and Middle-Earth: three (well - two and a half) of the most vivid and fantastic universes in the ever-expanding list of fantasy worlds. I think the stumble comes - for me, obviously, so many people love this book and probably feel quite differently - in the fact that there's no place for the reader in TNOTW. We are an audience, not a participant. In tone and spirit, I think Rothfuss' book and universe are closest to Pern: there's something quotidian about them both. But you can read Pern and be like, "fuck, I want a dragon" or whatever, and I don't know that a similar reaction is possible while reading TNOTW. I mean, there are more seductive schools of magic (although I like that in this one it is an ACTUAL SCHOOl, I'M LOOKING AT YOU, HOGWARTS). Maybe Wise Man's Fear has some other asskicking organization that spawns a million RPGs, but I doubt it. So what are you supposed to latch onto when reading this? Because usually with a sff series beloved by many there is something.*
I don't think it's the main character. He's okay? He's one of those smug and unreliable narrators with ~*secret trauma.*~ Rothfuss uses a lot of tropes, and he's very skilled at handling them and keeping them from being tiresome - Kvothe is (this isn't a spoiler) the most important person to have ever lived. But now he's in hiding! I have a weakness for this trope - it is my favorite! Ever! Especially when coupled with the "old trouble is coming to find you, hobbits" trope. (Or "your ~heterosexual life partner needs you to come save the world again, Fitz.") Those are my favorite favorite things to read about. (Getting the band back together!) Except except except: that's not what happens. I might be going through a phase in my reading life where I only want forward motion, and this book moves backwards, mostly. But that backstory isn't as gripping as the hints of plot we get in the present. I mean, I like the tricks and stuff. I like meta genre fiction. But after a certain point you want the book to stop showing you how clever and cheeky it is and start actually moving. (Ideally, of course, a book would manage both feats at once.) (There is one plot tangent that GOES NOWHERE. Kvothe gets a bit of information out of it, but I'm sure there are other ways to accomplish that.)
ALSO, oh god, the female characters in this book are embarrassing. I know there is an easy defense to be made here, and that defense is, "but the book is about Kvothe, and he's utterly lacking in emotional maturity, and of course he only sees women and the rest of the world in relation to himself." To which I say: that is a ridiculous argument. There are ways of undermining your POV-character's judgment while keeping them in first-person, and I recently read a book that did this marvelously well (An Instance of the Fingerpost). Also, do you know how many books there are that are about how men see women? It is basically all of them. Good writers can make women in their books mysteries (gross) to their main characters while still making them people to readers. You can't unilaterally excuse the flaws in a novel by saying they originate with the main character. Characters originate with their author, and it's poor craftsmanship and lazy thinking to pretend otherwise.
Man, I have a lot of complaints! But actually, although TNOTW is over-rated, I still enjoyed it very much.
* This isn't the only way to write a good book obviously! But usually when people react with such enthusiasm to a novel, it has this participatory element.(less)