Oh, this was such an utterly beautiful and lyrical little tale. This is Gaiman at one of his most whimsical, and yet the darkness, the strangeness, th...moreOh, this was such an utterly beautiful and lyrical little tale. This is Gaiman at one of his most whimsical, and yet the darkness, the strangeness, the otherworldness is still there, lurking right around the corner.
Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one in the whole world.
To me, this story brought back wonderful memories of my own childhood, both good and bad. Those wondrous never-ending days during school breaks, of just losing myself in book after book after book, of reading late into the night and getting caught up in my imaginings (and sometimes, letting my imagination run away with me into deep, dark, magical places, sometimes scaring myself half-to-death by conjuring up things that terrified me yet made me feel...I don't know...so alive). Of being terrified of the dark, of wanting to keep the door of my bedroom open, of having just a wee bit more light. Of loving the sound of the rain and the wind.
Gaiman evoked that feeling I used to have as a child, where, if I closed my eyes real tight, held my breath, counted to ten, and wished really, really hard, then opened my eyes, I would find myself in a different world, some place I could escape to, a safe place, where my usual problems didn't follow me around. That was when I used to believe in magic...
I found myself imagining a valley filled with dinosaurs, millions of years ago, who had died in battle, or of disease: imagining first the carcasses of the rotting thunder-lizards, bigger than buses, and then the vultures of that aeon: gray-black, naked, winged but featherless; faces from nightmares---beak-like snouts filled with needle-sharp teeth, made for rending and tearing and devouring, and hungry red eyes. These creatures would have descended on the corpses of the great thunder-lizards and left nothing but bones. Huge, they were, and sleek, and ancient, and it hurt my eyes to look at them.
Gaiman dealt with the feelings of loneliness and alienation and not quite fitting in so well that a number of us go through, in childhood. There are those of us who know what it's like, not having anyone come to your birthday party, of not having any friends, of having a sibling who was more personable than you, of learning how to become invisible because it was easier. Of connecting better with animals than people because...well, they knew what it was like not to be understood by those around you.
I have a theory why Gaiman didn't name his narrator -- in doing so, this story easily became any child's story, provided that child was a loner, a misfit, someone who just didn't quite fit in with others. It's the kind of thing many of us bring into adulthood, and while we may learn how to become more social, more adept at joining the rest of the world, that part of us remains, to a certain degree, and that shyness and trepidation lurks in the background, peeking out every so often.
Ursula Monkton smiled and the lightnings wreathed and writhed about here. She was power incarnate, standing in the crackling air. She was the storm, she was the lightning, she was the adult world with all its power and all its secrets and all its foolish casual cruelty. She winked at me.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, to me, was a love story. A love story between a child and his books, of his love for books, of the way how books became an escape, how books saved him, how books gave him something that no one else did or could --- for books, in this world, offered him refuge and solace and protection, something none of the regular adults could do.
My favorite characters in the book: the Hempstock women. I'd have loved to meet and spend time with them (and I'd probably have begged them to adopt me!). At times, they reminded me of the Fates -- Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos -- not only in their actions and words, but in their powers. Then at others, they just brought back memories of the myriad Enid Blyton books I devoured as a child. The world that the Hempstocks lived in, both here and not here, brought back so many memories of days spent reading and losing myself in The Magic Faraway Treeand with The Secret Seven, for the boy in this book lived for both adventure and fantasy.
My one major gripe about this story, and really, it's not even a big one in retrospect, is Gaiman infused some real-worldliness in what could have been a true flight of fantasy. His Ursula Monkton, the evil baddie, was too much of the "money makes the world go round" sort. I understand that this was probably Gaiman's way of saying "Hey, capitalism isn't good!" but that part of the story seemed forced. There was enough evil in Ursula that I felt he didn't need to keep shoving the "money will make them happy" and "I'm giving them what they want!" diatribes down my throat.
