Re-rated. Was too generous in my first review. With hindsight it's def a 1 star read and probably one of the worst books I've ever read.
I outlined my...moreRe-rated. Was too generous in my first review. With hindsight it's def a 1 star read and probably one of the worst books I've ever read.
I outlined my initial thoughts to this book in my blog straight after I finished but I think it's time for a proper review now that I've put some distance between myself and the book.
Now let me start off by saying that I was not the target audience for this book, I could not be any less the target audience for this book if I suddenly sprouted chest hair and grew a penis. Despite this though I can see why other people liked, even loved, it - but it just wasn't for me. I read it because the concept sounded interesting and becaue my best friend picked it out for our book group read.
Other reviewers have summarised my thoughts far better than I ever could but it basically boils down to loving the concept but being hudely dissapointed with the execution. There were so many interesting questions and themes that could have been explored that were barely touched on only to get dismissed in favour of stressing once more how 'romantic'the whole messed-up sittuation was and how perfect Henry and Clare were for each other.
And maybe Henry and Claire were perfect for each other - they certainly had totally identical narrative voices and a similar self-absorbed nature that prevented them from caring about anyone else or feel anything remotely resembling guilt or shame when they did horrible things to those they purported to care about. Basically I'm saying the characterisation was poor and that neither were likable. Neither character ever seemed to develop past initial character drafting stage - appearance, backstory, favourite bands...Check. Personality? Not so much. Henry tells us how wonderful Clare's personality is, Clare tells us how wonderful Henry's is and neither ever shows any of their own.
In fact the whole book seems to rely on 'tell, don't show'. Henry and Clare love each other, lets not question why (she loves him because he pretty much groomed her to, he loves her because... she's fit, has red hair, and can keep up with him sexually better than any woman in the past? That's all I could come up with when I tried to stop and really think about it). We're told Henry and Gomez will become best friends in the future, then it is the future an they're best friends, but nothing in their actions show that they even like each other. We're told Henry was a horrible person before he met Clare but, despite the time travel thing being the perfect way to show it, we never see that. We're told that he changes because of Clare but his narrative voice and personality don't, they remain constant throughout. By the end of the book the only change we've seen him go though on the page is getting a haircut.
Although these are pretty big writing criticisms I think, to be honest, the book could have been improved hugely by a better and more ruthless editor. At 519 pages the book is simply too long for the story it's trying to tell. It could have been cut a good 200 pages and been vastly improved for it. The first half is just padded with needless scenes like Henry being awesome at pool or Henry impressing his awesomeness on a couple of easily impressed teenagers by listing off a reel of punk bands, that barely anything of interest actually happens. Niffenegger is obviously going for a book in two acts - first 'light fluffy' then 'bleak and miserable'. The problem was that by the time I reached the hard hitting stuff I was already bored with the characters that I couldn't care less about what horrible things started to happen to them in the second half. And boy did a lot of drama start happening, I won't spoil anything specific but instead of breaking down in tears I was rolling my eyes by the end of the book. By making the first half so long and full of inconsiquential nothingness any emotions that should have been triggered by the tragedies in the second half just didn't happen. Maybe if the characterisation had been beeter I would have cared.
2 stars 1 star. Poor characterisation, poor editing, and simply not my type of thing. I still say that the concept is brilliant though, it's just a shame it was used to tell such an insipid and irritating love story rather than being properly explored. Totally overated.(less)
So, after starting this book over a month ago, and having to put it down twice for weeks at a time to get on with work, I’m finally done. And f...more 5 stars
So, after starting this book over a month ago, and having to put it down twice for weeks at a time to get on with work, I’m finally done. And fuck me, if I don’t completely love it. Favourite book of 2012 by a huge margin. I can’t remember what made me pick this book up in the shop – probably the gorgeous cover and the fact the pages are edged in the same blue as the cover design (I’m a sucker for a pretty book) – but I am really glad I did. This is the reason I persist on ‘wasting my money’ impulse buying interesting looking books that I’ve never even heard of before; you might pick up a few duds but occasionally you stumble across something glorious that you’d never have been led to otherwise.
And now I’m left in the awkward position of trying to write a review for a book I totally adored. I’ve heard other people saying reviewing books you loved is harder than books you hated and I never really believed them – but it is. Whilst I loved this book it probably isn’t for everybody – in fact I’m sure it isn’t. And I know from experience that the quickest way you can get someone to dislike a book and notice its flaws is to build up their expectations by raving about it before they’ve read it… Oh welll…here goes…
We, The Drowned is a hard book to describe; at the surface level it’s just ‘the lives and adventures of the inhabitants of a Danish port town over a hundred years’ but that’s not really what it’s about. I tried describing it to my dad as ‘a Danish One Hundred Years of Solitude, but without the magical realism and about sailors instead of a gigantic Latin American family’ but that description strips One Hundred Years of Solitude of its key features and does both books a disservice. Both are brilliant books, both deal with the history of a place by telling the story of the people who lived there over multiple generations – but apart from that they’re completely different beasts and liking/hating one will not mean you have the same opinions about the other.
So I’ll try again… We, the Drowned is a massive book, 690 pages spanning 100 years and 3/4 (depending on your opinion of Klara) central characters. I agree with another reviewer that the story, though divided into four parts actually feels more like three different books that run into each other:
The first part was all about Laurids Madsen the man ‘who went up to heaven and came down thanks to his boots’, who starts off as a daredevil prankster but comes back from war with Germany with what would now be diagnosed as post traumatic stress. And it’s no wonder; the violence in the book is brutal and him and his companions are sailors, not soldiers. Combat on a sailing ship isn’t the bloodless carnage of something like Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s bloody and nasty; people soil themselves and go down screaming and sobbing like children, if someone gets a cannon shot to the head they don’t comically pick their skull back up and get on, their whole face is blown off. If they’re really unlucky they’ll survive it and go home to a family that doesn’t recognise them and doesn’t want to because it would mean acknowledging the person they loved before the war no longer exists. I haven’t read much stuff set on sailing ships beyond the odd Robert Louis Stevenson, but the battle seemed very real to me. Jensen doesn’t go overboard with description and purple prose but I could vividly see and imagine the whole thing. That said, I don’t know how well it measures up to a Hornblower or Master and Commander I’ll add them to my reading list.
Since it’s on the blurb it’s no spoiler to say that Laurids leaves Marstal soon afterwards, and the majority of this part is about his son Albert growing up without him and his later quest to find his father as soon as he’s old enough to go to sea. It’s old-fashioned adventure on the high seas stuff – shrunken heads, murders, cannibals, pearls, pokey little bars, brutal first mates, and ineffectual captains. But between the sailing and adventure there’s Marstal. Marstal is as much of a character as any of the central characters, maybe even more, not only does it ground all the characters into some sort of context but it grows and changes throughout the novel. In a stroke of genius all the Marstal scenes, or scenes where there are a lot of Marstalers present are told in the first person plural ‘we’. This ‘we’ is never acknowledged as a named character, there is no one narrator, but is the collective consciousness of the town itself: for Lauids this ‘we’ was the Marstal sailors who had been recruited for war alongside him, for Albert it is his peers, the Marstal schoolboys. I’ll admit it confused me at first but I grew to love it very quickly, it created a sort of understanding of the town and its people and a sense of inclusion that third person would simply have been too impersonal to portray. Without it the Marstal bits might have seemed like the ‘boring’ parts between adventures but, if anything, I almost came to love them more by the end of the book.
Which is good because the next portion of the book is entirely set there. After the Treasure Island-like adventures of his youth the book skips straight on to Albert as an old man living in Marstal. Although told in the ‘we’ it is really from Albert’s eyes that we see the approach and then the horrors of World War I and the effect it has on the town. And it’s chilling. As a history student, it’s embarrassing to admit but I’d never really looked at WWI from the standpoint of a neutral country and, though I’ve been taught over and over again about the horrors of the trenches, somehow no one ever mentions the war at sea and the sinking of ships. Here the trenches are absent, the suffering of the front lines barely noted, even the losses at sea are distant from the lives of people on the land – life goes on as normal. But, through Albert, we hear about the Marstal ships being shot down and sunk by players in a war they were not even part of. It’s a beautiful and depressing portrayal of war and the effect it has on people and places. As well as the war this part of the book is about growing old – the age of sail is all but dead and the world Albert knew has changed almost beyond recognition. Watching Albert come to grips with this, and the ways in which he deals with his lessening importance within the town is just as powerful, in its way, as the depiction of the distant war.
The third part takes us back to the sea with Knud Erik, a fatherless boy Albert mentored as a child, and his mother Klara. Knud Erik wants nothing more than to be a sailor like both Albert and his father. Klara, meanwhile hates the sea for taking her husband, and so many others, and leaving the women of Marstal in a constant state of grief and uncertainty. She’s the first major female character in the book, and I could take a lot of issues with her but, though she claims to speak for ‘the women’, in the end she’s just about well enough developed that she’s only really speaking for herself, something that becomes more and more apparent as the story goes on. I’m still not sure what I think of her, I certainly understand her, and I appreciate her growing into a strong woman who doesn’t use sex as a tool buuut…well, there’s just something not entirely likable about her. Despite the tension it causes, Knud Erik, does of course become a sailor. First sailing on sailing ships as a teenager; having adventures reminiscent of his mentor Albert’s – cruel first mates, vicious storms, murder at sea, icebergs. Then, once the age of the sailing ship is truly over, on steam and then mechanical ships, serving on the allied merchant convoys of World War II.
This again was an entirely different perspective on the War than anything I’d ever read about it before. What the ships docked in London did during air raids is something I’d never really thought about. Nor the horrors of the ‘keep going, don’t stop to rescue anyone’ order given to convoys when one of their number got struck by a u-boat. It gave me a new appreciation for the men who risked their lives, without lifting weapons, to help in the war effort.
All in all a brilliant book – I haven’t mentioned half of the bits I would want to talk about for fear of spoilers. It’s bleak and depressing and certainly not for everyone, but I loved it. Some bits were predictable – I knew what would happen to Karo the moment he appeared, same with the ‘free men’ in the hold and several other characters, but it didn’t seem ‘predictable’ so much as ‘inevitable, given how the characters around them are sketched’ and, instead of rolling my eyes when it happened I was gripped and unable to tear myself away from my book as I watching the build up and then the fall out. Other bits weren’t so predictable; the first ‘romance’ especially left me reeling with an ‘I should have expected that but I really didn't’.
It had its flaws of course – sometimes characters we’d been introduced to reappeared in unlikely places – but nothing too unforgivable. There wasn’t much chance for female characters to shine and the one that did appear as a sailor late in the book I was unconvinced by, but I think that’s the nature of the setting – women weren’t given chances to shine. The adventures were, for the most part, gripping and the Marstal parts were beautiful and really gave a sense of the community there beyond just the main few characters – it wasn’t just ‘main character, his immediate family, and some other people to bulk up the population count’ who lived there – the town was a living breathing character in itself. The use of ‘we’ for the parts set in Marstal worked incredibly well, and wasn’t something I’d really seen done before. The perspectives through which both World War I and II were told were unusual but even more powerful for that.
All in all I just kinda loved it and will be on the lookout for anything else written by Carsten Jensen from now on.(less)
Looks like it’s unpopular literary opinions time! And as a self-proclaimed lover of gothic fiction and a massive fan of ghost stories this is g...more 3 Stars
Looks like it’s unpopular literary opinions time! And as a self-proclaimed lover of gothic fiction and a massive fan of ghost stories this is going to be even more blasphemous. So here goes: I don’t think The Turn of the Screw is very good. I didn’t find it scary, I didn’t find it exciting, I didn’t find it atmospheric or tense or any of those other descriptions people use for this book and I didn’t find it either surprising or thought-provoking. After all the hype surrounding this novella, all the praise for Henry James as a master of the ghost story, I’m afraid I rather found myself feeling supremely underwhelmed by it. That’s not to say I thought it was ‘bad’ or that I actively ‘disliked’ it – it was certainly interesting to read it knowing how much of a classic it is and how well discussed certain aspects of it are, but as a story it did pretty much nothing for me and left me feeling, if anything, rather neutral. I got on a little better with the second, much lesser known, story in this book, Owen Wingrave. But neither story, I would say, are ‘among the finest examples of the genre’.
