If you enjoyed Auri, the whimsical girl living under the University whom Kvothe met while playing his lute in The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man'sIf you enjoyed Auri, the whimsical girl living under the University whom Kvothe met while playing his lute in The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear, and you enjoy "the dreams of fish" and "sailor's songs" and eccentric playfulness, this is the book for you. But if you're Mola, who cautiously tolerates Auri but finds her whimsy almost disturbing, you may want to pass on this book. (Or at least wait for the price to drop a bit.)
Why? This is a strange book. It tells a story with a barely-recognizable beginning, middle, and end. It exists largely within one person's head. Its events are pedestrian and perambulatory: exploring, tidying house, acquiring and consuming food. And its sensibilities are those of a perturbed mind. Yet for all of that, it seems to work. (Or at least, it works if you are one to take a story as it is, without over-analyzing all the components of a story. If you are a lit-crit fanatic intent on sucking all the life out of everything you read, don't come talking to me about your omphaloskeptic analyses of it. :-) )
Here Rothfuss tells the story of a week in the life of Auri. Kvothe presents her as a likely former student, driven slightly strange by some prior event, hiding from the world as best she can. Here we learn more about her, in a week just prior to The Wise Man's Fear, Chapter 11. We learn of Auri's abiding sense of the rightness and wrongness of everything in the many hidden rooms beneath the University. Of (the place we would call) her home. Of her careful consideration of what to give Kvothe when she meets him. Of her sense of morality, living as she does off things found and things taken. And we see in much greater detail (albeit narrower scope) the sweep of her regular haunts in the Underthing.
Perhaps most interestingly, we see small hints of Auri herself. She does indeed seem to be a former student of alchemy, retaining some apparent facility in the art. She is self-aware enough to recognize that something's not quite right about her. (view spoiler)[Most intriguing are the stray isolated references to what might have been the events that "broke" her. That "She knew how quickly things could break", and that she knew "It could come crashing down and there was nothing you could do" and that if you didn't step lightly "the whole world came apart to crush you" -- perhaps most revealingly, "Like a wrist pinned hard beneath a hand with the hot breath smell of want and wine...." (hide spoiler)] What really happened to Auri? We still don't know. But we have a heartbreaking, cut-flower suggestion of what it may have been.
More than anything, we are left with greater (non-magical) sympathy for Auri and for whatever happened to her. And along the way, we get to enjoy Rothfuss's lyrical prose put to greatest effect in a story featuring the character who, more than any other Temerant figure, presents the greatest scope for it. I enjoyed this story, I hope to enjoy its subtler flourishes on a second read, and I hope to enjoy its continuation when Rothfuss decides the time is right (perhaps, the story leads us to expect, at some time in Book Three).
A couple last notes. Don't read this until you've read The Name of the Wind and, ideally but less critically, The Wise Man's Fear. And if you have read those books, don't read this expecting a continuation or illumination of them. A few parts suggest that this story may in time play back into that main storyline, but this is not Kvothe's story, and I would expect very little of it to have meaning in what may come in Book Three (and beyond, should such occur)....more
Suppose an alternative universe where Harry Potter was raised not by Vernon and Petunia Dursley, but instead by Petunia Evans-Verres and her scientistSuppose an alternative universe where Harry Potter was raised not by Vernon and Petunia Dursley, but instead by Petunia Evans-Verres and her scientist-rationalist husband Michael Verres-Evans. In this world, Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres learns the surprising fact of his magical heritage and proceeds into the magical world possessing a strong background in science and logical thinking. How might this change J.K. Rowling's story? What happens when a scientific mind tries to harmonize the world of science with a world in which transfiguration, Time-Turners, and illogical monetary exchange rates hold sway? What happens when game theory, artificial intelligence, ethics, quantum physics, and other scientific (or at least Enlightenment-influenced) ideas are introduced into Rowling's soft-magic world?
The answer is, of course, much poking of fun at the canonical Harry Potter world's magic, frequent in-jokes (often lampshading) referring to canonical-series events that don't happen in this story (or sometimes do, but in substantially different manner). (And many, many references, explicit and implicit, to other works, especially SF/F ones: Ender's Game, Star Wars, Star Trek, and others I can't bring to mind quickly enough -- not to mention the references I doubtless missed.) This is a much darker story than the original, with rationalist Harry regularly tending Machiavellian, or amorally utilitarian, in his actions. But it's still quite good.
As far as potential demerits. This story's fairly heavy in what's clearly the author's viewpoints, but generally they're artfully conveyed within the story itself without being too heavy-handed about it (unlike, say, various Robert Heinlein or Ayn Rand works: and to be clear, I was able to enjoy those authors' works even when this happened, or at least to mentally disassociate at such times). The tone varies a fair bit through the course of the story, with occasional arcs that aren't quite resolved cleanly. Somewhere just past the halfway mark, the general consensus seems to be (and I think there's some merit to it) that the story bogs down a little. There's one arc that I think probably could be left out, with the important parts merged into the rest of the story, at little overall cost. And the story is loooooong: fully half again as long (if not more) as the longest Wheel of Time doorstopper. (I have no problem reading long epic fantasy, so this isn't particularly a problem to me [though the glacial increase in percentage read on my Kindle was mildly wearying]. But it is a very slow slog to read the entire thing.) Some of this might be attributable to its basis in fan fiction (though to be clear, I say that almost entirely on the basis of stereotypes, without much direct experience with fanfic myself).