Despite all that, I think this one is definitely one of my faves of the year. I'd read this again if I wanted a nice little escape.(less)
When I was in grad school, I took a Captivity class, where the focus was on the 18th and 19th century subaltern---people deemed to be of inferior stat...moreWhen I was in grad school, I took a Captivity class, where the focus was on the 18th and 19th century subaltern---people deemed to be of inferior status by the dominant culture, and included groups as diverse as women, Native Americans, Africans, Asians, and really anyone who did not conform to the patriarchal hegemony: i.e., white Christian males---and how the subalterns managed to find their voice.
Part of the study of the subaltern was understanding how acculturating and adapting the dominant culture’s ways did not necessarily bring equality, and more importantly, how the path towards finding their own voice involved much resistance and defiance despite being faced with unrelenting prejudice from the dominant culture. Because in finding their own voice, they gained a certain degree of freedom, a freedom which was separate and distinct from the freedom that was withheld from them by their captors, and which would not be realized in full until the twentieth century.
At its heart, The Golem and the Jinni is a tale of captivity. We have the Golem---a woman made from clay whose personality, character and uniqueness have all been pre-programmed---who was created to serve as a wife for a man who was generally disliked by all around him. He became her Master and when he dies shortly after he wakens her, the Golem is left adrift. Then we have the Jinni, an ethereal, ineffable, god-like creature whose entire being---his personality, character, temperament and disposition---has been trapped in a human body for millennia, that he can’t even say his own Jinn name out loud.
There are any number of secondary characters---all important to the narrative in their own way---who are also held captive in one way or another, such as: • Ice Cream Saleh, a doctor possessed by an ifrit trapped in him. The ifrit, in turn, traps Saleh in his own head, where he is unable to look at anyone around him for all he sees are ghouls, skeletal beings, nightmares. Saleh wants nothing more than death, but this eludes him. • Schaalman, a kabbalah-practicing disgraced rabbi, creator of the Golem. Knowing himself as an evil man, he fears death and what awaits him on the other side. He is trapped by his own desire to discover the secret to immortality, at any cost. • (view spoiler)[ibn Malik, the wizard who trapped and bound the Jinni in human form, who claimed him as his slave. But since his spell has linked his life to the Jinni’s, and the Jinni has been held captive for millennia, ibn Malik’s soul has been forced to jump from one body to the next, always following the same violent path towards malevolence and wickedness. (hide spoiler)] • Anna Blumberg, a young Jewish girl whose sole desire is to experience love and life to the fullest, and who does, until she has to deal with the harsh reality of a single, unwed woman with child. Trapped culturally, engaged in a battle against not only the mores and traditions of her culture, but also of the times. • Sophia Winston, an upper-class lady, daughter to New York’s richest magnate, who is trapped within the expectations and confines of her own society: schooled as a lady, she is expected to wed an acceptable gentleman of means she barely knows, then become a mother and doyenne of society. She wants nothing more than to travel and experience life but is not allowed this. It isn’t what ladies of her stature do.
The Golem and the Jinni is a sprawling tale not only of the two main characters, Chava the Golem and Ahmad the Jinni, but also of what it means to be Jewish or Syrian, what it means to be Muslim or Christian, what it means to have faith or none at all. It is a story of minorities, a story of immigration, and it is a story of a growing New York. For New York is as much a character in the novel as any of the other human and non-human characters in it. Home to a diverse crowd of people, of different races and religions and beliefs, New York comes alive when the Jinni goes off exploring his new home, then becomes even more so once the Golem and the Jinni finally meet and experience New York together.
The novel is so beautifully written. Helene Wecker is the kind of writer who has the sense of the lyrical about her. Her words flow languorously, the language at times soothing and melodic, and at others, rhapsodic and dangerous. She allows her readers to get to know her characters intimately, spending a good amount of time developing them, jumping back and forth in time---sometimes hundreds of years---to ensure that each character gets his or her fair share of development, that each one gets to say who they are and what they are about. In fact, she spends so much time upfront introducing the reader to her large cast of characters that Chava and Ahmad don’t even meet until we’re two-fifths of the way into the novel. The first part of the novel reads more like a series of short stories, each chapter or section within a chapter devoted to one character or one life, drawing the reader in deeper and deeper into the story, weaving each one into this tapestry she’s creating, but without really allowing us to see the full tableau, not yet, not completely.
