This fast-paced, entertaining read pulls the reader along from an action-packed beginning through some surprising twists and turns as the early life aThis fast-paced, entertaining read pulls the reader along from an action-packed beginning through some surprising twists and turns as the early life and some key middle bits of Hatshepsut's reign are explored.
I had a rough time with the author's first historical novel, finding the dialogue and some of the narration to be too anachronistic for my preferences...and I was happy to find that this was not the case with Daughter of the Gods. While the voice was light and very accessible, I never had any problem feeling like I was firmly in the past. And there is plenty of historical detail here, with ample information about the fascinating religious and social customs of New Kingdom Egypt sprinkled throughout the story.
For the more hardcore devotees of Egyptian history, you'll find some proposed answers to all the big questions surrounding Hatshepsut's rule, and they mostly feel like authentic artifacts (pardon the pun) of Stephanie Thornton's plot choices. How did Hatshepsut come to the throne? What was her relationship with her brother/husband like? What was her relationship with other members of the royal entourage like? How did her most famous monuments come to be built? What was Neferure's fate? Senenmut's? And of course, the two biggies: was Senenmut her lover, and why did Thutmose III destroy so many of her monuments? All are explored here in a way that feels organic and plausible (within the bounds of fiction, obviously!)
I particularly liked the decision to make Hatshepsut and Thutmose II rather close and loving (in the beginning, at least.) That's an assumption that isn't often made, either in the unfortunately sparse Hatshepsut fiction that one can find, or in nonfiction writings about the famous woman Pharaoh. The choice added a humanizing dimension to the character of Thut and made for some heightened drama, too, when things started to go down the drain between them.
That does lead me to my biggest quibble with the book. (I know; I have to find something to quibble about with every review. I'm the worst.) Some parts of the book felt oddly rushed, with characters making sudden changes in temperament that just didn't feel as fully natural as I would have liked. Thut's big change was the first and most glaring to me. (view spoiler)[I just didn't buy that he'd go from a supportive and loving brother, and a fair partner, to a man of such extreme violence, especially when he really loved another woman anyway. The change seemed to come out of nowhere; there was just not enough foreshadowing to clue me in that Thut was even capable of that kind of reaction to perceived infidelity. It seemed so unlike him that it gave me pause. (hide spoiler)] But there were a few other too-quick turns of character that left me a little disoriented.
All in all, though, it was an enjoyable book, perfect for the summertime, blending the qualities of good historical fiction with the fun and pacing of a classic "beach read!" ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The Borgias are one of those popular subjects in historical fiction that, for me, just don’t captivate my imagination. I know. I’m gaping at me in disThe Borgias are one of those popular subjects in historical fiction that, for me, just don’t captivate my imagination. I know. I’m gaping at me in disbelief, too. IT MAKES NO SENSE.
There is so much rich potential in the basic story for unending fascination: the corruption of the Western world’s greatest superpower (the Vatican), plotting and scheming, sumptuous settings, rumors of all kinds of skeevy things like murders and incest and not just regular incest but ornate polygons formed of super-incest. It’s a goldmine. And yet every time I’ve tried to get into a Borgia story, whether a novel or that one TV show, I just get bored and drift away. Even if Jeremy Irons is involved!
So I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I was hooked by The Serpent and the Pearl, sucked straight into the story, and totally unwilling to let it go when it ended. (I immediately bought the next audiobook in the series, The Lion and the Rose, moments after the first one ended.) I was so into this story that I listened to it non-stop while painting fancy accent walls in my new apartment. I had my phone stuffed into my bra, blasting The Serpent and the Pearl in my face while I stood precariously on a chair to reach the very high ceiling with a roller.
Imagine Kate Quinn’s irresistibly lush words emanating from my boobs. (Kate, if you want to use that as a blurb on your next release, please feel free. I know it’s a stirring image.)
So, yes, a book managed to make me interested in the Borgias. Although I must confess it’s not really the Borgias themselves that interest me in Quinn’s series…though they are wonderfully portrayed here, with their legendary skeeviness dialed back (in most cases) and their personalities far more humanized and sympathetic (in most cases) than popular accounts of the famous family would have you believe. No, I found the Borgia characters ambitious and overstuffed on the feast of their own power, but wholly human, not unlikeable, and very easy to swallow.
But it was Giulia and Leonello who really won me over.
Giulia Farnese, the notorious mistress of Pope Alexander VI, would be an easy character to do all wrong. She was beautiful, and it’s so easy for authors to make a young woman’s beauty her most remarkable feature. It’s also rather a cliché to make a woman as stunning as Giulia either vapid or cruel. Quinn’s Giulia is neither. She’s intelligent but subtle, aware of her strengths and her limitations, and clever enough to turn tricky situations to her advantage more often than not. In addition, she is incredibly kind, generous, and loving. All in all, she is a character you can root for and love without any reservations.
Leonello is a little harder to pin down. Smart, resourceful, and ferocious when he needs to be, one is never quite sure whether it’s care for his friends that motivates him, or his desire to come out on top, to be the winner, to solve the mystery. (And there is a mystery.) I suppose it’s impossible to avoid comparing him to Tyrion in A Song of Ice and Fire (Leonello, too, is a dwarf) but although both characters are subtle and brainy and book-lovers, and friends with whores, I never felt like Leonello was in any way a copy of or even an homage to Tyrion. The two characters are dramatically different where it counts, deep in their personalities.
A third narrator also shares the spotlight, Carmelina, Giulia’s cook (view spoiler)[and a run-away nun (hide spoiler)]. While Carmelina’s point of view was never torment to read/listen to, I just didn’t connect with her as strongly as I did with Giulia and Leonello.
Against the overall story of Rodrigo Borgia’s rise to the papal seat and his family’s moments of drama, a more intimate and urgent story propels the book forward at a compelling rate: the mystery of who is murdering young women in Rome. All the murders are the same, with the victims staked down with knives or daggers through their palms, and their throats cut.
By about halfway through the book, both Leonello and the reader have a pretty good idea of whodunit (though…things might not be quite as they seem) but the sense of satisfaction doesn’t come from answering that question. It comes from watching three ultimately powerless figures struggle to bring an untouchable criminal to justice in a world he very nearly controls.