The Turn of the Screw, famously, tells the story of a governess who believes the children in her care are being corrupted by evil spirits and the efforts she goes to protect them. Equally, if not more, famous is the critical debate surrounding the governess’s own sanity. Is she just imagining the ghosts? Are they real? Are they merely representations of her own sexual frustration? Blah blah sexist-freudian-wank blah. The actual story when you get down to it, however, is a pretty simple piece of genre writing and was viewed as such for a long time after it was published. I, personally, don’t think that there’s any doubt the ghosts do exist – the governess describes the ghost of a man she’s never met too well for that. The problem though is that I also have no doubts that (whether James intended it or not) the governess herself is a deeply unhinged individual with an obsessive and paranoid personality, who latches onto first impressions and performs some of the most astounding logical gymnastics to reach the conclusions that she does. As such, although I believe that the ghosts in the book are real I have absolutely no reason to believe that they are evil. This interpretation (and it is only my interpretation) makes it less a terrifyingly tense story about whether the spirits will succeed in corrupting the children and more a gothic comedy of errors - ‘lets watch how the governess leaps to ridiculous assumptions, fucks everything up, and ruins everyone’s lives’ – or at least that’s how it felt reading it.
The children, I think, I was meant to find creepy. I didn’t. I found the governess’s instant ‘they’re such perfect angelic little cherubs!’ attitude worrying – it’s a deeply unhealthy attitude for anyone working with children to have – but the children themselves simply weren’t scary. Miles was weird and he spoke like a grandad, but it was more irritating than sinister. He never creeped me out but I did keep thinking that his dialogue was better suited to somebody wearing velvet slippers and smoking a pipe. (Sidenote: any woman who allows herself to be refered to as ‘my dear’ by a ten-year-old will get no sympathy from me ever). Of course a massive part of while the adult-child relationships didn’t work for me is because of the values and expectations in the time this was written and that, since The Turn of the Screw, creepy children have become rather a staple of the horror genre. By my modern standards Miles doesn’t read as normal but he was hardly creepy enough to be creepy; he just came off as a child written by somebody who couldn’t write children (unfair, I know, and almost certainly untrue, but that’s how he came across). So with neither the ghosts or the creepy children providing me with scares I was left with an awkward little story written by an unreliable narrator whose writing style I didn’t particularly like.
As a result although I know that this is hugely influential story and that many people love it, and find it absolutely tense and atmospheric and everything the blurb claims, I just failed to click with it on every level. It was ‘interesting’, I suppose, and I’m sure I could have some wonderful debates about the story – but I would enjoy them much more than I enjoyed the actual reading of it.
Owen Wingrave I much prefered. It’s a lot less of a ghost story – the supernatural element being more of a deus ex machina than anything else – and it’s certainly not a scary ghost story, but I felt a lot more invested and interested in the characters than I did in The Turn of the Screw, probably because they felt more realistic. Essentially though it’s an anti-military, anti-violence fable. Owen Wingrave, the sole male descendent of a deeply military family decides to quit the army after deciding that war is a repugnant and needless activity that he wants no part of. His family and his implied love interest disapprove and aspersions are made against his bravery. Conveniently enough for everybody involved though there’s a haunted room in the house where not even the bravest soldiers of the family have dared spend a night! It’s all a bit neat and convenient and the ghost story element of it really is just a slightly clumsy tool for the moral of the tale, which could probably have been delivered better with a more mundane example of bravery (there are plenty of ways for a pacifist to prove bravery or ‘worth’ that don’t involve ghosts). The ending is rather abrupt too but it’s a nice little story none the less.
Over all though my experience with this book wasn’t at all what I’d hoped. I think I probably expected a bit much from it, but even without those disappointed expectations I don’t think I’d ever class either of these two stories as particularly great examples of the ghost story genre – the master of which I’d say is actually M.R. James.(less)
I first started reading Ivanhoe when I was eight and promptly managed to lose my copy among the piles of books lying around the house. Although...more 4 stars
I first started reading Ivanhoe when I was eight and promptly managed to lose my copy among the piles of books lying around the house. Although I didn’t get very far it stuck with me – mainly because of the cover, a knight on horseback – and is something I’ve been meaning to pick up again ever since without really knowing much about what it was about. So naturally when I spotted this beautiful little edition in the ‘three for two’ pile I grabbed myself a copy without even bothering to read the blurb. And boy. . .if I had actually finished reading this when I was eight it would probably be one of my favourite books ever.
Everything about the story is practically designed to appeal to eight-year-old, Robin Hood loving, King Arthur obsessed, me; jousts and tournaments, conniving villains, witch trials, castle sieges, nobility in disguise, plots of high treason…Robin Hood himself even puts in a pretty major appearance! From twenty-three-year-old me, however – who expects a bit more in terms of characterisation and knows a lot more about medieval history – it only gets a 4 star rating. While I had immense fun with it I just can’t quite love it with the passion I know that little-me would have.
It’s ‘historical fiction’ with the emphasis firmly on the ‘fiction’ and there are some truly glaring inaccuracies and anachronisms. But that’s part of the charm, I think. Sure I could pick a thousand little and not so little holes in the story and details, but I enjoyed myself too much to feel the need. As the afterword in this edition succinctly puts it it’s more ‘Robin Hood land‘ than ‘medieval England’ and historical accuracy doesn’t really matter for the story it’s trying to tell. And ‘Robin Hood land‘ is a fitting description – despite the King Arthur-like trimmings of Knights errant, jousting tournaments, and damsels in distress – it’s a Robin Hood story through and through, although one where Robin Hood himself plays only a secondary role.
England after the third crusade, Richard the Lionheart trapped in a foriegn prison, and his brother John plotting and scheming to seize the throne – it’s a setting familiar to anyone with even just Disney knowledge of Robin Hood (an underated Disney classic that needs far more love). What Scott does with it though is shift the focus from the oppression of one greedy monarch on the poor to a more systematic and widespread racial tension; the Normans (descendents of William the Conqueror’s army) oppress the ‘native’ Saxons, nobility and laymen alike, and both the Normans and the Saxons oppresses, misuse, and hate the Jews. The Saxon-Norman tension is certainly an interesting twist on a familiar setting and it was nice to see the widespread antisemitism of medieval England acknowledged and criticised, I just wish that the Jewish characters, particularly Isaac, hadn’t conformed so damn much to antisemitic stereotypes themselves – it undermined the point in places and made portions of the book downright distasteful to read.
Ivanhoe, though, is definitely an action rather than character-driven story and relies on this sort of stereotyping to work. While there is a large cast of pretty wonderful characters – Cedric the Saxon and Wamba the Jester being my personal favourites – there’s not that much depth to any of them. Which to be honest is mostly fine with me considering the clear action-adventure slant of the story. Apart from my feelings about Isaac, the only characters I wish we could have seen more of were Ivanhoe himself (who for the title character does surprisingly little and is far less interesting or fleshed out than almost every other character) and his love interest, Lady Rowena (who, when compared to the Jewish heroine, Rebecca, comes off incredibly lacking in the personality department). That, the antisemitism, and a truly implausible event near the end of the book is really what stops me from liking this more because, blandly perfect main characters aside, the events and the supporting cast are both great fun.
It’s not a fast paced book my modern standards, there’s probably too much ponderous description and historical asides, but I quite like that; it’s a style that fits the setting and there’s plenty to enjoy in the way of unlikely character interactions even when there’s not much action going on. When the action does come round though it’s exactly the sort of chivalric knights and castles stuff you expect – which is exactly what I was reading for. Tournaments, sieges, out of control fires. . .the only action scene I found disapointing was that the final showdown ended on a bit of an anticlimax – more swordfighting would have been nice.
If you’re into tales of King Arthur, medieval chivalry, or Robin Hood and don’t mind your historical fiction very heavy on the ‘fiction’ side it’s definitely worth a read. In the end though, if you’re looking for a ‘serious’ classic rather than a fun (if wordy) adventure story, this one is rather more style than substance.(less)
I’ve spoken about my love of all things Arthurian before, so I was really expecting to enjoy this book. All the ingredi...moreCrossposted from my blog
I’ve spoken about my love of all things Arthurian before, so I was really expecting to enjoy this book. All the ingredients are there – it’s centered on a character I normally like, on events that are often just skated over as prologue, and grounded in more unique ‘realistic’ Dark Age Britain than the typical ‘castles and knights’ setting. It was also pretty popular back in its day. Alas, I learn, yet again, that popularity often has little to do with quality. It’s not that I actively dislike the book – it’s solidly in ‘ok’ territory – but I can’t really think of anything I liked about it either. There were a lot of neat ideas but, like every character in this novel, they were never developed.
It’s told, first-person, from Merlin’s perspective as an old man looking back on his life. However, the first few pages of the prologue, where Merlin describes how his memory works as an old man ‘the recent past is misted while distant scenes of memory are clear and brightly coloured’ is the last time the narrator sounds the age he is meant to be. When describing his childhood, he sounds like neither a child or an old man looking back on events – his voice simply narrates things, as they happened, with very little passion or personality, even when describing his strongest feelings. It’s all a bit too measured and distanced so that, despite being the narrator, I never felt remotely drawn to him or that I had any sort of grip on his personality. Since Merlin was both the narrator and the only character that seemed intended as more than a bunch of familiar stereotypes, this was a pretty big problem.
The story chugs away pretty slowly and, because I wasn’t enamoured with the narration, at times it felt a bit like wading through treacle. Even when things did happen, though, I didn’t feel particularly excited. Everything had a tendency to happen to the characters, rather than the characters doing things for themselves. Even declaring war seemed to be just a natural course of events rather than a proactive decision made by a person. This lack of agency was only enhanced by Merlin’s magic – which rather unsatisfactorily seemed to consist of knowing what to do and that he would get out ok. As he says himself ‘I am a spirit, a word, a thing of air and darkness, and I can no more help what I am doing than a reed can help the wind of god blowing through it’. Which means that, since Merlin never once tries to stray from this path or do anything for himself without ‘the wind of god’, that there’s really no tension, and that anything Merlin does achieve isn’t something that can really be attributed to his character but to the undefined ‘god’. It robs Merlin of the moral ambiguity he should have and makes him a dumb, uninteresting, tool instead of a great, cunning and complex character. Throughout the later sections of the book when Merlin’s reputation had grown far and wide, all I could think of was ‘why? He’s done nothing for himself yet’. If his personality had been more complex, this wouldn’t be a problem, but his personality was simply ‘I am the breath of god’ and never got any further than that.
And if you don’t like Merlin there’s really no one to relate to or care about in this book. His servants Cadal and Cerdic are both quite likable – but almost completely interchangeable. His teachers Galapas and Belasius have quite different methods and attitudes, but don’t get meaty enough roles for this to even be an interesting contrast. Ambrosius is wise and patient, Uther is rash, petty and impulsive. Every female is either a saint, ‘slut’, or nursemaid. The simplistic style of both the narration and the characterisation actually left me stunned when, in the last half I discovered through repeated casual use of the word ‘slut’ and one boob-groping almost-sex scene that this wasn’t written as a children’s book. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that makes it unsuitable for most kids (I would probably have really enjoyed this book about 15 years ago) but it’s a pretty stong indicator it wasn’t meant to be aimed at them. Which left me naturally wondering who exactly it was aimed at, because it really doesn’t read like a book aimed at adults either.