But this is Chava and Ahmad’s story. One is practically a newborn, created just before her journey to New York, while the other is hundreds of years old. But when both finally come face-to-face with their new lives in New York, each is young, each has to undergo growing pains, and each has to learn how their lives fit into this new world and with the people around them. Each has to figure out how what to do with their lives, not truly their own, with their own set of restraints and boundaries, and how to keep others from discovering what they truly are, which is the largest shackle of all.
Chava and Ahmad themselves couldn’t be more different. Chava, gentle and inquisitive in nature---because this is how she was created---has long, philosophical discussions with both the Rabbi who finds her in New York and takes her under his wing, as well as Ahmad. Where her discussions with the former is more a pedantic kind of instruction---the Rabbi, after all, knows what Chava is and wants to ensure she can not only survive in New York but can also rise above what a Golem is---her long talks with Ahmad are more passionate, more heated for he challenges her to be more, to use her talents and skills and to not just sit idly by and accept what she has been told. He wants her to embrace her Golemness, to not hold back when she can be so much more that the ordinary humans surrounding them.
Ahmad, accustomed to the freedom he had as an incorporeal fire Jinni, is incensed by his inability to be as he was. His shackles---an iron cuff put on him by the wizard ibn Malik centuries ago---is not only a constant reminder of what he lost, but also of what he can be, but can’t. He sees Chava as a creature who has the freedom to do and be so much more, but chooses not to. She chooses to live an insular life, coded and guided now by the Rabbi’s teachings and her own inhibitions. This enrages him: here he is, shackled, tied to a human form he despises, unable to be himself, unable to remember what was done to him or what he had done as a slave to the wizard, unable to free himself, and here is the Golem, so capable of being more than what she is, of breaking free, but she refuses to do so.
This dichotomy in the two creatures, in Chava and Ahmad, are what drives them toward each other and propels the narrative forward. When Chava discovers how she was created by Schaalman and what characteristics he’d imbued in her, she is devastated:
Obedience. Curiosity. Intelligence. Virtuous and modest behavior.
She will make him an admirable wife, if she doesn’t destroy him first.
It was edifying, in a sense, to see her own origins, but at the same time she felt humiliated, reduced to nothing more than words. The request for modest behavior, for example: it rankled her to think of her arguments with the Jinni on the subject, how fervently she’d defended an opinion she’d had no choice but to believe. And if she was meant to be curious, did that mean she could take no credit for her own discoveries, her accomplishments? Had she nothing of her own, only what Joseph Schall [Schaalman] decreed she should have? And yet, if Rotfeld had lived, she would hve been more than content!
So do Chava and Ahmad break free of their captors? I can’t answer that question because that will give the story away. But it is a story worth reading. It is a story worth spending time with. It’s slow going, but I think this is one of those stories where the pacing is deliberate and is needed, in order to lay the groundwork. Once Wecker enters the last fifth of the story, the pace picks up significantly and hurtles towards the ending at breakneck speed.
My advice: enjoy it. Savor it. It’s well worth it, and in the end, it is a lovely journey, with so many unforgettable characters. ["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"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Overall rating: 3 stars (although I really had to round up since the average was 2.25).
Breakdown of my rating:
Narrative: 2 stars. For the life of me,...moreOverall rating: 3 stars (although I really had to round up since the average was 2.25).
Breakdown of my rating:
Narrative: 2 stars. For the life of me, I just don’t know where this story is going. Why, for example, did it take until page 817 for some fairly important bit of information about the Chandrian to pop up? Why were we meandering all over the place, going this way and that, often for hundreds of pages at a time, going absolutely nowhere?
I get that this is an epic. I love my epics. But one of the things that I look for in any novel, regardless of length, is forward momentum. Will this part of the story propel the narrative along? Will this action or sequence or (mis)adventure make the characters grow or learn something? Will something significant happen along the way and will it be clear later on, when we come back to this?