Not only is this plot obviously amazing, and the characters wonderful and fascinating, but Kate Quinn’s prose never drops below the octave of “awesome.” It frequently soars up into a sustained pitch of transcendent beauty. The scenes featuring Carmelina’s aphrodisiac feast were written in achingly gorgeous prose, as were many others. In parts, the book tiptoed near the edge of Hilary Mantel’s territory with regards to the loveliness of the writing.
So, with a tight plot, deep and dimensional characters, and wordplay to die for, The Serpent and the Pearl gets the highest possible rating from me. Bonus: Quinn pulls off that trick I’m always ranting about, first-person narration in historical fiction. It’s so often botched, but here the reader doesn’t miss a speck of emotion or detail, in any of three narrators’ points of view.
And I must say, the narrator who does Leonello’s parts in the audiobook has the sexiest voice. He sounds just like Jeremy Irons! I think I am developing a little crush on Leonello. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A unique and unforgettable take on the Norse gods.
The culture of Iceland is explored, during the time period when Christianity just begins to encroachA unique and unforgettable take on the Norse gods.
The culture of Iceland is explored, during the time period when Christianity just begins to encroach on the old religion via Norway. It's a beautiful blend of myth and history, weaving such characters as gods, half-gods, "dwarves" and "giants" into a tapestry of characters who feel lush and real.
The book does a marvelous job of turning the original legend of Freya's necklace into a plausible story (as long as you're willing to accept a few premises, such as the concept of a woman turning into a falcon with the aid of a magic cloak.) As various characters struggle for possession of the legendary necklace, the Brisingamen, it becomes clear that they are really struggling with various aspects and facets of love. Their individual conflicts play out against the violent and chaotic landscape of Iceland, culminating in inevitable geologic tragedy that still has a bit of a silver lining.
The structure leans more toward the literary, with focus on prose and style, so if that's not your thing you probably won't enjoy Ice Land. However, if you are a fan of rich words, poignant emotion, and experimental structure, this is one you won't want to miss.
I listened to the audiobook with Davina Porter narrating. Every time Porter opens her mouth solid gold falls out, so if you want a bonus treat, get the audiobook version of Ice Land and enjoy....more
A fantastically done portrait of royal life in pre-Classical Mycenae, Sparta, and surrounding lands, Helen's Daughter takes the reader on a vivid jourA fantastically done portrait of royal life in pre-Classical Mycenae, Sparta, and surrounding lands, Helen's Daughter takes the reader on a vivid journey through the lives and experiences of some familiar characters of legend...but their humanity is very real.
I have lots to rave about here. It's a little difficult to find the right place to start, so I'm just going to jump in anywhere.
This is the way historical fiction ought to be done: packed with those little details which bring another time and place so clearly to life, yet Laura Gill never overdoes the explanation of the unfamiliar. Narrator Hermione doesn't take any time to explain in asides the house snake, the way a loom works, why there are only a few colors of dyed wool hanging in the drying shed -- these are facts of her life, and she lives her life while narrating her story, and because these little historical treasures are seamlessly normal to Hermione, they need no explanation for the reader's sake. Laura Gill plunges the reader directly into the pre-Classical world, trusting that her readers are intelligent enough not to need any hand-holding or baby steps, and because of that trust between author and reader, the world is exceptionally vivid and believable.
A perfect illustration of what I mean is the moment when Hermione, receiving some bad news, says that she feels as if she's just been stabbed through the heart with some particular kind of weaving pin (I can't remember its exact name now.) There's no need to explain what the pin is like. It must be long and sharp and terrible to pierce a woman's heart, and that's all the reader needs to know to feel the right emotions at the right moment.
While I am applauding Gill's confident writing, let me get up and do a dance of worship over maybe the best use of first-person perspective I've read in a very long time -- and certainly the best I've read in the genre of historical fiction.
Over the past year or two, first person has become the perspective of choice in HF (and in several other genres.) There's absolutely nothing wrong with it all by itself, but too many authors appear to be using it as a crutch. The idea seems to be that if you can replace the "she" and "her" pronouns with "I" and "me" then the story will automatically feel much more intimate and personal and immediate to the character. The stakes will be instantly higher, and the book will be better, just like that.
Any perspective requires more thoughtful writing than that, but perhaps first person is the most difficult to do successfully, because the author has to make it feel natural and plausible that this character is telling the story directly to the reader. If anything, first person can actually distance a reader from a story by inserting an additional wall of obvious narrative voice between the reader and the character's emotions. Add to that the special problem of writing first person in historical fiction: namely, that the author has to make it feel natural and plausible that a narrator from the distant past is talking directly to the present-day reader, and you have a recipe for disaster in the hands of newer or less careful authors.
None of the typical distance issues plague Gill's first-person writing. Because the period detail and the sensory detail are so rich and yet so subtly done, there is no barrier between Hermione's experiences and the reader.
(Authors take note: that has nothing to do with Laura Gill's perspective choice and everything to do with her attention to subtle yet gorgeous description and her commitment to making a historical time period feel authentic to her characters, which in turn makes everything -- setting, conflict, emotions, stakes -- feel authentic to her readers. I wish I could require every single historical fiction author who wants to write in first person to read and study this novel.)
The plot is relatively simple: Menelaus returns home to Sparta with his rescued wife Helen. Their daughter Hermione, now a young woman, has spent much of her childhood being raised by her aunt and uncle in Mycenae while her father is off reuniting the family (and fighting the Trojan war to do it). Now she must re-adjust to life in Sparta and get to know the cold, distant mother she blames for the war. In the process of learning to figure out her mother, who has gone through many of the same tragedies Hermione experiences, Hermione also comes to figure out herself, and grows into a more confident person worthy of the crown she will one day inherit.
There are more subplots, nearly all of them involving the various complex and nuanced relationships Hermione has, whether they be with family members or other people she must learn to coexist and work with. It's a novel very much about the complexity of all kinds of relationships, and the subtlety of their depiction is refreshing.
I especially loved the sweetness of the connection Hermione has to Orestes. It just made me want to say "Awwwww! <3" all the time. Orestes is frankly adorable from the beginning of the book to the end, growing from an extremely lovable if troubled child to a kind, gentle hero of a man who is still capable of incredible violence and who is susceptible to intense tragedy. I was happy to see that Gill has more novels dealing with Orestes' life, and I'll eagerly read them over the next few months.
And because I just remembered how it made me smile, I have to say that I loved the clever and quiet ways Laura Gill made some of the legends from the Iliad so very real: "Medusa" and the golden fleece were tasty little Easter eggs buried in the narrative.