Eventually, the author’s note at the back of the book clued me in – people who enjoy the Arthur myth. Well, I love the King Arthur myth and it didn’t work for me. When Merlin visits the well outside Galapas’ cave I wasn’t thinking ‘oh, that’s a really clever reference to a line in Monmouth’ or when Belasius becomes Merlin’s tutor I wasn’t going ‘Ah, the romanised name of a character who got mentioned in an offhand remark in Monmouth’. Was I hell, I was hoping that they would be interesting and relevant characters and events in this book, the one I was actually reading. I’ve got nothing against these little references, actually I really like them usually, but if they take up that much page-time they need to serve a narrative purpose too. As it is there was a huge section of ‘part II’ that dealt with Merlin discovering that Belasius was a druid – and that’s not even a spoiler because literally nothing developed out of this multi-chapter waste of time and it was hardly mentioned again. The only purpose, seemingly, was to fit in the names of a couple of characters from Monmouth – one who did reappear towards the end, but in such a totally minor role that he may as well have been introduced to the reader then.
Despite all that I wouldn’t say it’s a bad book. Most of it would make an alright children’s novel and the only thing I really took offense to was the casual misogyny and the way in which every single female character was portrayed. And yes, part of this is the setting but I don’t think that’s an excuse – A Song of Ice and Fire has an even more misogynist setting with an even more pervasive rape culture, but it still manages to have strong female characters and to indicate that there is something deeply wrong and unpleasant with the anti-female attitudes of the societies it portrays. Merlin, however, despite hearing that his mother was beaten almost into miscarriage for getting pregnant outside marriage, despite observing the way she was treated, even despite learning later exactly how long his mother had known his father, still goes about throwing words like ‘slut’ around to describe a serving girl in a relationship with her master and then has the audacity to complain that she left him to fend for himself when her master leaves the house. This on the same page as he’s mooning over a totally transparently non-celibate nun. Only Niniane and Ygraine escape with anything remotely resembling complex characterisation – and even then it’s all about their love lives.
All in all a disappointing book on a huge number of levels for me. But I wouldn’t tell other people not to read it. I can see why people might like it but it simply didn’t work for me. As a retelling of Merlin’s early life I guess the ideas are quite interesting, as a story in its own right it’s simply dull. The elements are all there, but they’ve been stuck together with plasticine.
I’m half tempted to read the rest of the series anyway, just to see how Stewart handles King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but there are so many other books out there that I know I’ll enjoy, that I probably won’t bother.(less)
Mwaha! After 24 years I finally managed to finish The Hobbit! And I enjoyed it a lot more than I though I would.
To explain my apprehensions a bit more: I tried to read The Hobbit many, many times in my childhood and each time utterly hated it and failed miserably. I think several of the very numerous creases and damage to the cover of my family’s copy may even have come from me hurling it away in disgust. What annoyed me most though, what really, annoyed me was always that it was a story I should have absolutely loved – all the plot ingredients were there; quests, dragons, dwarves, goblins, treasure, all that fantasy stuff I used to practically live and breathe – but I just simply couldn’t get over the fucking tone of the book. I felt patronised by the narrator, annoyed by the constant outbursts of song, and generally talked down to. In fact, when I was about five, I very stroppily insisted that my parents never tried to play the audiobook in the car ever again (it was a staple for long journeys at the time) because, although the bits with the trolls and the goblins and the dragon were great, I was fed up of hearing how ‘Bilbo Baggins wished he was back in his hobbit hole. Not for the last time!’ repeated every few minutes.
So, despite loving the basic plot and absolutely adoring Lord of the Rings, I'd never managed to finish The Hobbit and was very, very apprehensive about giving it another go – but all the same I really wanted to at least try before I went to see the film. And actually I’m really fucking glad that I did, cause read with adult eyes I actually really liked it (though I confess to still being annoyed by the songs).
As I’m sure everyone will know, The Hobbit tells the story of the titular hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and his many wonderful aventures after becoming reluctantly roped into helping the least-prepared band of dwarves ever reclaim their treasure from the dragon who ruined their homeland. It also (again as everyone knows) serves as a prequel of sorts to The Lord of the Rings, though is very different in tone. Written for a younger audience it’s more episodic in structure and fun in nature than its sprawling sequel. The quest to recover the dwarvish treasure serves as an overarching plot but, for the first half of the book at least, the journey to the Lonely Mountain where the dragon lives is made up of a series of random encounters and seemingly unrelated adventures. More than being a fun adventure story, however, there’s also a strong character arc (for Bilbo anyway) and a surprisingly mature finale. For a rather slim book there’s a hell of a lot happens and, save for the stupid songs, there’s almost never a dull moment. So although I hated it as a child I have to admit that it’s not at all hard to see why it is such a very beloved children’s classic.
The first part, where the dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf have to overcome obstacle after obstacle to reach the dragon’s lair is still probably my favourite – I’ve always been a sucker for ‘journey stories’ and all the really memorable incidents happen here, the trolls, the goblins, Gollum. But it’s also where the tone is at it’s most irritating – the ‘not for the last time!‘s are frequent (though thankfully not as frequent as I seemed to recall) and the Rivendell elves who sing the ‘O! tra-la-la-lally/here down in the valley!/ha ha!’ song deserve thirteen dwarven axes to the fucking head, but the Gollum episode alone makes up for that. Gollum is, quite simply, the absolute best thing about Middle Earth – full stop. I loves him, I loves him, I loves him.
The rest of the story never quite reaches the brilliance that is Riddles in the Dark where Gollum appears, but it’s still pretty damn good and, as the journey portion concludes and the company realise they actually have to face the dragon, Smaug, you begin to really see the influence that sagas and epic poetry had on Tolkien’s writing. At least one episode with Smaug is lifted almost directly from Beowulf (maybe more, I’m only partway through Beowulf at the moment) and the characters prove to be far more flawed and selfish than you normally find in the heroes of children’s books. It turns the fun romp through the forests and mountains of the first half into something more poignant and mature. I’m not entirely sure I would have got on with this section so well when I was younger – I was normally asleep by this point when we played the audiobook in the car and I probably wasn’t used to protagonists turning out to be dickish and random people who had only just been introduced doing important deeds that would normally be reserved for the heroes – but I liked it and it is, I think, one of the things that sets The Hobbit apart from similar children’s adventure stories.
And onto the downsides. Again, I found the songs and poems (with the exception of Gollum’s riddles) annoying, far too frequent, and mostly unneccessary. The last chapter alone had three songs in it – none of them needed. I guess there must be people out there who like them but I’m really not one. They were shorter than I remembered though, which was something at least. The amount of stuff per page ratio also meant that very few of the characters apart from Bilbo ever got that much focus or do much for themselves. The thirteen dwarves are, for the most part, completely interchangeable and there seems no reason for half of them to be there except to bulk up the numbers so that Bilbo can make the group a ‘lucky fourteen’. Thorin is the leader and a bit of a pompous dickwad, Kili and Fili are the youngest and therefore get all the shitty jobs, Balin is friendlier with Bilbo than most of the others and Bombur is constantly refered to and berated for being fat enough for two. And that’s literally all the character traits I can remember. I think Oin and Gloin light a candle at one point but I can’t remember them doing anything else even remotely useful. It’s the nature of this type of epic adventure storytelling of course to focus almost solely the main character (few of Odysseus’s sailors or Beowulf’s companions are even given names for example) but it does make them feel rather like dead weight a lot of the time. Combine that with the fact they’re also the most incompetent bunch of adventurers ever, constantly in need of rescuing and never managing even a single thing for themselves, and I feel rather sorry for the dwarves. They clearly didn’t know (or stop to consider) just what their quest actually entailed. They’re so clueless about their planned adventure that they pack musical instruments but no proper weapons! I can’t help but feel that Gandalf really should have given the poor things a better briefing.
Overall though a very enjoyable little book. The bits that annoyed me as a child still annoyed me as an adult though not to anything near the same extent. I do wish there had been a bit less singing and a bit more of certain characters in it, but I liked it all a hell of a lot more than I was expecting to. A pretty solid 4 stars.(less)
It’s that time of year again; it’s summer, it’s sunny, and I have exams coming up – which means lying out on the lawn with a p...moreCrossposted from my blog
It’s that time of year again; it’s summer, it’s sunny, and I have exams coming up – which means lying out on the lawn with a pile of revision, a cold drink, and a Jeeves and Wooster book onside to de-stress between doses of Cold War politics. Add to that the company of my beautiful old dog, take away the revision, replace the non-alcholic drink with a pitcher of Pimms and it’s damn close to the perfect way to spend the summer. And as such I tend to think Stephen Fry is bang on when he says of Wodehouse; ‘You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour’. Damn bloody right. Thank You, Jeeves is probably not the best of the Jeeves and Wooster books and it certainly has it's flaws but it is still a hilariously funny, lighthearted, comedy of errors that deserves every one of the five stars up there for pure enjoyment factor but loses one, I'm afraid, because I'm just not comfortable with some of the attitudes that were considered 'ok' when this was written.
Bertie is, as ever, a charmingly clueless narrator – I confess I have something of a book-crush on old Bertie – with a wonderfully imaginative yet almost childishly simple mastery of the English language that conveys not just the story but a very stong sense of his own character - something that’s often strangely absent from first-person narration. I was having too much fun reading to make a note of all the brilliant phrases, metaphors and similes that made me laugh out loud but there’s one on almost every page. Just opening the book at random gives me ‘He made a noise like a pig swallowing half a cabbage, but refused to commit himself further’ and there are many more and better descriptions in there too if I were to try and hunt them down. The quality of the plot almost doesn’t matter when the writing is this good.
But the plot in fact is fairly stong. Although I could see almost each twist coming up as I approached it was with gleeful anticipation rather than bored ‘knew that was going to happen’-ness. It’s no spoiler to say that it follows the formula of every other Jeeves and Wooster story ever; Bertie inadvertently gets into an awkward situation, which through a series of misunderstandings and ill-conceived attempts to remedy then escalates even further until, just as everything is about to go really bad, Jeeves rescues him with some fiendishly simple plan. It’s a good formula and I was very glad to see that it managed to hold up pretty well when stretched to fill a whole novel – my previous Jeeves experience being just the first three volumes of short story collections. I doubt it’s the best of the Jeeves and Wooster series, but it’s not bad either, especially as a first try.
The one warning I would give is that it is incredibly politically incorrect and racially problematic in places – a lot of the story revolves around Bertie, in blackface, trying to find some way to get the boot-polish off and being constantly foiled. There’s also some casual use of the ‘n-word’ as an perfectly acceptable everyday description. If you keep in mind the time the story was written and the context, it’s not as bad. Blackface minstrels (as far as I can tell there are no actual black characters) were a shamefully real thing, they did exist, and they were a part of the cultural backdrop of the period the Jeeves books are set in (in fact I'm ashamed to say they lasted until the 70s in the UK) – but it is definitely jarring to modern sensibilities and the situation even more cringe-inducing than it was for its intended audience. Nothing intentionally offensive, I hope, but unintentionally. . .very. I (a white girl) was able to half-overlook that and try to forget it to focus on the other wacky events, but I wouldn't blame anybody else at all if they weren't.
Apart from that one rather shocking aspect, it is a good book and, once I accepted ‘ok, different time period, different standards’, I got back to enjoying the situational comedy. Bertie is brilliant, Jeeves is as coolly clever as ever - though there isn't as uch interplay between them as in previous collections, and the side characters were of pretty high quality. I liked Pauline Stoker a lot more than many of the previous female characters in the short stories – I’m meant to, of course, but still - she had a bit of spirit going for her even if she was a bit silly on occasion. While Sir Roderick Glossop making a reappearance and refreshing the reader on his history with Bertie is always fun. The other side characters were a little bit samey-samey filling their designated roles of ‘old schoolfriend in love’, ‘disapproving father’, ‘annoying child’, but Jeeves and Wooster relies on these sort of stereotypes and repeated roles so, until they actually start feeling tired or ringing completely hollow, I’m not going to complain.