Some of the time, sure, this happened. Most of the story though were mere diversions. Diversions that could’ve been told more succinctly. For example, as interesting as the Felurian story was, could it have been shorter? Sure. Was it necessary? To a certain degree, yes. To the degree it was written? No. And that’s the problem. There is always a reason to write something. The hard part is knowing when something is too much.
When I stop every thirty or forty pages, asking myself “Where is this going? Is the name of this series really The Kingkiller Chronicles? If so, where is this king? When will Kvothe kill him? We’ve barely had any allusions to the king, other than there’s this big war out there. Where is the killing of the king? How will the Chandrian come in? When will he meet them again? How will he defeat them? Will he defeat them? What about Denna? How does she fit into all this? Will Kvothe ever tell Denna how he feels?
Right now, I feel like I’ve read close to 1900 pages, and we’ve spent 2 years with Kvothe in the university, and he’s gotten into and out of trouble (mostly of his own doing…more on that later), he’s had sex, he’s become a warrior, he’s becoming a legend, but other than dozens of amusing side quests/adventures, I still question where the story is going.
And if that is the point of this story, then Rothfuss has succeeded. And boo on me for not recognizing that. But I don’t think that’s the point of the story. The point is for us to see how Kvothe became the man he is now: Kote, and how Kote finds his way back to being Kvothe (if that is the goal).
Writing: 3 stars. Such a HUGE improvement over Name of the Wind. Enormous improvement. One of the things that made me cringe in the first book was the overuse of adjectives and adverbs in every sentence. Don’t get me wrong: I believe that adjectives and adverbs are useful tools and can strengthen your writing and provide flavor and flare. But excessive use is burdensome: it detracts from the story when what you’re reading becomes stilted and too descriptive. It becomes too distracting when you find yourself saying “Did he really have to use twenty words here when he could’ve made his point in six?”
So I was (beyond) relieved when the writing in Wise Man’s Fear was crisper, tighter. Stronger verbs made for leaner, stronger sentences. Adjectives and adverbs used sparingly, and more often than not, it wasn’t overdone. He still had a few places where he overdid it, but they were few and far between, and so it wasn’t as annoying as in the first book.
I think Rothfuss and his editor finally struck an ideal balance as far as the technical merits of his writing was concerned. I am hopeful that he becomes even stronger with the third book.
Characters: 2 star. Here’s the thing. I can’t stand Kvothe. He’s annoying. He’s an idiot. He’s conceited. He doesn’t learn (view spoiler)[(really, Kvothe, did you need to send Ambrose that letter while you were in Tarbean? Couldn’t you leave well enough alone? (hide spoiler)]. Part of me thinks that every single misadventure he has, every punishment that’s meted out to him, he deserves. He is impetuous, almost to a fault, and he never learns. He doesn’t think things through. He’s clever and extremely intelligent and creative, but for someone who grew up in the streets, he certainly lacks a lot of common sense. It doesn’t make sense.
I get that he’s a teenager. He’s young. And he means well. He’s got the heart of gold. He can be tender and caring, considerate and compassionate. Let’s face it: most boys aged fifteen through seventeen are stupid and reckless, hasty and impulsive. But for me, it becomes a problem when your protagonists’ bad decisions overshadow the good he does because he doesn’t learn from his mistakes, when he recognizes that he shouldn’t do something and does it anyway, just because he feels like it. Or because something (or someone) rankles him and gets under his skin. Personally, I like seeing growth in my main characters. Bildungsroman, baby.
Having said all that, let me list the characters that I do like: Bast. Simmon. Willem. Denna. Elodin. Kilvin. Auri and Fela. Amazingly well-drawn, complex characters. With the exception of Denna, I’m just disappointed that they are supporting characters.
Execution: 2 stars. I think I’ve said enough about the execution (see Narration and Characters). Suffice to say, I think it could’ve been handled better. It’s a compelling story, and you want to know what’s happening, but there’s much that could be improved. I hope the third book will be solid, a taut page turner, one that will not be disappointing to his fans.
And I never thought I’d have George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss in the same sentence, but I have the same fear for both the Song of Ice and Fire and Kingkiller Chronicle: how will they tie everything up? Martin has two more books left to tie things up after introducing another dozen or so characters to the already crowded world of the first five books.