A few things irked me, and made me fall just short of giving this otherwise fantastic historical novel five stars. First, I thought the book started and ended in the wrong places. In my opinion, I felt it would have been a much more powerful opening if Hermione watched the whole Iphegenia "thing" unfold in "real time" rather than recalling it in a flashback a couple of chapters into the book. The scenes where Clytemnestra grieves for her daughter and swears vengeance on Agamemnon were potent, and would have been even more astonishing and vivid had they been scenes in their own right and not Hermione's memories. I also felt like the true wrap-up of the story was (view spoiler)[the wedding between Hermione and Orestes, and that the final bits with her settling into a happy married life and worrying over Orestes' concubine didn't add anything to my sense of satisfaction that the story had come to its rightful close (which I felt clearly with the wedding.) (hide spoiler)]
My final quibble was that I really wanted everybody to stop demonizing Clytemnestra! Everybody in the book had a low opinion of her, and I didn't understand why. I understood why the men despised her, but I kept expecting at least some of the women to find her actions even a tiny bit sympathetic...especially Hermione, who loved Iphegenia. Instead, all the characters, including all the women, accepted Agamemnon's deception and Iphegenia's death without batting an eye, and all of them loathed Clytemnestra for doing the things she did without a shred of sympathy. (Though, to be sure, Clytemnestra has terrible taste in boyfriends.) I think I would have felt more satisfied with the whole Clytemnestra/Iphegenia/Agamemnon thing if a more clear, contextual reason for the characters' reactions was presented. Maybe I was missing the unquestioning devotion all these characters had to the will of Artemis, or something. It just felt to me like a daughter's life ought to come before a husband's need to placate a whimsical goddess so he could achieve his own personal goals.
By the way, none of that is a spoiler. It all happens very early in the book and sets up the rest of the story.
In spite of my few criticisms, this was a really excellent book, well worth reading for any fan of ancient historical fiction. I will definitely be reading more of Laura Gill's books in the future!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm trying to think of a way to describe this book, and "immensely satisfying" is the only descriptor that's coming to mind. That seems so we4.5 stars
I'm trying to think of a way to describe this book, and "immensely satisfying" is the only descriptor that's coming to mind. That seems so weak, though! "Satisfying" implies just-okayness, but Theodora was anything but "just okay."
I think what feels so satisfying about this novel is the realization that fine craftsmanship is still alive and well within historical fiction. Since the success of The Other Boleyn Girl, the general tone of HF has taken a bit of a nose-dive as more and more authors (and publishers) strive to replicate that same success. Rather than telling a story that feels true and real, it seems to me that so many have just attempted to put the features of TOBG into whatever historical setting they happen to have on their plate. The result has been near-consistent disappointment with almost every historical novel I've read for YEARS...at least from larger publishers, who seem to be caught up in this frantic race to find the next TOBG rather than trying to find the next good historical novel. (Of course, this isn't the case for all books I've read since TOBG. It's just hard to recall that sometimes, when the market is so flooded with so many copies of the same-old, same-old.)
So I am very much satisfied, and gratified, and very happy to know that at least Stella Duffy is out there putting her all into her OWN really good historical novel. And this one is really good, and it really feels like it's hers.
It was such an enjoyment for me that I actually don't know where to start in talking about it. One of the things I just loved, loved, loved was the uniqueness of the "lower class" characters' voices. The actresses, whores, animal trainers, and teacher-eunuchs were remarkably real-feeling, and this was achieved with the PERFECT balance of modern-day four-letter-words and turns of phrases, worked very sparingly and deliberately against carefully constructed "sets" of detail and character motivations, voices, and dialogue that felt otherwise entirely a part of 500 C.E. Constantinople. As I write HF myself, I know what a really remarkable feat this is, to make not only individual characters but even entire strata of society feel so vibrant and true. Duffy's great care and forethought in the construction of her world -- not only the place and time but also the society -- was evident, and something a fellow writer appreciates and applauds.
The plot itself was perfectly paced. It opens superbly, right in the midst of young Theodora's already rich personality, and the main character's motives and actions feel authentic and logical, given the person she is. For those who know the real history ("real" history in air-quotes, as who knows what Procopius's problem was), all the best moments of the true Theodora tales are there, brought to vivid, breathtaking life for the reader. Some moments were heartbreaking; some were laugh-out-loud funny (I cracked up on the treadmill at the gym over Theodora giving her performance of Leda and the Swan..."Zeus! O God!" hahahah.) Many moments surprised, even for somebody who has a fairly good familiarity with the historical accounts of Theodora and Justinian.
Speaking of which, where gaps existed in the historical accounts, Duffy did a spectacular job of bridging those gaps with plausible scenes, richly detailed and well executed, which linked the known bits of history with stronger and stronger chains as Duffy's skill with character and atmosphere took over.
It was a truly fantastic book, beautiful and rich with superb character work and unforgettable voice. My only regret in reading it is that I was planning my own take on the Theodora story, to be written a couple of years in the future, and I had been tinkering with the idea of using a certain totally-fictional plot device that Duffy already beat me to. Nuts -- I'll have to come up with something else. I can't begrudge such a good author the "theft" of my idea (years before I thought of it, of course!) because her book was such a pleasure to read.
This book was SO CLOSE to being a 5 for me (pretty rare in my historical fiction reads, as I am just as hard-nosed about setting and accuracy as any other big-time HF fan) and I would have joyfully given it five, but for the occasional turn of phrase that pushed the anachronism envelope just a bit too far and plucked me out of the story. But I was only out for a heartbeat, and then I was right back in again.
This one was first published in 2010, if I remember correctly, right at the beginning of the tidal wave of bizarre linguistic discrepancies that has washed over and swamped recent historical fiction. What is UP with publishers doing this to HF? I can only assume it's publishers calling for a "beachier" voice (again, the influence of TOBG), because it's very difficult to imagine that Stella Duffy's otherwise gorgeous prose and careful attention to maintaining proper historical detail and atmosphere would allow for the infiltration of such modern language on its own, without the influence of a publisher who's panicking over an ever-diminishing share of the market. (How do you get more readers? Appeal to a wider audience, goes the common thinking, and I guess a wider audience isn't capable of handling real-feeling historical dialogue without the occasional "okay" thrown in...? Oh, publishers. SMH.) Anyway, the rare breach of modern voice wasn't really that bad. It certainly wasn't the most confusingly modernized HF I've read. (It wasn't even the most modernized fiction about Theodora I've read.)