As I said, it's probably not the best Jeeves and Wooster – I’m currently collecting the next few novels and so hope to find out shortly – but damn enjoyable if you’re able to get over the different standards of the time. Just what I needed to help me get through revision. However, I’d strongly recommend starting with the first book, The Inimitable Jeeves, and working from there though rather than jumping in here at the first full length novel. It works perfectly well as a standalone book and further reading isn’t required but Bertie does occasionally reference past misadventures from the short stories in passing.(less)
Read a while ago. Crossposting original review from my blog
Fairy tales again…I promise I do read other things though!
Actually it’s a collection of sho...moreRead a while ago. Crossposting original review from my blog
Fairy tales again…I promise I do read other things though!
Actually it’s a collection of short stories based on fairy tales. Some stray closer to simple retellings than others (The Bloody Chamber, The Courtship of Mr Lyon) but they’re all original works rather than just an update of Grimm/Perrault.
I haven’t read much Angela Carter before – just Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales, which she compiled rather than wrote herself – but I had heard a lot about this collection from friends who studied it at school or university, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. In the end I loved it. Not all stories quite hit the note for me – The Erl-King was probably my least favourite – but each had such an interesting idea behind it, or style of writing, and I could see what Carter was aiming for that it didn’t cause me to feel I should deduct a star. And even if some stories were superior to others they all worked together as a complete collection very well. Almost every story contained a female character that subverted the traditional ‘fairy tale female’ role in some way, however subtle, and was a theme of female sexuality running through all of them that united the collection just as much as the fact that they are all based on folklore and fairytale.
Of course this isn’t for everyone. In fact it’s what put a few of my friends off the stories – that there was so much sex and focus on sexuality, virginity and menstruation in something that was meant to be a ‘fairy tale’. But as someone who frequently finds myself objecting to passive female roles in both fairy tales, novels, and TV and film I found myself really enjoying this book, even if parts of it did seem a bit heavy handed. I also tend to agree with Carter in that these things are there in the original stories if you just look and think for a few moments, she’s just highlighted them and given the women a bit more agency. So for me it didn’t seem like it was ‘ruining my favourite childhood stories’ at all, but merely offering a different perspective on them.
The book opens with the title story, The Bloody Chamber, by far the longest story of the collection and quite possibly my favourite. Based on the tale of Bluebeard, its plot sticks very closely to that of the original, but is told in first person from the perspective of Bluebeard’s latest wife and updated to mid 20th century France. Instead of being an anonymous woman in a fairy tale the unnamed narrator becomes a real person, easier to relate to – a young woman not forced into but willingly marrying a much older man she feels nothing for, and is a little intimidated by, in return for his money. I have to admit this characterisation did not endear me to her at first but being able to read her thoughts, why she had done it, how she had had to rebel against her more sensible mother, and the slow realisation of what the marriage actually entails helped me to feel for her as a person who had made an understandable, if very unfortunate, decision. By telling it through the teenage bride’s eyes Carter highlights the more subtle everyday horrors that are there but very much brushed over in the original – the terror of a young girl getting married, the fear of her wedding night, anxiety about disappointing her more experienced husband, the realisation she’s trapped in a relationship with someone she doesn’t want to be with, having sex with a man she’s scared of and repulsed by, enjoying sex with a man she’s scared of and repulsed by, the irrational jealousy of a man’s previous partners and inferiority complex that comes with that. It’s all very relatable, even though I haven’t exactly been there myself. The discovery of the ‘bloody chamber’ itself is just the culmination of a growing sense of unease and ‘wrongness’ about the husband that has been building up from the beginning. As well as bringing out these overlooked themes I also prefer Carter’s ending to the original. It’s arguably still a bit of a deus ex machina but it is a better foreshadowed one.
The next two stories, The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride are both based on the story of Beauty and the Beast. Mr Lyon again stays pretty close to the original in terms of plot only updating it to an era of motorcars, while Tiger’s Bride is more of a subversion. Of the two I preferred The Tiger’s Bride, perhaps because it didn’t feel quite so familiar. The ‘Beauty’ character’s father being a compulsive gambler who loses their fortune, drags her through Europe, and finally gambles her away to ‘la Bestia’ was a refreshing twist on the kindly old man of most versions, struck by misfortune through no fault of his own. Again this story is told in first person by the heroine but she’s a much more feisty character than the narrator of The Bloody Chamber and reacts in quite different ways to their broadly similar situation, quietly refusing to be dominated by the men in her life and offering no compromises to them until they compromise themselves.
Puss-in-Boots is a very different story in many ways from the rest. It’s a comedy for one, not as gothic in tone as the other tales, and the female character stays fairly firmly on the sidelines. It’s told rather brilliantly through the eyes of Puss in Boots, which makes for great lines such as ‘I went about my ablutions, tonguing my arsehole with the impeccable hygienic integrity of cats’ and tells the story of the trickster cat trying to secure the beautiful, married, woman his whoremongering master has fallen for. It’s a humorous, very bawdy, little story that doesn’t require thinking too seriously for.
The Erl-King and The Snow Child I’m honestly still not sure about. I know what Carter was trying to do with The Erl-King and I actually really like the concept but, for whatever reason, I found this story a lot harder than the others to get sucked into and enjoy. I think it’s one I might have to give a reread at some later date to get full enjoyment from it. Meanwhile The Snow Child is such a short and odd little vignette writing up my thoughts could only spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it – but it’s the story most of my friends studying this book had the most trouble with and I can see why.
The Lady in the House of Love then plays off vampire mythology rather than fairy tales, telling the story of Dracula’s lonely descendent stuck in her crumbling mansion unable to see the light of day, and the arrival of a bicycling soldier there on the eve of the First World War. It’s the most original of the stories and, I think, a beautiful example of vampire fiction – haunting, lonely, and gothic. Possibly not what one would really expect in a book that’s meant to be based on fairy tales, but as a lover of gothic literature as well I wasn’t complaining. It was one of the highlights of the book for me and I think would stand up well in any compilation of vampire short stories as well (in fact I spotted several people here recommending it for consideration as one of the best works of vampire literature since Dracula).
And from vampires to werewolves, the last three stories all play off Little Red Riding Hood and similar stories. The first, The Werewolf is again so short saying much at all would spoil it so I’ll content myself with saying that I liked it, but that the story seemed very familiar – though that could easily be the result of pop-culture osmosis, (this book being published in 1979 and having a fairly big impact) I think I’ve read almost identical stories in collections of folklore. The Company of Wolves is more strongly linked to the familiar Red Riding Hood tale, with the girl being lured from the path by the ‘wolf’ who beats her to her grandmother’s house. To be honest though I’ve heard so many interpretations and retellings going ‘Red Riding Hood’s really just about sex – didn’t you know? The Red Hood totally symbolises menstruation’ that I just don’t particularly care for hearing it again. Angela Carter was probably one of the first to do so and it’s possibly this story that has influenced so many others to bang on about it though so I will cut her some slack. It’s a very well written piece but for me the standout part was the first third or so, before it gets to the Red Riding Hood narrative, and is just giving lots and lots of lovely folklore-and-mythology-like anecdotes about wolves and werewolves and the stories of people who have been turned into wolves.
Wolf-Alice is the final story based, apparently, on a version of the Red Riding Hood tale I’m not familiar with, tells the story of a feral child raised by wolves. ‘Rescued’ after her adoptive mother is shot dead she goes first to a convent, where they despair at her wild ways, and then sent off as a servant for the mysterious Duke – who has no reflection and likes to cannibalise the corpses from graveyards. I had a bit of trouble trying to work out what exactly the Duke was meant to be – a pre-Dracula type vampire or werewolf perhaps, when the two were more similar and a lot less romantic, or possibly a ghoul. But in the end it doesn’t really matter – whatever he is he’s lost enough humanity that he no longer has a reflection and humanity itself is disgusted and fearful of him. The story’s not really about him anyway (I just found him fascinating) but a coming of age story for Wolf-Alice who, raised by wolves, has no understanding of either time or puberty but has to grow up and develop from a wild dog-like child into a young woman, with only her own reflection in the Dukes mirror to guide her. It’s a powerful little story, but for me not quite as good as The Bloody Chamber or The Lady of the House of Love.
Although I didn’t love every individual story in this book I think it is a great collection, well worthy of five stars, and one I am sure I will be returning to frequently when I want a short and familiar read. The sex and feminism probably isn’t for everyone, I’m ready to allow that, but I quite like a bit of intelligent feminism in my literature, especially if it’s challenging the predominantly passive role of women in fairy tales and giving them back a bit of a voice. The narrator in The Bloody Chamber may do almost exactly the same thing as she does in the traditional stories, but here there’s a sense of her being a fully realised person, not a generic woman who does what she does because women are all fundamentally the same. (less)
I’m going to start off with the disclaimer that I do not read a lot of poetry and don’t feel particularly comfortable a...moreCrossposted/edited from my blog
I’m going to start off with the disclaimer that I do not read a lot of poetry and don’t feel particularly comfortable analysing it.This makes me a bit of an uncultured idiot when it comes to trying to write a review, but I’m going to do my best. When I do read poetry – and I’m trying to do so more – my preference also lies very heavily towards old-fashioned narrative and epic poems that tell an interesting story. Since I find the King Arthur legend (or legends) one of the most interesting stories there are, buying this book when I spotted it in the shop was a complete no-brainer. I don’t know what a serious poetry fan or scholar would make of it but as a piece of Arthurian literature – especially as a piece of medieval and British Arthurian literature – I found it to be an unpolished gem of a book.
The Death of King Arthur tells the story, with no magical frills or whistles, of Arthur’s last invasion of Europe and his return home to face – and eventually die at the hand of – the treacherous Sir Mordred. It’s a familiar story to almost everyone who’s read even a single children’s ‘life of King Arthur’ type book. What makes this version different, however, is that it does not follow the French Romantic tradition of having Lancelot and Guinevere’s adultery as the cause of Arthur’s downfall – in fact there’s no mention of any affair between them and Lancelot gets only a walk on part – instead it’s pure politcs and territorial war that takes Arthur out of Britain and gives Mordred the chance to seize power. As someone who finds Lancelot a rather dull (dare I say ‘Mary-Sue’) character who gets too much exposure at the expense of other knights, I really welcomed this angle. Once the sword’s pulled out of the stone Arthur often seems to fade into a background character – here he’s no doubt the main character with both moments of incredible military skill and high emotion.
This ‘unromantic’ motivation also makes for an ‘unromantic’ poem that focusses not on the idea of courtly love and lofty ideas of ‘Albion’ but positively revels in the horror and brutality of medieval warfare. It’s gloriously unapologetically bloody and violent, to open a few pages purely at random gives me:
"Then good Sir Gawain on his grey steed gripped a great spear and speedily spiked him; through the guts and gore his weapon glided till the sharpened steel sliced into his heart."
"Then eagerly Arthur opened his enemy’s visor and buried the bright blade in his body to the handle and he squirmed as he died, skewered on the sword."
"leaving wounded warriors writhing in his wake; he hacked at the hardiest and hewed them at the neck, and all ran red wherever he rode,"
There are decapitations, guts spilling out of war wounds, people being impaled through the loins…you think of a nasty way to die and I can almost promise it’s there. Little-me would have loved this poem!
