Connell's novella is hard to categorize--certainly dark, but also a bit fantastical, it straddles the line between horror and contemporary fantasy. Th...moreConnell's novella is hard to categorize--certainly dark, but also a bit fantastical, it straddles the line between horror and contemporary fantasy. The study of the cult of personality, the delusion of faith, and madness of ego is finely wrought and creative, though there's such a distance created in the tone and perspective that I found emotional engagement difficult. The writing elevates the tale, though, and I'd certainly read something else by this author.(less)
What a push from a publisher can do for a mediocre book. This thing is ubiquitous, with wide critical coverage in print and online, great positioning...moreWhat a push from a publisher can do for a mediocre book. This thing is ubiquitous, with wide critical coverage in print and online, great positioning in bookstores, and 824 customer reviews on Amazon so far. And really, it's just not that well-written.
I bet the elevator pitch was awesome: "It's The Prestige meets Something Wicked This Way Comes." And to give the author her due, Morgenstern is certainly inventive enough with the structure and contents of the titular circus. But the problems with the book--the characters, the pacing, the language use--are more than sheer inventiveness can make up for.
The majority of the characters have little depth, and even the protagonists, Celia and Marco, are far thinner than they should be given the amount of time we spend with them. But other than their romantic attraction for one another (mentioned in the jacket copy but not emerging until halfway through the novel), we know little about their personalities. The hardly have enough substance, beyond one or two characteristics, for them to cast a shadow.
The plot suffers from the lack of real characters, and all the actions feel protracted. The pacing is hindered in part by the structure of the book which makes occasional jumps in chronology--mainly leaping forward a few years for an interceding chapter before returning to the traditional linear narrative--without any clear purpose or significant effect. On top of this, the writing itself is uneven. There are places where Morgenstern's descriptions reach the poetic and evocative, and she has potential as a writer. But she needs a significantly vigilant editor to weed out her misused words and clunky expressions, and most of all her repetitious vocabulary.
I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. Give me Bradbury any day of the week.(less)
I adored the Chronicles of Prydain when I was a child, and I couldn't wait to get my son to read them when he was old enough--which turned out to this...moreI adored the Chronicles of Prydain when I was a child, and I couldn't wait to get my son to read them when he was old enough--which turned out to this year. I've started to reread them so I can refresh my memory for all the references he makes, and it turns out that the first book holds up beautifully. The novel is nearly as magical and thrilling as I remember.
From an adult perspective, it's easy to see what seems derived from Tolkein, what from Welsh myth, and what from Alexander's fertile imagination. But the borrowings don't bother me at all, and Taran's journey toward heroism is still compelling, inventive, and fun. The novel is clearly written for young people, which means a fast pace and some skimping on details that a writer for adults might have lingered on, but the characters are well-drawn and distinctive, and the world-building offers just enough to fuel the imagination.
I'm looking forward to continuing with The Black Cauldron next week.(less)
It's been a long time since I've read anything characterized as historical fantasy, not quite as long since I've read a novel that contains vampires (...moreIt's been a long time since I've read anything characterized as historical fantasy, not quite as long since I've read a novel that contains vampires (of a sort). Both of these elements tend to turn me away from novels, as they're things I saturated myself with in high school and my 20s, respectively. But Grimwood's name on a book is always promising, so on a lark I picked this up, hoping for some of the intricacies of his Ashram Bey novels and less of the whimsy of 9Tail Fox. And so I was rewarded.
The Fallen Blade offers an alternate/secret history of Renaissance Venice that weaves together accurate historical detail--we get a real sense of both the grandeur and the stink of the period--and fantastical elements. Venice's precarious placement as an independent city state, powerful economic force, and home to complex alliances is revealed through events and interactions more than any lengthy exposition, which moves the story forward elegantly and avoids overwhelming us with sudden deluges of history.
There's a large cast of characters, mainly aristocrats but also slaves, that made me grateful for the list of dramatis personae at the front of the book. Given the period, though, it would have been interesting to involve some members of the burgeoning middle class in the novel's primary figures. As trade is so central to Venice, it seems this class of characters would be essential to the success of others' political maneuvers as well. And the politicking here is complex; the changes in narrative perspective offer views of everyone's motives. Grimwood keeps mystery and tensions through the switches in POV without coming across as coy or frustrating to the reader.
Until the end of the novel, most of the fantasy elements are downplayed, emerging more through hints and allusion than explicit portrayal. The central character, Tycho (pictured on the cover), in part drives and in part is driven by the plot, but the fantasy elements of the novel are primarily connected to his development (with a handful of exceptions).
This is a dark and violent book. The vicious and unsentimental expediencies of politics and economics are laid bare through the machinations of its most powerful characters, and even by the scheming of some of its lowlifes. Grimwood develops and complex and compelling narrative by engaging the reader in the lives of those who cannot always control their destinies and rewards us by revealing how control can sometimes be wrested from those in power.(less)