I noted on Stella Duffy's GR author page that HBO has optioned her Theodora novels to potentially produce as a mini-series. YAY! I hope they do, as I've loved HBO's handling of A Song of Ice and Fire (also a series for which I am way too fannish and super-nitpicky). It would be a real pleasure to see the same team (or a similar one) bring this book to life on film.
I am downloading the sequel, The Purple Shroud, at this moment and will gleefully carry it off to the gym as soon as I click Save on this review, so I can continue experiencing Duffy's fantastic, artfully portrayed, near-perfect depiction of Constantinople and its amazing Augusta.
If you have a foundation of basic knowledge regarding Egyptology or ancient Egyptian history, there is much to love in this book. As a big skeptic andIf you have a foundation of basic knowledge regarding Egyptology or ancient Egyptian history, there is much to love in this book. As a big skeptic and promoter of rational thought, I must admit that Dodson rather won me over and primed me to agree with him by admitting in his foreword that he was once on a different thought-bandwagon but changed his position on certain aspects of Amarna Egyptology when new or better evidence was found. I like a person who can admit to having an open and flexible mind, and who's not too prideful to admit that his former position was incorrect.
That being said, (view spoiler)[of COURSE Neferneferuaten was Nefertiti! Duh! She changed her name and everything! The only thing surprising about this to me is how many people evidently still try to do mental acrobatics to turn Neferneferuaten into a man, or even into Meritaten. Sheesh, guys. It was Nefertiti already! Get over it and move on! (hide spoiler)] I am much more intrigued by Dodson's evidence that Nefertiti was the mother of Tutankhamun and, as I read this book as part of my research for my next series of Egyptian historical novels, I am likely to work that tidbit into the story I'll tell. I am glad I've got a well-presented nonfiction work by an Egyptologist to back me up when readers inevitably start waving pitchforks and torches at me for forgoing the much-loved Kiya-as-mother scenario.
If you are a neophyte to Egyptian history, this book may be too complex a read for you, as it really plunges directly into the ancient Egypt scene without any hand-holding over certain aspects of culture (tomb-building, religion, role of Pharaoh, etc.) and without much description of what the 18th Dynasty was like politically and socially prior to the Amarna revolution. A basic understanding of this period of history is rather necessary for grasping the full impact of Dodson's narrative and evidence, so I recommend a less hardcore book on Amarna for curious readers who are new to Egyptian history (Joyce Tyldesley has some good ones...her biographies of Nefertiti and Tutankhamun provide an excellent and newbie-friendly grounding in why and how the Amarna shift was so revolutionary in the 18th Dynasty.)
All in all, a very useful and intriguing book for those well-versed in Egyptian history. I enjoyed it, and will return to it often as I work on my upcoming Amarna novels.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A fun, enjoyable read...Goodreads "I liked it" 3 stars seems the best choice for my rating. More in-depth review coming when I have the time to writeA fun, enjoyable read...Goodreads "I liked it" 3 stars seems the best choice for my rating. More in-depth review coming when I have the time to write it...this weekend?...more
Wow. I didn't think it was possible to follow up Wolf Hall with a book that was practically just as good, but Hilary Mantel is some kind of4.5 stars.
Wow. I didn't think it was possible to follow up Wolf Hall with a book that was practically just as good, but Hilary Mantel is some kind of wizard. I am flabbergasted by the skill of this writer.
Bring Up the Bodies follows the decline of the Boleyn family, seen once more through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. I am so impressed with Mantel's take on Cromwell as a character. He is incredibly complex and fascinating: a man who never gets over his dead wife, who pines for his children (eventually coming to long more, it seems, for the one he hardly knew than for the one who spent more time with him and whose personality he really understood), who takes in orphans and sets them up well in the world, who is tender toward animals...and who will not balk at terrifying or even torturing people when politics demand it. Nor will he balk at bringing down the people he once helped to raise. He's hard to hate. He's hard to love. He's so damn real.
This one is just a half a star less amazing than Wolf Hall because parts lost my attention here and there. I found it possible to put this one down when I needed to, whereas Wolf Hall I could not leave alone except to sleep. There is really not much to fault in Bring Up the Bodies, though. It's a glorious work of fiction, an amazing work of craft...like Wolf Hall, it's a book all writers should study and learn from....more
I'll give this a middle-of-the-road rating. There are a lot of things to enjoy here, and some things that got in the way of enjoyment.
First, the good:I'll give this a middle-of-the-road rating. There are a lot of things to enjoy here, and some things that got in the way of enjoyment.
First, the good:
Max Overton is a strong writer with a great talent for conveying images clearly to the reader. The balance of exposition, dialogue, and description are perfect, and the descriptive passages are often quite lovely and memorable. Setting is well developed, as are certain characters.
I love the idea of showing the rise and fall of Atenism in ancient Egypt through the eyes of Beketaten, a very unassuming character. I felt it could have been done to greater effect (more on that later), but all in all it's an idea with a lot of appeal. Beketaten is a sympathetic character here, orphaned young and stuck into the harem and forgotten about. She's sensitive, quiet, and observant. Given the nickname "Scarab" under somewhat cruel circumstances by Waenre (Akhenaten), the name sticks and follows her around like a curse, and gives the reader a hint of some of the difficulties she'll face as she grows older and becomes a political pawn in her powerful family.
The things I didn't like:
In a word, the editing.
Overton's writing is so great, it really has the potential to be a powerful, exciting book with the help of a lot of judicious editing. There is a lot of unnecessary extra stuff in this book. Every other chapter follows the actual plot of the story -- the goings-on in the royal family as Waenre/Akhenaten and Nefertiti lead the shift from a Waset/Amun-centered state religion to Akhet-Aten and the Aten. Overton's depiction of the events and people involved are quite interesting, and the opportunity to see them unfold through the eyes of intelligent but meek Beketaten is irresistible. However, the action is broken with alternating chapters in the point of view of random characters showing the daily life of all manner of Egyptian citizens. Clearly the author has done a lot of quality research and he's skilled in conveying so many wonderful details of Egyptian life to the reader. But these interludes touch on the actual story only tangentially, and the characters are almost never revisited, so that it feels more like a bombardment or a distraction, albeit a well-written bombardment or distraction.