Alas, I’m no longer little-me and I do demand a bit more character development and deeper storytelling to go with my macabre enjoyment of gruesome descriptions. After a promising non-Lancelot focussed start, the middle section gave way almost to a list of who was killed by who in what vividly described way. Most named only appear once or twice and with the exception of Arthur and Gawain (and perhaps Kay if I’m feeling generous) it’s very hard to feel anything for the knights on either side of the battles. I have to confess to several times being confused as to who was fighting who and why. It’s no Odyssey (or even Aeneid) that you could write an essay just on the psychology of a sidecharacter, and for a long time during the middle section I feared I was going to have to give this three stars, but it redeemed itself. Once news of Mordred’s treachery (and the implication of Guinevere’s as well in this story) reaches Arthur things get back on track. It’s still more endless guts and blood but the motivation – and the cost – is both more familiar and more relatable. Even the battles seemed to have new life breathed into them with a wonderful description of naval warfare sticking out especially. And once one of Arthur’s favourite knights is slain on the battlefield there is, in my eyes at least, a beautifully powerful depiction not just grief on Arthur’s part but guilt and shame from the murderer as well. It’s a tantalising hint of the author’s ability at portraying emotions that is, sadly, a little too set aside in favour of bloodshed for most of the poem.
There are other glimpses prior to this – particularly in the second of the two prophetic dreams Arthur has (one of the very few ‘fantastical’ elements of the story) – where Arthur sees himself rise on the wheel of fortune only to be thrown off again. But it was his grief at seeing his friend’s body and the way he openly wept, threw himself on the corpse and had to be almost dragged away before his grief turned to anger and vengeance that struck me. That’s a more human and emotionally Arthur than I’m used to and it packed a punch that I wasn’t expecting after the rather scant emotional story of the rest of the poem.
The rest of it is solid stuff, for what it is. The various wars take up the majority of the poem but there is one traditionally Arthurian type of adventure near the beginning where Arthur pauses his warplans to rescue a kidnapped damsel from a monstrous ogre-like figure who cuts off the beards of the knights he kills and turns them into what I can only imagine is the sexiest patchwork gown imaginable. Apart from that though it’s (more) blood, guts and simplistic and unsympathetic ‘he was rude to me, so I’m going to kill him’ from then on. I enjoyed it, and I’m happy to admit to loving the blood and guts, but it wasn’t until the last section that I felt emotionally invested in the story.
As for its quality as a poem… I don’t know. I found it less well crafted than Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and I found myself stumbling over the words and puzzling to make out the rhythm more often – but I also know I’ve been cursed with the worst sense of rhythm (and tone) imaginable and it’s probably perfectly simple for anyone with half an ounce of musical talent. I like this alliterative style of poetry though, it’s one I find very accessable. How much of the language and alliterative bits I liked (or didn’t) is down to the original author and how much Armitage I couldn’t say, and wouldn’t like to guess at. Another translation may well be better – I don’t know, but I did enjoy this one.(less)
First reviewed (with beginners introduction to the basic premise of the series) on my blog January 2012. Text and rating edited here because of hindsi...moreFirst reviewed (with beginners introduction to the basic premise of the series) on my blog January 2012. Text and rating edited here because of hindsight and different audience/ratings system (I imagine anyone searching volume 16 on goodreads has already read the previous volumes and doesn't need protecting from spoilers.).
This volume contains 3 stories: ‘The Ascent’, a one issue comic featuring Bufkin the flying monkey, ‘Waking Beauty’, a one issue focussed on Sleeping Beauty, and sandwiched in between them, the main multi-issue story ‘Super Team’.
‘The Ascent’ was a nice, solid start to what I can only assume will be an ongoing plotline independent from the main story. Bufkin the monkey has worked his way into my heart as one of my favourite characters with his mixture of book-smarts, bravery, sheer stupidity, and pure monkey-adorableness ‘I hardly ever throw poop anymore’ is just a winning line. So far I’ve enjoyed his last few solo issues immensely, and I enjoyed this one too, though not as much. This was mainly a transitory story and didn't have much going for it on its own, it's point was simply to get the character from A to B. The introduction of an Oz plotline too is a little worrying. But that’s probably just because I never liked Oz very much, in fact I found it tedious and patronising to the extreme when I read a few as a kid. However, I shall try and keep faith that Willingham will make it work – I never liked Snow White or Cinderella very much either and I have a total girl-crush on both in Fables – so I will reserve judgement until the story gets far enough to fairly judge it.
‘Waking Beauty’ is another transitory story, but one I actually found myself enjoying more. It was nice to see not only what became of Briar Rose (I was never particularly comfortable with her earlier fate as the sacrificial woman) but how the homelands are funtioning without the Adversary. Seems all our Fables have done is create a power vacuum. Who could have predicted? (I'm a History student, that question was sarcastic). Although I know Briar Rose's story is continuing in the new spin-off Fairest rather than Fables this story felt far more linked to the ongoing Fables plotline than Buffkins did. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next; here’s hoping Fairest will be a better spinoff than the mediocre, justly cancelled, Jack of Fables.
And onto the main story! Not the strongest storyline by a long shot but it was fun, a decent bit of light and fluffy to contrast with how dark the last few volumes have been. The basic premise is that, after all other attempts have failed, Pinocchio wants to put together a comic book super team to battle Mr. Dark. It’s about as silly as it sounds and is basically an excuse for Willingham and the artists to have fun affectionately pastiching the X-Men and other superheroes. I do love the parodies of vintage comic covers, but then I'm the sad sort of girl who had art postcards of those original covers on her wall throughout uni. As always I am in love with Bigby (Big Bad Wolf) who fills the ‘Wolverine’ role on the team. It’s also nice to see Ozma getting fleshed out a bit more, apart from Frau Totenkinder I've never really had the feeling that the 13th floor magicians were much more than background scenery.
The resolution to the Mr. Dark plot I found a bit disappointing and anticlimactic, I would have preferred something less…cheaty, but I can’t deny that it made sense and was foreshadowed in advance. It also throws up some interesting directions as to where the story will go from here, so I'll try not to complain too hard. For me the highlights here were the development of Beauty and Beast’s subplot, a little scene between Snow White and Bigby Wolf (not the 'woman's job is to look after the kids while I do manly stuff' - the other one), and a hint that there’s yet more new trouble brewing on the horizon. Plenty to keep the comic going on for the moment but I do hope it picks up it's game soon - everything since the fall of the Empire has seemed a bit lackluster compared to the first few volumes.
Definitely one of the weakest volumes for me – though nowhere near the low-point of the series (the dire Great Fables Crossover). It’s not one for new readers to start with but new readers shouldn’t be starting anywhere apart from volume 1 (or possibly 2) anyway. A three star book that I’ll definitely reread (Fables, along with Harry Potter, is my comfort read whenever my depression gives me a particularly rough time). Hopefully volume 17 will be back up to 5 star quality but am not too disappointed with this. Of course it all depends where it goes from here.(less)
Originally published as Not After Midnight, this collections brings together five atmospheric short stories by Daphne...moreCrossposted/tweaked from my blog.
Originally published as Not After Midnight, this collections brings together five atmospheric short stories by Daphne du Maurier. They’re a bit of an odd bunch – a mix of the supernatural and the mundane. Some of them embrace the ‘unknown’ with psychics, pagan worship, and life after death, while others seem to be building you up towards that only to tear it away by having the explanation something completely grounded in reality. Whether you find this second-guessing rewarding or frustrating, though, is probably personal preference. One theme that runs through all the stories, however, is the idea of taking the protagonist away from their home and putting them into an unfamiliar environment, where the setting itself serves to increase the sense of suspense and the character’s own alienation. It’s a collection of stories about how people react and adjust when taken out of their comfort zone and thrown into creepy situations they have very little control over. And it has to be said, most characters don’t do so well…
The first story in the collection, Don’t Look Now tells the story of a married couple holidaying in Venice as they attempt to get over the death of their young daughter and repair their own relationship. It is by the most famous story in this collection, having been made into a classic horror film in 1973 with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. Now I haven’t yet seen the film but my big sister has, and I still remember how freaked out by it she was when she came back from her friend’s sleepover and told me about it. With that in mind and my dad’s explanation of the storyline and constant ‘this reminds me of Don’t Look Now‘ and ‘watch out for little girls in raincoats!’ whenever we ended up wandering round Venetian backstreets and canals at night on family holidays (which happens surprisingly often actually), I had been building this expectation for years that the book must be something truly atmospheric and full of suspense. It wasn’t. I did my best to make it so – I read it while I was in Venice, in the evening, on a poorly lit bench in a small square off a load of little backalleys that I had to wander back through to get to my hostel – and it still didn’t evoke the slightest sense of unease. Maybe I did it wrong, maybe if I had read it at home with only my imagination and memories of Venice I’d have found it creepier. And there’s also the fact I had the plot spoilt for me by hearing about the film – which actually changes a few key details in ways that actually improve it. In the book the explantion for John’s obsession with the little girl in the raincoat is never really that satisfactory and the psychic old women just seem random, disconnected and kind of silly – the film’s decision to make the raincoat girl resemble the dead daughter would have done a lot to improve the sense of suspense and unease both about the supernatural elements and the character’s mental health and just well...make the whole story a bit less random. The ending though, the ending I actually liked in all it’s silly, unintentional hilarity. I’ve seen other reviews claim that du Maurier does a great job of building up suspense only to fail with sudden endings – it’s a criticism I actually agree with in many cases, but in this story I think there was the opposite problem. The ending, though silly, would have worked really well if the build up of suspense had been better done in the main body. As it was, the story just seemed to have too much of John and Laura going out for diner and days out and having rather dull marital disagreements and not enough taking advantage of the creepy setting to explore the grief of losing a child.
The second story, however, does suffer from the sudden ending negating the atmospheric tension of everything that came before, and in a pretty bad way. Not After Midnight tells the story of a ‘lonely teacher’ who goes on holiday to Crete to get some painting done and ends up involved with the mysterious American couple over in one of the other holiday homes. I’d actually take issue with the back cover (and Wikipedia’s) description of the main character as ‘lonely’ – he doesn’t seem lonely to me, he seems like someone who likes being alone to get on with his own thing and doesn’t actually want to be bothered – especially by constantly drunk, boorish Americans. Surely nobody who’s ever experienced being next to one of them on holiday can blame him for that? The loneliness is there, certainly, but it’s something that he develops afterwards and as a result of his holiday and that’s actually pretty important – he wasn’t particularly damaged before the events of the story. To miss that is almost to miss the point. But onto the story… I liked the build up of atmosphere and suspense here a whole lot better than I did in Don’t Look Now. Where it fell down though was the ending, which was frankly pretty rubbish. It felt way too sudden, rushed and dropped in there without any explanation purely for ‘shock factor’. I had to go back and spend a few minutes trying to piece how it all fitted together with the rest of the story – and not in the fun ‘oooooh, I get that now!’ way but the ‘that really should have been a little clearer, and I still don’t get why she said that if what was going on was actually this...’ way. Just a little longer drawing out the ending and making sure the pieces all fitted together a bit more neatly would really have improved this one, because the actual story, though hardly ‘serious literature’ wasn’t that bad.
A Border-Line Case was much more solidly written and probably, if I was being completely objective, the best of the bunch. I can’t rate it too highly though because it uses several tropes that I’m frankly a bit bored with. And, though I was surprised with the twist in the middle, I saw the end ‘twist’ coming a mile off. The heroine of this story is aspiring actress, Shelagh, travels to Ireland to visit Nick, an estranged old friend of her father's, because of an off-hand remark her dad made shortly before his death about wanting to make up. Of course Ireland and England don’t have the best of relations in the 1970s so Shelagh, a little out of her depth, uses her actress skills to disguise her identity. And…well…she must be a damned good actress because the lies she makes up are totally transparent bullshit to anyone simply reading them on the page. People buy (or pretend to buy) them though and she eventually gets ushered in to meet Nick on his mysterious island of mysteriousness where he is surrounded by young men and likes digging up iron age burial sites and not reporting them to trained archaeologists to make proper surveys of (yes, that is something that bugs me in real life, proper archeological surveys are important damnit!). We get some wonderfully 1970s PC ‘oh my god, he might be a homo‘ thoughts from Shelagh as she tries to puzzle out the reason for Nick’s reclusiveness which made me laugh a little. Which was good, as her other thoughts made me want to bash her head in for being a fucking idiot with no ‘creep creep, stay away from this person’ sense of self preservation. She’s only 19, I know, but really; everything about the situation says ‘run for the fucking hills’. A solidly written story, though. Definitely the most consistently well written of the first three stories, but I found neither main character relatable, likable, or particularly believable, enough for me to enjoy it very much. The ‘twist’, though possibly relatively shocking in the 70s, was pretty predictable and, by now, majorly overdone. I’ll give it the fact it has a good title than can be interpreted in a number of ways though – that was pretty clever.