Rothfuss, on the other hand, has only one novel left. And he’s said that it will definitely be the end of this part of the story. But if that’s the case, he has a LOT to tie up. In 450,000 words or less. And it terrifies me that he may not be able to tie most things up. We still need to know how Kvothe is kicked out of the University. We need to know how he finds the Chandrian, are they gone, did he defeat them, how he ends up part of this war that’s going on, who this king is (God, is it Ambrose?), what happens to Denna, how Kvothe meets Bast. Will he go back to Felurian? Did he send his sword back to the Adem (view spoiler)[(since it seems Folly isn’t Caesura) (hide spoiler)]? Lots of questions. Not a lot of story time left. I don’t want the third book to feel rushed, but am afraid it may be.
What was good about it: I have to give it to Patrick Rothfuss. Where world building is concerned, he’s got it down pat. Amazing world-builder, from the locales, the cultures, the religions, languages, currency, and everything else in between. He did an amazing job rounding out each of the different cultures and it’s very realistic. Having the Yllish have a knot-based language is amazing and is reminiscent of ancient cultures. The currency alone is intense, and when you add in the theology, the cultural differences, the foods, the laws…it’s all quite overwhelming. And as a chemist, I appreciate how Rothfuss has incorporated so many wonderful scientific themes (endothermic and exothermic reactions, using carbon as a chelating compound after ingesting toxins, reaction mechanisms) – it’s all fantastic stuff that I hope would get younger readers interested in the sciences.
And the Adem. Best. Culture. Ever. There were so many great things about the Adem, and about what Kvothe learned from them, that I can’t list them all. They’re all great. Best part of the book for me, hands down. Actually, best part of both books, if I were to be honest. (Although their concept of what amounts to asexual reproduction is a tad insular and hilarious, although that was the point, I suppose.) ["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"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Interestingly enough, Quentin was much more likable the second time around! Huge surprise (since I couldn't stand him in the first book). I also liked...moreInterestingly enough, Quentin was much more likable the second time around! Huge surprise (since I couldn't stand him in the first book). I also liked Julia's story arc...what a tragic story.(less)
This was a beautifully written book. On a purely technical level, it was near-perfect. The imagery was fantastic, the prose was lyrical, and the chara...moreThis was a beautifully written book. On a purely technical level, it was near-perfect. The imagery was fantastic, the prose was lyrical, and the characters were very well developed (and that includes the biggest character of all, the circus itself).
However, from a reader's emotional point of view, I felt that it took such a long time for things to come together that at times, I couldn't help wondering "Where is this all going and do I want to stick with it?" I like well-written narratives but when the technical beauty gets in the way of the story, I have a tendency to think that it detracts from what drew me to the book in the first place: the promise of being caught up in the story.
One of the things that I found annoying was that Morgenstern kept switching perspectives and person (as in first, second or third person). It was distracting and I felt that it broke the flow of the narrative. I must admit, having the first chapter written in second person was very disconcerting and I wondered if I could handle an entire novel in second person. Thankfully, it wasn't, but she did switch back and forth between first, second and third person. This was also part epistolary (the first person parts) and while I am a huge fan of the epistolary, I am not all that convinced it added a significant benefit to the narrative. I can see why she did it; after all, something critical happens to the character speaking in first person that had wide-ranging effects in the narrative. It was a good literary device -- again, from a technical perspective, it worked, but from an emotional one, not so much (at least for me).
So, rating's-wise, I gave this a 4 for how well-written it was, but a 3 for the story itself. (less)
This was a fairly predictable story, which I found quite disappointing, considering it's a Neil Gaiman work. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't that good, e...moreThis was a fairly predictable story, which I found quite disappointing, considering it's a Neil Gaiman work. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't that good, either. At some point, I even wondered if he was going more for the shock factor, above anything else (e.g., when the characters were going through the various rooms during the show). His characters weren't well developed (and I understand that part of the story was the mystery, which is why it started in media res). Still, while I've read worse, I did expect a bit more from it.(less)