I also would have loved to see the entire Amarna story through Beketaten's perspective, as that was the setup at the beginning of the novel. However, the narrative shifts during the Amarna chapters from Beketaten to other major players such as Ay. Ay is an interesting fellow, but somehow the effect of watching Atenism unfold is not as shocking or intriguing when a confident, powerful man like Ay is the POV, compared to a likeable shrinking violet like Beketaten. To shift the narrative away from her now and then somewhat depleted the power and import of the political transition.
I dearly wish for this novel to be re-written, this time sticking to the main plot and leaving off the embellishments of outside stories. It has the potential to be a really great Egyptian historical novel, especially given Overton's strong, descriptive prose. The nice thing about self-publishing is that authors are always free to do a "Take Two." ...more
The follow-up to The Year-God's Daughter, The Thinara King starts with a bang...literally...as the volcanic islaWow! Talk about an action-packed book.
The follow-up to The Year-God's Daughter, The Thinara King starts with a bang...literally...as the volcanic island of Thera erupts. Was this a natural disaster, or have Aridela and Chrysaleon done something to anger the goddess Athene? The uncertainties and the adventure continue as the Kaphtor royal family struggles to hold their fragmented population together, and to rebuild what was lost. With Kaphtor weakened, the rich and powerful island is ripe for the plucking -- not by Idomeneus, the father of Chrysaleon and Menoetius, but by a much crueler and more sinister enemy.
The reader is carried along on a rush of action that will satisfy even the most easily bored reader. Lochlann doesn't shirk from subjecting her cast of well-drawn characters to a list of atrocities and surprise deaths that would make George R. R. Martin proud. Her depiction of ancient Crete, a place ruled by superstition and religious fervor, is entirely believable as historical fiction. This book lacks (only slightly) the lovely poetic prose, the sensual description found in The Year-God's Daughter, but it more than makes up with its nonstop intrigue and tension.
I with-held one star for two reasons. Themiste's repetition of prophecy occasionally felt like my hand was being held -- like I, the reader, was being carefully reminded of important events. Lochlann's writing and world-building are more than ample on their own to keep a reader fully engaged; the exposition wasn't necessary, but may have been with a less competent writer at the helm. In places it felt as if Lochlann didn't fully trust her own skill as a writer, when she certainly has nothing to fear in that regard.
And...I just didn't like the sudden change in Menoetius right at the end of the book. (view spoiler)[To have him be so kind and sensitive to Aridela, and then to get all rapey on her, made his character feel inconsistent, and made me lose some of my enthusiasm for him. (hide spoiler)]
All in all, it's an excellent story, well told, that leaves the reader chomping at the bit for the next installment of the epic Child of the Erinyes saga. Highly recommended!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Four stars for a book I didn't finish? Yep. Read on. It will all make sense.
This book hasn't enjoyed a lot of good ratings from readers, and I think tFour stars for a book I didn't finish? Yep. Read on. It will all make sense.
This book hasn't enjoyed a lot of good ratings from readers, and I think that's because most readers approached it as a western. It lacks the things that make westerns fun: fights, chases, adventure in general. It is much more a literary novel, with beautiful prose and a focus on the internal conflicts of main character Mac as he strives for his various goals in Yellowstone Territory.
The writing is absolutely gorgeous, evocative and memorable. Blevins clearly has great skill with words. And the characters are interesting enough that I ripped through this book at an astounding pace.
When I got to the middle, though, I stopped. I realized that, after one tie-up of all the loose ends with a satisfying if somewhat bittersweet conclusion, that the characters' stories continued on with another conflict, another adventure...making the book more like a saga than a discrete novel. I decided that I wanted to leave them at that midpoint, with that satisfying conclusion, and opted not to continue reading. Maybe there is another fantastic story and ending for them in the latter half of the book. I chose not to find out, feeling satisfied with the midpoint ending.
I gather that Blevins got his rights back to his various books which were previously published by a trade publisher, including this one, and independently re-released them. I have no idea whether the continuation of the characters' story was in the original version of Yellowstone, or whether it's an addition he added, an extension of their tale he always wanted to make. If so, I respect his right to make the addition. But I am keeping their story, in my memory, where I felt comfortable with its ending.
It's a beautiful book, emotional and inspiring. Recommended to those who love American historical fiction, westerns, and literary fiction....more
Still reading this one, but it's an odd mix of excellent hiking information, very thorough with great maps and lovely color photos...and some of the mStill reading this one, but it's an odd mix of excellent hiking information, very thorough with great maps and lovely color photos...and some of the most awkward, purple prose I've ever read. Full and final review to come when I've finished reading all of it (and adding must-hike trips to my list).
And yes, this is the kind of bizarro criticism you get from a backpacker/writer. I'm picky in two different directions here.
Update 8/25...this is not the kind of book one reads cover-to-cover in one sitting, of course. Even I am not that hardcore about planning my hikes. I just had to chime in with a comment that the author went on a totally random digression about somebody bringing him strawberry shortcake in the midst of discussing a particular trail. This is the weirdest hiking book I've ever read. Who edited this thing?! Still, it does have useful information and the pictures are to die for. Makes me want to get out and hike more than usual. And eat strawberry shortcake....more
EDIT 4/4/2014: I changed this from two stars to one, because I realized that it's been about two years since I read this book and I still get ragey anEDIT 4/4/2014: I changed this from two stars to one, because I realized that it's been about two years since I read this book and I still get ragey and fist-shakey just thinking about how much it sucked. So, bonus star deducted. This book sucks on wheels. Read on for more...
Okay. I gave myself plenty of time to cool off before writing this review, because man, was I ever pissed at this book by the time I finished reading it. And I really wanted to love it! I'm a backpacker, and I've often fantasized about doing the PCT solo (a pretty stupid idea for anybody who's not much more experienced than I am.) I was excited about a memoir of one woman's experience on the trail. I dug into this book eagerly, but within a few chapters my enthusiasm began to deflate, and by the end I was basically doing this at every other paragraph:
After some cooling-off time, I gave it what I feel is a very generous two stars. That bonus star is for the first couple of chapters, which do in fact pull a person in, and which do share some impressive openness on the author's part. I was particularly impressed with her ability to share her weird dreams about killing her mother, which were raw and real and touching and disturbing. Also, the scene where she recalls how (view spoiler)[ the horse is "put down" (hide spoiler)] was particularly affecting. Otherwise, this book just doesn't have all that much to offer. Cheryl Strayed's life doesn't, so far, have an unusual amount of sadness or tragedy or inspiring moments -- the kind of things that make for good memoir reading. Or if her life does contain those things, she's not a good enough writer to make the reader feel it.