And now my favourite, The Way of the Cross, and I’ll admit this is probably because I have a bit of a fascination with Jerusalem. This story has a far larger cast of characters - a whole tour group of pilgrims - all given about equal attention. The story kicks off with poor Rev. Edward Babcock, a relatively young, urban cleric away on his own holiday, having to step in, last-minute, to be a tour guide for a group of snobby village parishioners he doesn’t know. It takes a while to get into it and I have to admit to being frustrated by du Maurier’s use of the whole ‘young attractive women cannot resist dreadful, boorish, middle-aged men’ theme. It just drives me batty, these men (and I include Mr. De Winter from Rebecca here as well) are so absolutely dire. I don’t know why anyone, regardless of age, would ever fancy them ever. There were enough characters, however, that if one storyline bothered me it was quickly moved away from to feature somebody elses. The basic plot is quite a simple one – all the characters get separated from each other, overhear unpleasant truths and gossip about themselves, and have an absolutely horrible time – mostly in karmic and amusing ways. There’s a sense at the end though that maybe, just maybe, they learn something from their experience and emerge better people for having visited the Holy City. Given the limited page and large number of characters it’s all a bit superficial, but it’s not bad. I actually liked the ‘annoying’ know-it-all kid, who has a great time approaching Jerusalem’s depiction in the bible and the reality of the present city as an archeological problem, rather than desperately seeking spiritual guidance or forgiveness. Questioning whether an important historic site really is where, or as old as, the tourist board claims it is, is something me and my dad often do on holiday and I appreciated the fact that somebody was culturally aware and respectful of the other religions that also live and worship in Jerusalem . A fairly simple, quite formulaic little story, with rather two-dimensional characters. But the prose did by far the best job in this book of evoking a strong sense of location.
The last story, The Breakthrough, is probably an acquired taste. It’s pretty much an unpfront science-fiction/supernatural crossover. Our ‘hero’, Steven the computer guy, is moved to some arse-end-of-nowhere government research facility run by a nutter who the whole scientific community mocks and peopled by about two equally secretive underlings. The machines are all called Charon 1, 2 or 3 so if you know your Greek mythology it’s no surprise what the ‘secret’ aim of the research is. It’s…I dunno. It’s not bad but it isn’t an especially original idea and the execution feels incredibly dated… There’s state of the art giant talking computers, hypnotism, ‘idiots’ (not my wording!) possessing untapped potential abilities to move things around with their emotions, a dog obedience-trained to the point of brainwashing, twins that have a special bond that continues even after one dies… it’s as if du Maurier’s throwing in absolutely everything she can think of - and it’s only a forty page story! It’s just too much, too crowded, everything's competing for attention and it only really serves to undermine the actual themes and questions the plot is trying to raise. Maybe if I was more of sci-fi fan than a gothic/supernatural/suspense person, I would find this more to my taste but it just felt…inelegant I suppose. Unpolished. Not really thought through.
Overall an interesting collection. Although I didn’t rate all the stories too highly, I found something to enjoy about all of them and I don’t regret spending time reading this. Yeah, it’s not the best and not quite my thing but it was interesting at least. My main problem wasn’t that the stories weren’t good, but that I got very frustrated that a lot of it could just be so much better if only it had been more vigorously edited and reworked. Both Don’t Look Now and Not After Midnight had the potential to be a hell of a lot better than they actually were.(less)
I’ve been sitting on this book for quite a while since I finished actually, trying to establish just what I thought about it and how much...moreblog
I’ve been sitting on this book for quite a while since I finished actually, trying to establish just what I thought about it and how much, really, I enjoyed it. It’s an odd little beast; part encyclopedia, part literary-analysis, and part extracts from other works. Unlike most modern encyclopedias of mythological creatures, it’s a book to savior and enjoy, rather than to use purely for reference and research – the entries contain not just the plain facts (such as they are) but an authorial voice and expression of opinions that’s both refreshing and, occasionally, thought-provoking and humerous. But equally, Borges is right in his foreword the 1967 edition when he states ‘The Book of Imaginary Beings has not been written for consecutive reading. Our wish would be that the curious dip into it from time to time in much the way one visits the changing forms revealed by a kaleidoscope’. It’s not a book to read straight through, it’s a book to keep on your shelf and dip into every now and then as the fancy takes you. Even reading at the slow, disjointed pace of one entry a night, I think I took the wrong approach and ended up hampering my own enjoyment.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it – I did, very much – but that it would have probably elicited stronger and more fond feelings had I read it in bits and pieces like Borges’s kaleidoscope metaphor. So it’s with that in mind, and my constant unsureness on how to rate non-fiction, that it receives a 3.5 rather than 4-5 stars from me. That said it is certainly a book I will return to, in the way it’s intended, and one I can see myself growing to truly love. I’m a sucker for mythology in a really big way so there’s absolutely no way this is going to sit forgotten and, in smaller doses, I think the unique charm of a lot of the entries will shine through a lot better.
So onto the entries themselves. They vary in length from a single paragraph to three-four pages and cover a wide range of mythological, legendary, and literary beasties from all around the world. There are so many entries that I’ll limit myself to mentioning some of the highlights. The dragon, of course, puts in an appearance in both its western and eastern forms (as does the unicorn) and contains some of the most interesting analysis in the book about the creatures prevalence, relevance, and symbolism as well as prompting questions about just what ‘dragon’ (or ‘unicorn’) actually means if these two quite different creatures are both classified as them. Or maybe that’s just my own reading; I got into a fascinating discussion on just that subject with a number of other museum volunteers, during last ‘Chinese New Year’ day at the Ashmolean. Also a standout for me is the Zaratan – a marine creature large enough to be mistaken for an island that will sink beneath the waves once sailors have landed on it. It’s a concept I’m familiar with from a number of stories but the (Muslim) name was new to me and the extracts from numerous chronicles around the world describing it were a really nice touch. It’s extracts like that, as well as Borges tone, that set this book apart from other ‘mythological encyclopedias’ that only reference the titles or use very short quotes. That said the entries that were just extracts from other works always came as a bit of a disappointment – An Animal Dreamed by Kafka/C.S. Lewis/Poe etc.are all interesting descriptions, but without Borges commentary they lacked a certain something of the other entries and didn’t quite seem to belong in the collection. Again, that’s something probably rectified by dipping in and out of the book as intended.
My favourite entry, though, had to be The Animals That Live in the Mirror – a foreboding little creation story about the ‘mirror world’ that I hadn’t heard before but really got my mind juices flowing. It’s an idea that could be expanded on to make something really creepy and wonderful and I would love to read a book with this concept.
So…onto the bad. According to the translator’s note Borges researched a lot for this book, but never cited these sources properly in footnotes/endnotes or a bibliography. Which for the most part is fine because it’s not an academic book and for the intended audience an ‘as the chronicle of ____ says’ is all that’s needed – but if you want to track down any of these sources yourself, you have to rely on the translator’s incomplete list of guessed at sources in the endnotes. As I said, this isn’t something that would bother most people and in fact the translator’s list of guesses, though welcome isn’t strictly needed at all. But I would really have liked a reference for the claim that a medieval woman was burned in England on the accusation of being a ‘Valkyrie’. Not because I don’t believe it but because it’s a fascinating sounding incident that follows a completely different pattern to the early-modern witch trials that I studied in university (witches in England were more commonly hanged than burnt, unlike the majority of the rest of Europe) and is a precursor to these witch hunts that I hadn’t heard of before. Neither Borges, nor his translator, however offer a reference for this fact.
But that’s a geeky note from a history student. As a reference book on mythological beasties it’s more focussed on story, symbolism, and usage than the ‘facts’ of the creatures it’s describing, but as a book of mythological anecdotes to be dipped in and out of it’s a delight. The illustrations in this edition by Peter Sís are a wonderful compliment to the text (my favourite is the elephant-like Leveler) – well worth the extra few pounds for the ‘deluxe’ edition. It’s a book I would recommend to anyone with an interest in myths, legends, monsters, or the imagination in general – on the proviso they don’t try to read it in one go – and I think it would also be a wonderfully addition to any children’s library.
This is the first time I’ve read anything by Borges, and it’s an odd book to introduce myself to such a famous writer with – but I enjoyed his tone and humour and will definitely be checking out more of his own fiction once I have shelf-space.(less)
A beautiful, pocket sized edition of Jacobs' Celtic Fairytales with the wonderful original illustrations by John D. Batten. Unfortunately fails...more 3 stars
A beautiful, pocket sized edition of Jacobs' Celtic Fairytales with the wonderful original illustrations by John D. Batten. Unfortunately fails to include Jacobs' accademic notes on the provenence and sources for each story. But if you're not interested in that side of it and just want to read the fairy tales themselves then it is an absolutely lovely little version.(less)
I'm never quite sure how to rate non-fiction. With fiction it's all about plot, character and writing style - all stuff I can have quite strong opinio...moreI'm never quite sure how to rate non-fiction. With fiction it's all about plot, character and writing style - all stuff I can have quite strong opinions. Despite being a history student, I'm never going to feel so strongly for a history book - instead I have to try and judge on how interesting and accurate I found it (something always made harder if it's your first read on a particular subject). Writing style, though quite crucial for mass-market books (academia can be as poorly written as it likes, apparently, as long as the ideas are new*), is something that also needs to be assessed as a far less important factor than I would for a novel - a compellingly written but totally inaccurate history book is in many ways worse than a horrifically written and inaccurate one.
With that in mind I haven't rated this fours stars because 'I really liked it', I might find history books fascinating but I rarely more than 'like' them. The rating comes from the fact it's a very good and apparently well researched introduction to the time period. It's a nice easy read that doesn't feel overly academic but still manages to fit a fuckton of information in. And, even better for a geek like me, it endnotes to the original sources and important secondary works pretty extensively - so if there's anything a reader wants to question there's normally a note in the back of the book directing them as to where the information came from. Now I didn't do this but just knowing I can always makes me feel a bit happier. Despite the gimmicky title it is a book that could be read purely for fun or used as a starting point for academic work.
But the gimmicky title...it's oddly both the books main strength and its main weakness. 'Time Traveller's Guide'...eugh. I'll admit it's what made me pick the book up in the shop and flip though it, I imagine it's what made many people pick the book up, but once you've read it it doesn't really feel like a very accurate title. The chapters may be entitled 'what to wear', 'where to stay', 'what to do' etc. etc. but it does not read as a guidebook.
I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed it if it had to be honest. What it was was a fascinating and detailed account of everyday medieval England - not the big events or the great men and women, the everyday stuff - what people ate, what they wore or owned, how different sections of society interacted with each other. Basically all the background stuff that everybody thinks they know about the middle ages (it was dirty and grim) turned around and put into a more human context. As Mortimer points out, how would a medieval peasant woman who works hard to keep herself and her house as pristine as possible react to such an accusation? People should be judged and understood by the time they're in, not by modern sensibilities.