Nonetheless, this is an entirely enjoyable story, as long as you're willing to accept its incredible length. Particularly so if you enjoyed the original Harry Potter (do not read this before reading that -- there are far too many jokes and references that you'll completely miss if you haven't), and especially if you want something a little darker, more systematic, more intelligent, and more adult. (Which is not to say that it exceeds the original: J. K. Rowling is a better writer, her stories' points resonate better, and I think are largely more important and more profound than this story's points.) If you don't typically appreciate hard-SF sorts of literature, tho, you might want to stay away....more
Polly and Digory are two children growing up in London around the time of Sherlock Holmes (that is, around 1895) in the same row of houses. Digory's uncle has been experimenting with Magic and has devised a way to visit other worlds. Digory and Polly become his guinea pigs to test it out, visiting two worlds: the dying world of Charn, and the newborn world of Narnia. Along the way we meet the White Witch, the first Talking Animals of Narnia, the first joke, the first Narnian king and queen, and -- of course -- Aslan. We see how evil first enters Narnia, and we see how that evil is addressed.
Within the Narnian arc, of course, this story is important simply for explaining how Narnia started and why a certain wardrobe acted as it did. (And why a certain professor in a future story expressed less incredulity than expected, once.) It may also be interesting for the Biblical stories it's obviously intended to varyingly echo and evoke, blended with classical mythological references. (On that note, this time reading I noticed that in Narnia it wasn't woman who sinned and offered man the opportunity to sin, but rather man who sinned with the woman at worst egging him on. I don't think anyone should particularly care about the gender blame game in either instance. But it is interesting to note nonetheless.)
Outside the Narnian context, the story itself doesn't have as much to recommend it as other Narnian entries do. Narnia's primal magic is excellent -- a world where anything planted just grows? including coins, toffee, and lamp-posts? -- and the world feels distinctly and uniquely new. But other than that, there's not a whole lot to heighten interest. There isn't an obvious driving question to the story. (Digory's mother, sure, but she's not mentioned enough to carry that story, or at least wasn't during this read.) The characters have their own identities, but they exist more to play out the story than to be intriguing themselves. And the story itself is interesting more along the lines of being informative about Narnia than being interesting so much in its own right. Plus there are its unaddressed magical loose ends -- what's the nature of the in-between place or the mark, are those green and yellow items good or evil or simply too powerful, and so on -- which are totally unlike the magic in any of the other stories. Which isn't bad per se, but it's less rationalized than one might want.
Overall, this story is definitely worth reading to get the whole picture of Narnia. And that's why you should definitely read it. But on its own it's not as great as some of the entries in the Chronicles of Narnia.
One last topic: for the newcomer to Narnia, what reading order should be followed? Lewis wrote the stories in one order, but that order is not the chronological one, so a choice must be made.
The allusions this story makes to the contents of the other are few: at start explaining that this story would explain how "the comings and goings" between our world and Narnia started, and at end to set up the mechanism of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I don't believe these brief allusions damage those stories. Knowing that there is a lamp-post in Narnia from this book doesn't really spoil Lantern Waste in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, except to prove that that is Narnia. But a series reader won't be surprised by this, so it hardly matters. (And even someone not seriously reading through the series doesn't need to know these details -- the story setup primes the reader to expect magical events and explanations.)
In the end, then, I think the chronological order is the right order to read through these stories, if you intend to read them all. (And you definitely should!) If you're quite sure you're not reading them all -- but really, they're all short enough and enjoyable enough, that why bother? -- publication order might be reasonable. But I think there's enough magic to each entry that you might as well still read chronologically....more
It's Harry's second year at Hogwarts, and things aren't going well. Harry starts off the year on the wrong foot and faces the possibility of expulsionIt's Harry's second year at Hogwarts, and things aren't going well. Harry starts off the year on the wrong foot and faces the possibility of expulsion should he do anything wrong. Students at Hogwarts are being attacked by something that Petrifies them, and nobody knows what it is, how to defend against, or how to defeat it. But rumors say it's a creature from the titular Chamber of Secrets, a hidden room in Hogwarts left by Salazar Slytherin, which only Slytherin's heir can open -- to inflict horror upon the school and purge it of any impurities (namely, non-pure-blooded wizards). Hogwarts is becoming increasingly unsafe for its students...
All things considered, I'd probably rank this the weakest of the Harry Potter books. It lacks the novelty of the setting, characters, and so on of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (which is otherwise a fair contender for the title). It lacks the backstory developments that mark Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It lacks the extent of Harry's character development in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (although it does somewhat develop Harry, but not enough to truly satisfy), or the truly heightened stakes that mark the fourth to seventh books (and to a smaller extent the third book). And this book's overall significance really only becomes clear with all or nearly all of the series under one's belt. Dobby the character, and some of Dumbledore's ruminations at the end, are about the only mind chestnuts this book provides. Really, this book is a slightly zany mini-whodunit in which our favorite characters get more than their share of luck along the way toward solving the problem of the book.
After books six and seven this book becomes less than throwaway to me. But before then, it doesn't do a huge amount for me. Three stars....more