Brief rundown: Strayed lost a loving parent with whom she had a great relationship, and had a very difficult time accepting that loss. Not particularly different from the experiences of many people I've met. As a result of her grief, she lost all impulse control and sabotaged her marriage to a really wonderful man, then started using heroin. Okay, that's a little more interesting, but unfortunately the full impact of these momentous choices is lost in an unblazed forest of vague, unremarkable prose and confused chronology, making it hard to give a damn. At the nadir of her downward spiral, she hears about the PCT and just decides to hike it, which is not surprising, I guess, since she's proudly established that she suffers from a total lack of impulse control (a condition she never really seems to try to correct throughout the course of the book.)
So hike it she does, all unprepared, derping off into the wilderness, as is par for the course, apparently. She can't even be assed to read the essential (and very short, I might add) book Staying Found: The Complete Map and Compass Handbook, an absolute essential for anybody who determines to walk off into the wilderness and survive by whatever she can carry on her back. Oh, she bothered to buy the book, but she neglected to read even a page of it on the flight from Minnesota or wherever she's from to southern California, although she brought it on board the plane intending to educate herself BEFORE she began her blissed-out hippie walkabout. But I guess, hey, free peanuts and a bad Adam Sandler movie, so....
If you're getting the impression from the review that this memoir fails mostly because Strayed just doesn't make herself a very sympathetic character, you're getting the right idea. But it gets worse. Once she actually gets the high of hiking (under the weight of a pack HALF HER BODY WEIGHT, for god's sake) the book becomes Mary Sue Goes on a Nature Walk.
Everybody -- yes, literally everybody except the gay guy and a couple of women wants to have sex with her. She is that irresistible, all hairy and smelling like a sasquatch and hobbling from miles of carrying half her body weight. All the men she meets eye her appraisingly. Most of them hit on her and ask her out for dinner and drinks (wait...dinner and drinks on the Pacific Crest Trail? Yes, more on that later.) One of them actually does seduce her with the erotic power of his Wilco t-shirt. But the one message she clearly wants you to take away from her allegedly inspiring story of a complete personal transformation on the PCT is that the author is preternaturally sexy, and virtually nothing with a penis can resist her. Strayed's relentless hotness actually becomes such a prevalent theme that I began laughing out loud each time she described yet another man expressing his interest in her hot hiker self. I laughed a lot, O Reader. I laughed a lot.
Don't worry; those people she met who didn't want to stick their trekking poles into her worshiped her for other reasons. Every single person she met except for some Totally Grumpy Old Camp Hosts and a couple creepy hunters (who still wanted to have sex with her) couldn't stop telling her how amazing and wonderful she was for hiking the PCT alone. Without any knowledge of how to survive in the wilderness. Everyone said things to reinforce her belief that she was a "badass motherfucking Amazonian queen." Hooray! The world is your oyster, 'cause that's all the world is!
How did she meet so many people hiking one of the least-trammeled of the world-famous trails on the continent? Well, Strayed actually didn't hike all that much of the trail. She started well north of the Mexican border and had to take a Greyhound around most of the High Sierras, because it was socked in that year and she was unprepared for snow hiking, as she was for most other contingencies. (She got rid of her ice axe after crossing one small snowfield, figuring she wouldn't need it again, y'know, where the elevation got higher. Jesus Christ. Not that she really knew how to use an ice axe anyway.) Her intent was to do only the California stretch, not the entire trail, though she did extend the trip through Oregon after she found out about the impassability of the trail (another thing she should have checked on before she started walking.) So she motored through a good 400+ miles of her "hike," and left the trail for various reasons at various points to hitch-hike instead. Thus, she ended up with a lot of non-hiker people in a lot of non-hiking situations, making this more a memoir of disjointed hippie travel-by-any-means than a memoir of HIKING THE EFFING PCT, as all bookbuyers were led to believe.
The parts of the book that actually DID take place on the Trail were interrupted by flashbacks to her life with her mother or the destruction of her marriage or her experimentation with heroin or the fallout from these events. So much so, as soon as she began actually talking about the Trail again, I knew to brace myself for yet another forced emotional flashback to the ordinary tragedy of Strayed's typical American life.
Now, in spite of the choking Mary Sueism of the author's self-depiction, I could forgive her utter dumbness in wandering onto the PCT unprepared if she actually learned anything about what a bad idea it is to wander into the wilderness unprepared. If her unpreparedness for the PCT taught her how to be a better person, more aware, more focused, more capable, more responsible, more honest about herself, GREAT. Bring on the stupidity. I like a good redemption tale. But it didn't. It didn't! If it did, those passages were lost in editing, or were never written at all. The book's big climax involves Strayed eating a peach in a grove of azaleas, and it's all very pretty and a deer walks into the clearing, and she realizes that(view spoiler)[it's totally okay to be who she is. And yeah, it's totally okay to be who you are if you're good with that, but she sets up her personal tragedies as a) being unable to cope with loss, b) intentionally destroying her relationship with a very good man, c) doing potentially deadly drugs, d) lacking all impulse control, and the big take-away lesson from her experience on the PCT is...don't ever change? What? The thing she learned from this experience was that it's just fine to fuck up other people's lives, because now she's A-Okay with herself?
But even that...even that I could forgive if the writing were good. I will forgive anything for gorgeous writing. My favorite book of all time is Lolita, and I can forgive the existence of a fictional character like Humbert Humbert because, damn, have you ever read Lolita? (Strayed has, at least once, and apparently learned nothing about the value of lovely writing.)
But the writing in Wild is, if you will forgive the pun, pedestrian at best. I suppose it's serviceable enough for a general memoir of an American woman having a typical American experience of loss and confusion and coming to accept her past. But for describing nature? Ugh. I wasn't expecting "Annie Dillard hefts a Kelty" from this book, but one would think that a book which alleges to focus on the great transforming power wilderness would at least give a little time or effort to, you know, wilderness. Miles and miles of trail are dismissed in the tritest and most cliche of short sentences, and as far as describing action, Strayed often resorts to such apprentice work as "we kissed and kissed and kissed"; "I walked and walked and walked"; "I cried and cried and cried." I yawned and yawned and yawned. I raged and raged and raged. The most vivid scene of actual trail action I can recall is where she falls asleep beside a muddy tarn and wakes to the feel of frogs hopping all over her body. The rest of the prose fell utterly flat, particularly in scenes involving nature. What a crashing disappointment. And what a rip-off, since readers are buying this book expecting to read about the experience of walking the PCT. And there is virtually none of that here.