Now I'm a big fan of 'but what was it like for ordinary people?' question, I probably don't ask it enough but I think it is important, especially in medieval history. When almost all the written sources come from the upper classes or the clergy and the sheer force of personality of the rulers can so easily overpower everything else, it is important to remember that the vast majority of people’s voices aren't being recorded to reach a modern audience. Mortimer doesn't quite redress that balance - I don't think anyone can with the sources available - but he does paint an interesting picture of everyday life based on facts, statistics, and anecdotes gathered from a lot of research, from which it takes only a little imagination to start thinking of the people from all classes who inhabited medieval England as complex people rather than medieval fantasy stereotypes.
The title is a gimmick, there's no point denying that, and if you pick up this book expecting a gimmicky 'guidebook' you might be disappointed. But on the other hand what you will be picking up is much better. The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England is a very interesting and accessible portrait of the place and period - something I think a lot of people are interested in but, sadly, doesn't often get taught much beyond year 9 or so (ages 13/14) until university**.
It's not perfect and it sometimes rather awkwardly straddles the gap between mass appeal and 'serious work', but it's definitely worth a read if you have even a passing interest in the period. The title might be gimmicky but the approach of 'living' the history and telling it in the present tense isn't.
And if medieval England isn't quite your thing the Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England has just come out in hardback.
*I've lost count of the times I've wanted to throw 'key texts' across the room for crimes against English.
**Or at least it didn't in my school. Hitler, Russia, British interwar politics, and a teeny bit of American boom and bust was all I got from GSCSE and A levels. (less)
Rivers of London (because I’m not American) is a series I have mixed feelings about. I got the first book as an impulse buy because of its beau...more4 Stars
Rivers of London (because I’m not American) is a series I have mixed feelings about. I got the first book as an impulse buy because of its beautiful cover (the UK editions are gorgeous) and spent a lovely day lying out in the park getting myself very sunburnt as I totally immersed myself in the story. I got home, book finished, and preordered the next two in the series straight away. In the over-a-year I’ve been waiting for this book to come out, however, the second in the series arrived and it was…well…no where near as good as the first book. In fact I barely liked the second book at all and was beginning to think that maybe I had been wrong about the series, maybe the first one wasn’t as good as I thought and maybe I only enjoyed it so much because it was the first book I read for fun after sorting my life out and seeking help for my depression. Thankfully, with the arrival of Whispers Under Ground, I can rest easy that the series is good after all, very good, and that Moon Over Soho was just a blip in an otherwise very promising urban fantasy series.
Whispers Under Ground is a bit heavier on the police procedural side than the previous offering. That’s probably not for everyone but after being seriously annoyed at how utterly unprofessional Peter was in Moon Over Soho I was really glad there was a return to basic standards of policing. Also returning is Lesley May, something I was delighted with. I like Lesley and I like her and Peter’s banter-filled relationship – though I actually do hope that they stay friend’s rather than eventually ending up together. If nothing else, Lesley also provides a check against Peter’s occasional bouts of idiocy. The multi-book ‘ethically challenged wizard’ subplot introduced in the last book carries on, but the main focus, as in the first book is solving the initial crime – a fatal stabbing on the Underground tracks.
It’s a more mundane crime, in almost every way, than those in the two previous books and the police work is more mundane as a result. Without so many chase scenes, magical threats, and general life threatening danger it felt like a slower book – but it actually rattles along at a fair pace, the whole story taking approximately a week from murder to solution; and it's a very easy book to just devour in one sitting. What we get instead of a magical menagerie of fucked up experiments is a surly half-fairy, magic pottery, and a lot of traipsing through underground railway lines, sewers, world war two bunkers, and secret passages. It’s hard to describe it in a way that sounds interesting but it really is.
Peter’s habit of explaining the history of all the London places he visits in the story still remains and, now that I’m more familiar with London myself, I can understand why some people find it irritating. For the most part I still find it interesting – I’m the sort of person who does like to know and work out the history of the place and actually my dad is very like Peter when it comes to this habit of explaining architecture and history, so I guess it’s something I’m used to. However the description of Baker Street tube station almost had me shouting ‘I know what fucking Baker Street looks like, everyone in the world has travelled the Bakerloo line!’. What also remains is Peter’s apparently teenage hormones, I’m probably being a bit unfair here and I’m sure Peter’s voice is quite an authentic and realistic one, but I still don’t particularly enjoy hearing him admire a female character’s bum. Buuuut, it’s much more understated than previously and he doesn’t do his thinking with his penis this time so I’m going to accept it and move on. For the most part I really enjoy Peter’s voice.
Back to proper policing also means back to character interactions with lots of other police officers, both familiar and new, and I am always delighted with how Aaronovitch gets the multi-cultural nature of London (as he should, being a Londoner and all). No all white cast here but a real mix of races and ethnicities and each character, mostly, treated as a person (if a not-yet developed one) rather than a walking stereotype (though Peter does often like to speak in stereotypes himself). There’s not much in the way of complex character development in this book, and I think Nightingale is woefully underused, but the character interactions are crisp, realistic, and often funny. Like most police procedurals it’s not so much about the character’s as the plot, and both that and the cast are pretty well put together and enjoyable.
It’s not a five-star book, it wasn’t amazing and I don’t think I’ll ever ‘love’ this book with the same passion that I do my favourites. But it’s a very enjoyable page-turner/summer read and one of only two current series that I rush out to buy the moment a new book is released in hardback.(less)
A wonderful book, spoiled, in part, because I already knew the story. It’s (deservedly) a very famous book and the plot is one that is hard not...more4 Stars
A wonderful book, spoiled, in part, because I already knew the story. It’s (deservedly) a very famous book and the plot is one that is hard not to know, even if you’ve never read it. Normally this isn’t a problem for me, I read classics I know the story to or have seen on film/tv/stage all the time. The problem is that with this book, like The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or Rebecca, knowing the basic plot essentially robs you of the ‘aha!’ moment when the twist is revealed, and all the uneasy suspense and questioning you should be doing leading up to it. It worked for me in the same way rereading does; knowing the big twist, I could spot the hints and the foreshadowing, and appreciate just how good a writer Charlotte Brontë was and how well plotted and put together that bit of storytelling is – but I felt robbed of that ‘first read’ feeling and as a result the book wasn’t an unputdownable five stars. Perhaps that's unfair, but I can't help that.
In fact I found the middle section quite tedious. Without that mystery and suspense to sustain me I found the Jane and Mr Rochester relationship rather lacking and some parts of the dialogue downright irritating. What works so damn fucking beautifully in Jane’s narration simply doesn’t when put into dialogue – nobody needs that much extraneous detail when having a normal conversation. I could totally buy why these characters fell for each other and the immense attraction of their opposing personalities – but I felt it more natural and real when reading each other’s thoughts on the other than I ever did in any of their scenes or conversations. In other words, for once, the ‘telling’ was much stronger and more effective tool than the ‘showing’.
But that’s a small quibble. Whatever you may have heard about this book I do not think it is, primarily, a romance. It has a hell of a lot of romance in it but, essentially, it’s about Jane herself; the story of her progress from an unloved, orphaned, child into a strong, confident, and happy young woman – the romance is only a part of that, albeit a major one. The first ten chapter glimpse into her childhood shows how much her character’s journey goes from a girl who lets her passions best her to a woman who, though still passionate, knows how and when to temper them and when to speak out. I will put in a disclaimer here though to say that I loved this look at Jane’s childhood a lot more than my friend who was also reading the book did, she saw it as a slow start to overcome before she could get to the good bit. Personally though I adored how Jane (though her dialogue sounded a bit too articulate for a ten-year-old at times) so totally summed up the childhood frustration I always had (and still have to some extent now) of being unable to find words to express thoughts as correctly and coherently as she would like.
I’ve said before that Jane’s narrative voice was ‘damn fucking beautiful’, so I’ll elaborate here. I have genuinely not read a first person narration that allowed me to understand the character in this much depth and detail before. Jane is an amazingly fully fleshed out character and she tells her story beautifully; even when I didn’t agree with her actions or would do a different thing myself, I could understand completely why she would make them. She also acknowledges her faults – and the faults of those about her – without ever falling into angst, self pity, or petty bitching that so often seem the hallmarks of first person narration. She might seem passive and mild when first compared to other women in the story, but she’s as passionate as any of them and braver and more decisive to boot - she’s just less showy about it. The action she takes partway through the book would have won me over to her completely, had I not already been on her side, for the sheer guts of it.
It’s a genuinely brave and unselfish decision and it leads to some real suffering – not least to her meeting with the absolutely vile St John Rivers. While I was underwhelmed by Rochester (according to my edition’s afterword one of the strongest characters in English literature) I was overwhelmed by St John. Whilst I flagged in my reading of the Thornfield chapters I could not put the book down in this later section, so fueled was I by my desire to see St John get thumped – unlikely as I knew it was to happen. I haven’t hated a character this much since Theon Greyjoy (which was admittedly only last month) and I hate St John even more than him. Jane might have some affectionate words to say towards his better qualities but I have none; for someone who purports to be doing god’s work he’s a cynical, bullying, selfish, hypocrite and I don’t believe he has any redeeming qualities at all. That Charlotte Brontë makes the man who’s lived a life of sin and cares more for himself than others the hero, and the missionary vicar who puts aside love for duty an emotionally abusive villain is one of the best twists in the book.
And it’s a book surprisingly full of social issues – not just the difference between preaching a Christian life and actually practicing it (St John’s not the only vicar attacked for that) but the treatment of orphans and te vulnerable, the shameful Victorian cost-cutting measures taken at the expense of human lives, the way higher classes (even Jane, on occasion) look down on the poor, the difficulty for a woman to exert her independence in a male dominated society. It brings up traditionally villanous or buffoonish traits – alcoholism, sexual temptation, infidelity and treats them sympathetically. Jane’s a moral character but even she does not see things in black and white – that’s a trait solely reserved for the hypocrites on the book (just like in real life). I will say that there is some unfortunate but generally mild ‘England is best, ra ra!’ patriotism (mostly at the expense of the French) and I don’t like the implication Rochester, at least, makes that Jane is the paragon of womanly virtue and any woman who doesn’t have all of her qualities is deficient – but I can accept that the character has that opinion.
The treatment of a certain character does distress me, and I will be reading Wide Sargasso Sea – a prequel by another author depicting Rochester’s early life – as soon as I’ve finished my massive to-be-read pile, to see another angle than the one portrayed in Jane Eyre. But I’ll save my discussion on this aspect for people I know have read the book.
In short though and without getting into spoilers, I thought this was a wonderful book with a quietly charismatic narrator and, despite not loving it enough for five stars I really enjoyed it and will be putting the rest of Charlotte Brontë’s books straight onto my wishlist.(less)
This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years (ever since studying The Woman in Black for my A levels) and somehow just never...more 4 stars
This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years (ever since studying The Woman in Black for my A levels) and somehow just never got round to picking up. Thankfully Goodreads came to my rescue again when one of my groups set it as their August group read and forced me to finally grab myself a copy and get reading. And I’m very glad they did because it’s the sort of book that’s right up my alley.
Walter Hartright, a young drawing master, runs into a mysterious woman dressed all in white wandering along the road at night on the very eve he is due to depart for a situation in the country. He helps her to escape from the men pursuing her and then tries his best to forget about it – despite the fact that she seems intimately familiar with the same family and country house he is about to take his position at, and that when he gets there he finds she bears and uncanny resemblance to his new pupil, Laura Fairlie. As Walter falls hopelessly in love with Laura and discovers her longstanding engagement to Sir Percival Glyde, the mystery of the ‘Woman in White’ and the words they exchanged that night begin to haunt him. Does she know some dreadful secret about Laura’s fiancé? Was he the one who sent his men to pursue her that night and why? Or is she really as she seems and just a poor escaped madwoman?