It's no surprise to me that this book was selected for Oprah's Book Club (2.0, no less!) Oprah's selections have become, over the years, increasingly vapid and serving only the "rah-rah, you go girl" branding of the Club. I remember, long ago in a distant past, when she actually chose books that had good writing and fascinating characters. I should have been warned off by the fact that this book was picked, but I wanted so, so badly to read a well-written memoir about the enchantment of backpacking, about the way the strife and the loneliness and the rawness of nature pull the packer into another realm of existence, where life is fragile and valuable, where the sky and the earth and the line of the trail itself live, and by turns cradle and sustain the hiker and try and reject her. Instead, I got "gee, my feet hurt."
The great American memoir of the PCT still remains to be written. I'm sad that it's not already here, that I don't get to read it. I'm elated that maybe I'll yet have the chance to accomplish what this book didn't accomplish. Maybe I'll get a chance to write it. I'm already planning my own trip from Mexico to Canada. (Not solo, though. That's just dumb.) Who knows.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
If you have spent any time at all on writers' forums, you've seen the endless debates over whether women can write convincingly from a male perspectivIf you have spent any time at all on writers' forums, you've seen the endless debates over whether women can write convincingly from a male perspective, and vice-versa. In my long observation, the general consensus seems to be that men are especially inept at writing well from the intimate perspective of a female main character -- the idea being, I guess, that men cannot possibly fathom the intricate emotions and depth of feeling inherently present in the female mind -- an opinion I find both laughable and deplorably sexist, for I don't buy for a minute that men and women are all that different psychologically.
Birkebeiner and Jeff Foltz are delicious pie in the eye of that tiresome and needless debate. Foltz's stunner of a novel opens with an exceptionally well-written birth scene, one of the most intimate and convincing I've yet read, and that close, utterly believable connection to Inga Varsteigsdottir, the primary protagonist of Birkebeiner, never flags or wavers.
Birkebeiner explores a sadly untrammeled territory in historical fiction -- the civil war of medieval Norway, a time when two factions clashed over the throne and the unity of church and country. This is the kind of rich, detailed, fast-paced storytelling historical fiction fans crave, and the kind they won't find in the world of trade publishing, driven now more than ever by trends and the influence of other media. In a sea of endless repetitions of the now yawn-inducing Tudor soap opera and similar been-there, done-that historical fiction themes, more adventurous historical fiction readers have lost track of original and enlightening tales such as Foltz presents. Innovative and original historical fiction has migrated more and more toward the realm of self-publishing and the smallest of the small presses, where intrepid readers can unearth brilliant treasures such as Birkebeiner, if they only dig far and hard enough.
Aside from the undeniable strength and believability of Inga as a protagonist, Birkebeiner shines in its intensity of detail. Foltz clearly knows his stuff, and no detail of life in frigid Medieval Norway is left unexplored, from what the clothing was made from to what was eaten and when and how, to how skis were made, to how travelers in the harshest of wilderness settings found and made life-saving shelter. Yet this detail is never provided in a heavy-handed way. Foltz is more than adept at knotting his ample research tightly into the fabric of an action-packed, intense, emotionally gripping story.
The plot is simple enough: when the opposing Crozier army is on the brink of overthrowing Lillehammer, stronghold of the people's chosen king Hakon, the mother of Hakon's heir (Inga) and two of the king's best soldiers must flee with the child for the safety of a sympathetic army many days away, traveling by ski through a forbidding landscape in the dead of winter. But the story itself is anything but simple. Inga is a complex woman, faced with the difficult choice to stay with the love of her life or risk the elements and pursuit to try to save her son's life. Magnus, the imposter king, could easily have been a melodrama bad-guy, but Foltz instead makes him just as complex as Inga, the unwilling puppet of his father and of a politically powerful but corrupt bishop. Magnus is plagued by his own terrible history and is uncertain of what he truly wants. This makes him a nuanced character, one it's hard to be entirely against. As the narrative switches back and forth between Inga's and Magnus' perspectives, the reader is pulled into the complexity of the Norwegian Civil War.
Foltz' writing is strong and evocative, often lovely and moving. The only quibble keeping this from being a five-star review is his repeated misuse of the noun "wretch" when the verb "retch" is meant. That, and some occasionally misused commas. These are small nits to pick -- nits that can be cleared up with another pass by a good copy editor.
Birkebeiner is not a novel to be missed for any fan of historical fiction, Norwegian history, or Medieval stories. It is exciting and touching, and a welcome relief from the same old tired drivel you'll find the trade publishers vomiting forth onto book shelves near you. At $2.99 for an ebook edition, Foltz is grossly underpricing himself, so steal it from him now before he comes to his senses and realizes he's at least as good a writer as any being promoted by the Big Six imprints, and should be making the same amount of money as they....more
Two stars for the majority of the book. Four stars for the middle section. And a lot of confusion as to why an author would make such a choice in combTwo stars for the majority of the book. Four stars for the middle section. And a lot of confusion as to why an author would make such a choice in combining three disparate writing styles into a single novel.
Red Water examines, through fiction, the life and death of John D. Lee, the scapegoat who was executed for the infamous Mountain Meadow(s) Massacre in Utah, one of the darkest stains on the history of the Mormon Church. This examination is accomplished through the perspectives of three of his many wives.
The first part of the book is disproportionately large -- fully half the novel is devoted to the perspective of Emma, and English immigrant who becomes Lee's eighteenth wife. Or seventh, depending on how you count it. Emma is willful and smart, independent and witty. She struggles to find her place among a polygamist family, at first eagerly marrying Lee because of his considerable charisma, then floundering a bit as she tries to come to terms with the full implications of "living the Principle," as the early Mormons called the practice of polygamy. She would make a delightful and fascinating point-of-view character were it not for the incredibly dry, all-tell, nondescriptive writing in her voice. Emma is not writing a journal, yet her narration has the feel of a journal, with long stretches of nothing happening other than Emma listing off dates and the minutiae of things that happened. Well-written historical fiction has a lot of information about the details of everyday life in a past time and place, but well-written historical fiction is also entertaining and engrossing. Emma's narration was seldom engaging. When it was, it was due to the events happening and not Emma's narrative voice, which could have enhanced the action of the story and made it far more memorable.
The final portion of the book, told from the point of view of Rachel in the style of a journal spanning the year following Lee's execution, was so boring I almost gave up the book unfinished. Instead, after ascertaining that I could expect no improvement in the style and that I would indeed have to slog through a long litany of weather reports and detail-less lists of typical arid farming chores without any attempt to bring me into the setting or into the character's heart, I flipped through the last part of the book quickly, skimming for content. Even the scene where Rachel cuts off her friend's gangrenous foot left me not caring, it was described so dully. Yes, pioneer journals were often written in such a style, but this is fiction. More imagination and more regard for the reader's desire for entertainment are required.
Contrast these two difficult parts (one, again, fully half of this long novel) with the middle portion, told from the point of view of Ann, Lee's youngest wife, a cross-dressing, possibly bisexual, horse-wrangling, smart-mouthed, strong-willed girl who wants no children and who entered into a polygamist marriage as the first in a long string of adventures she intends to have. (In truth she did it for another reason, one that marks her as a shrewd and caring person, even at a very young age, and further develops her character.) Ann's narrative voice is in the third person and the writing craft displayed in this part of the book is rapturously gorgeous. Freeman spared nothing here in making the harsh, strange landscape of Utah spring to life. Other reviewers have called Ann's chapters dull. I, however, can never get enough of watching a good writer illustrate the stark, disturbingly vibrant land and cultures of Deseret, the place where I, more or less, am from, and the place where my ancestors carved out lives for themselves. Utah may be the butt of jokes in contemporary American society, but spend some time in its wilderness areas and you will have a different impression of it. It is a place that can weigh you down with equal parts beauty and despair; it is an endless place of harshness and bright color. It's like nowhere else in the world, and experiencing it through Ann's perspective was refreshing and very enjoyable. Why Freeman couldn't inject a little more of that into the other two parts of the novel is beyond me.
All in all, it's a decent book. The events at Mountain Meadow were not well explained in this novel, so readers who are not familiar with the history of the event may be confused as to what the hell everybody keeps referencing. The massacre is only lightly touched on, which is appropriate for a novel that seeks to understand how such a tragedy can continue to influence a region (and a family) many years after the fact, but might leave unfamiliar readers wondering what the big deal was. ...more
A dark, disturbing, and unforgettably beautiful novel which pays homage to nature and examines man's place in it. There's a good reason why readers keA dark, disturbing, and unforgettably beautiful novel which pays homage to nature and examines man's place in it. There's a good reason why readers keep describing this book as a blend of Cormac McCarthy and Wallace Stegner. It's the most apt description I could come up with, too. Crooked Creek combines the compelling bleakness of McCarthy with Stegner's rapturous imagery of Western nature, and the mixture is surprisingly appealing. I have seldom read a more lovely and unsettling novel. It moves with a quiet power, a subtle terribleness, full of images the reader will not soon forget -- the dead bird in the spider's web opening its black eye, the crate full of apples rotting in the ground.
I am from the general region where this book takes place...more or less. I was moved by how perfectly Werner captured the awful sublimity of Rocky Mountain farming valleys. It made me feel like I was back home again, for better and for worse.
Strongly recommended for fans of McCarthy and Stegner. Just don't expect a happy ending....more
I grew up in a very religious family that was, to state things mildly, a little obsessed about "the End Times." Being constantly immersed in a cultureI grew up in a very religious family that was, to state things mildly, a little obsessed about "the End Times." Being constantly immersed in a culture of anticipating the Apocalypse with glee did something of a number on my head, a trauma which even well into my skeptical and atheistic adulthood can sometimes still rear up and give me a case of the cold sweats or worse. That's why it took me four months to finish this book: because it's so vividly written that I found myself having to put it down again and again and give myself long breaks, or risk a long string of debilitating panic attacks.
Adams creates a plausible and frightening near-future world in which humans have become...no longer human. Or most of them. I don't want to spoil it for you. And through this non-human world, one woman and her companions move and try to retain their human-ness in the face of some terrifying and bizarre circumstances.
It's gorgeously written, combining the best aspects of literary and science fiction into one delectable wordfeast. But it's not all about the words, either. The book moves at a tight pace, pulling the reader along (unless she has to take forced sanity breaks for her own good.) A less traumatized reader could easily find herself totally unable to put this one down. I had to really be mindful of my mental health as I read, and shut the book away where I couldn't find it until my overheated noggin could cool off and stop panicking.
As you may expect, I don't read a lot of Apocalyptic or Dystopian fiction. Two I have read and loved were The Road and The Hunger Games. While White Horse really isn't in the same realm as The Hunger Games (it is decidedly adult, not YA, and it's less reliant on action and more on inner struggles...though don't get me wrong, there is plenty of outside action for protagonist Zoe and her companions to face), it ought to appeal strongly to adult fans of Suzanne Collins' series. It is much more comparable to The Road in its believable and vivid portrait of society falling apart, but unlike The Road, it has, thank god, an ending full up uplifting promise, leaving the reader eager for more (and more is forthcoming.) ...more
A slim but gorgeous, highly experimental work, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid follows, somewhat disjointedly, the life of the famous outlaw andA slim but gorgeous, highly experimental work, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid follows, somewhat disjointedly, the life of the famous outlaw and a bit of his legend, too. Through a mixture of Ondaatje's unparalleled poetry (he is undoubtedly the most under-appreciated poet in the English-speaking world) and his equally moving, memorable prose, the reader drifts in and out of Billy's mind, his experiences, and the perspectives of the people who knew and loved him. The book is deeply focused on visual imagery, on the idea of photographs, of freezing a moment in time with foreground sharp and background blurred, on the act itself of making an image in order to preserve a memory.
Poignantly, the book opens with a caption beneath a blank "photograph" and ends with the type-written text of a very old graphic novel, sans images, featuring Billy the Kid: his own legend obscuring his life, continuing forward after his death; Billy becoming unseen behind the image of Billy.
It is a deeply moving, visceral work, as all Ondaatje's works are. This, his riskiest and strangest book, may also be his best -- and it is certainly his least appreciated.
This is pure, emotional literary fiction at its best. Highly recommended....more