As a gothic epistolary novel, told through various character’s accounts, I really liked the structure of this book, as well as the different styles and voices of the various narrators. The justification given in the first chapter that ‘the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness – with the same object, in both cases, to present the truth always in its most direct and most intelligible aspect’ is interesting – and very telling of the fact that Collins was himself a lawyer. It certainly made me question the reliability and bias of the narrator’s and I enjoyed the little glimpses were a minor character uninvolved with the wider implications, such as the cook, housekeeper, took up the pen to narrate specific events. By using diary entries and statements and accounts written in hindsight by the characters Collins avoids the dreadful ‘as you already know…’ infodumping that characterises epistolary novels told exclusively though letter writing. There’s a definite purpose to the story and narration but you also can’t implicitly trust anything anyone says either and the narrator’s are frequently wrong or misguided in their analysis.
Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe, Laura’s half-sister, are the main narrators but quite possibly the least interesting. Walter is a fairly typical Victorian hero, while Marian is meant to be a ‘strong woman’ and for the most part is, but falls into that unpleasant habit of internalised misogyny that strong women written by men often seems to feel. I swear that after the 75thbillion time she said something along the lines of ‘but I’m only a woman’ or ‘I didn’t share the defects of my sex’ or ‘he thought me the most sensible woman he had met in a long time’ I was just about ready to slap her. Being female is not a defect! But then I remember just how easy it is to be made to feel this way – even today – when everything around you promotes the message that women aren’t as good as men. And then when I compare her with the fragile, constantly swooning, Laura I end up totally seeing why she thinks her ‘unfeminine’ behaviour is so remarkable. Even Walter seems to prefer Marian, who he treats as a respected equal, to his beloved Laura, who he treats like a particularly vulnerable and sensitive six year old. The best narration in the book, though, comes from the more unsympathetic characters; the hilariously uncaring and hypochondriac Frederick Fairlie, the cold and haughty Mrs Catherick, and the jovial villain, Count Fosco.
It’s a long book, at over 600 pages, and it can drag a bit, but a lot happens. And a lot of it very melodramatic – women fall down in swoons at bad news and catch deadly fevers from wearing wet clothes while men plot elaborate murders, steal money from their wives, manipulate everybody around them, and go on random expeditions to Central America. It’s very much classic Victorian gothic, and a lot of the tropes and twists are no longer shocking but fairly predictable and almost cliché. In that way I found the first half of the book, which was all about the slow building of atmosphere and suspense, vastly superior to the second half where things seemed almost rushed into conclusions with a lot more resting solely on sheer coincidence and dumb luck than felt satisfactory – hence the 4 star rating rather than a 5. The conclusion of Count Fosco’s storyline in particular felt both totally predictable and completely out of nowhere - as if Collins had written himself into a corner in how to deal with him and simply jumped on the first idea of how to get out of it that popped into his head.
That said it’s an enjoyable read. The conclusions left me not quite loving it but I definitely liked it a lot and look forward to reading more of Collins’ work.(less)
I seem to be going on a bit of a supernatural binge recently; first Dracula, now this, and next it’ll probably be that werewolf book that’s been gathering dust on my shelves. If this isn’t your thing, sorry, I’ll be back to reviewing other genres again soon, I just need something easy but fun while I get through the last of my exams. And onto the book… I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting but what I got was a modern (if we can call something written in the 1980s and set in the 1850s modern) vampire novel that didn’t make me pull a face in disgust, roll my eyes, click my tongue, or hurl the book across the room. For that alone it should get at least four stars. Extra marks for being a damn good yarn and just the sort of book I was in the mood for. It’s not a perfect book but it left me with a happy ‘just what I needed right now’ afterglow.
The vampires are no Draculas – like almost all writers, Martin gives his own spin on the realities and fictions of vampire lore – but they are wonderfully dark, seductive, and chilling – with the emphasis where it should be; ‘dark’ and ‘chilling’. Simultaneously both more complex and far more simplistic than Dracula, these are the sort of vampires to run away from really really fast. But they’re not all the same either, there are distinct personalities among them that make them relatable, in their own way – no ‘all vampires are soulless and identical’ stereotyping to make it easier for humans to guiltlessly eliminate them. Although I wasn’t too keen on some of the changes Martin made to vampire lore – the physical differences between human and vampire anatomy for one – I did approve of the handling of the vampires personalities. Even the idea of whether a vampire could go ‘vegetarian’ if they wanted was floated in a way that didn’t make me rage too hard (which is an impressive feat) and some good mileage was gotten from the ‘are we really any different from humans who eat meat’ line. You can see the inspiration from Stoker there, of course – Dracula has his ‘brides’ (who are quite frankly pretty ineffective), the bad guy here has a whole mixed gender entourage, Dracula has Renfield, the vampires here have Sour Billy and Abner Marsh to do their bidding and assist their aims during the daylight hours. The details and mythology are changed but the ideas remain – and I thought the idea of having the vampires as pack creatures with an ‘alpha-vampire’ was a lovely, and very sinister development. People who can calmly command others to do horrific things are almost always more scary than those that do horrific things on their own (in fiction at least)
What really suckered me in though, as well as the refreshingly dark vampires, was the setting. New Orleans is one of the few places in the USA I really really want to visit and somehow it just seems the right place to dump vampires, and the slave-trading 1850s the perfect time period for it. It’s not just the vampires; the whole society of the place is rotten and festering and violent and ugly, hiding beneath a thin outward veneer of beauty. And the Fevre Dream herself is the same – beautiful and grand and hubristically opulent, it’s almost asking for the trouble it gets. As her journey downriver just gets worse and worse and the boat travels deeper and deeper into slave trading county towards New Orleans, the tension and foreboding atmosphere is almost palpable. And there’s a certain simple genius in the idea too – vampires on steamboats, travelling up and down the country able to stop off and kill at any point along the river, all the while living in complete luxury…it just fits somehow.
The one thing I had misgivings on after reading the blurb, some of Martin’s stylistic tendencies, didn’t actually bother me in the slightest. Yes, Martin does list everything that ends up on a character’s plate, but here it works far better than it does in A Song of Ice and Fire because his main character is an overweight glutton. He’s also brilliant and brave and stubborn, but he loves his food and it makes perfect sense for it to be mentioned so much in the third-person limited narration. And the clothes descriptions…thankfully few and far between, or at least it felt that way, mainly reserved for first impressions and significant outfits.
The characterisation is well, what you’d expect from a George R.R. Martin book really – pretty solid for the main characters, a bit simplistic for some of the side ones. I loved that the hero was a fat warty old(ish) guy. There aren’t enough ugly protagonists and I really loved Abner Marsh not just for that but for being a straightforward, slightly slow but not unintelligent, normal bloke. Joshua York I was less enamoured with, but he was more interesting than your standard vampire even if he came off a little cliché at times. Few of the other vampires were really given enough pagetime, Julian was a monster, but a suave one, Valerie was flighty and romantic, others you ot a general impression of, but there were a number of names that I’m not sure ever did get paired with personalities or faces. I would really liked to have seen a bit more of Jean and Catherine in particular as they both seemed interesting characters in their own right, but I understand the limits of the narration style and the character relationships didn’t allow for that. A good enough job was done in establishing the vampires as not all being of the same temperament and opinions that I can’t complain too hard that not all of them got intricate backstories. Sour Billy, though…he’s written to be hated; a nasty racist, sadistic, little shit of the highest degree, but to be honest I spent a lot of the book feeling pretty ambivalent towards him and seeing him more for his role in the story rather than taking his character too much to heart. Probably because his brand of violence is true to the setting and time period, I reserved almost all of my disgust for the concept and history of slavery and the real life people who abused and still abuse others they view as below them, rather than for Billy, who is only a fictional character. When he does horrific things to the black slaves, and non-slaves, I didn’t feel the surge of hatred towards Billy that I should; just shock and outage for the more minor characters and all the people who really went through that experience.
Now I realise I haven’t said much about the plot other than what can already be inferred from the blurb; that’s because it was surprisingly unpredictable, taking a couple of turns I hadn’t quite expected, and I don’t want to spoil anything. This makes saying what I didn’t like so much a bit problematic. I’ll just say that the rating reflects purely how much I enjoyed the book rather than how wonderfully well written, fully fleshed out and likely to become a classic it is. I had several mostly minor quibbles with Joshua’s backstory when we finally get it, but it was written before a lot of the newer vampire stuff that’s turned that storyline into such a cliché, so I’ll give Martin some leeway there. I’m not entirely sure everything always played out in the best way but it was enjoyable and that’s all I really asked of this book. The only scene I have to say that I genuinely disliked was when, to show off how lawless a place was, a random background character stripped an unconcious girl naked and started unbuttoning his trousers only for someone to intervene – by telling him to carry her upstairs and do his business there. It served the purpose of showing how unconcerned everyone there was very well but I didn’t like it, and the later back-reference of ‘it’s ok, she probably woke up and slit his throat’ just seemed to trivialise the rape/intended rape a bit too much for my liking. I know Martin was pulling the ‘nobody is innocent, and everyone here is a criminal’ card by turning the implied rape on its head but it was such an offhand comment it didn’t really work for me.
Apart from that one bum note, however, it was a really enjoyable read. Not something I would recommend to anyone who passionately dislikes vampires, genre fiction, or George R.R. Martin - but if you’re willing to give any of those a try and you like your vampires pretty dark, it’s worth giving this one a go. Sure, it’s not ‘great literature’, but for what it is, it's very good - and a damn fun way to spend a few hours (especially just after a very stressful exam!).(less)
Eugh. I really wanted to like this one. I was looking forward to it as some superlight reading after my dissertation but no. A...moreCrossposted from my blog
Eugh. I really wanted to like this one. I was looking forward to it as some superlight reading after my dissertation but no. And it makes me sad because, despite the recent lackluster issues, I do love Fables and Cinderella was one of my favourite characters. I enjoyed her last miniseries too – not as much as the main comics but enough to buy the second – but this is just…underwhelming on all fronts.
I’m especially disappointed with it because I was midway through drafting a post about how the portrayal of women in mainstream superhero comics puts me off buying them when this arrived on my doorstep and well…just look at that cover. Almost every other page seems to be an excuse to put Cinderella in underwear/a bikini/a towel/nothing. At least she has more human anatomy than a lot of comic book women but it’s still totally gratuitous. I know this Cinderella’s a sexy sexy spy who uses her looks as a tool – the first time we really meet her in the mainline Fables series she’s seducing a repulsive bloke as part of her job – but having her first appearance here be wandering round in a bikini in the snow (in Russia!) is ridiculous. Yes she has a reason for it and yes the first person narration acknowledges that it’s ridiculous, but that doesn’t make it better: she has a reason for it because the writer wanted her in a bikini enough that he made up a reason for it and then openly acknowledged the situation as stupid in the textboxes. There were many, many ways she could have used her spy skills to track the people she’s trailing down, the only reason to go for this way is to put her in a skimpy outfit. If it’s meant to draw people in it’s having the opposite effect with me – I’m now doubting that I even want to read Fairest (a new female-centric Fables spinoff) when it comes out.
But onto the story…what little there is. Fables are forever follow’s super-spy Cinderella’s attempt to track down her ‘archenemy’, a super assassin named ‘Silver Slipper’, accompanied by this miniseries Bond-Guy, the Russian Fable Ivan Durak (Ivan the Fool). Peppered throughout it are flashbacks to Cinderella’s previous run ins with Silver Slipper in the 80s which mainly consist of frames showing the two women shouting at each other, fighting each other, or tying each other up. The actual modern-day strand of plot is equally thin on content and complexity with things happening to the character rather than her making things happen. Cinderella seems to spend most of the time reminiscing about her previous encounters rather than actually doing anything.
And the Silver Slipper well.. although it’s revealed in the first issue I won’t share her identity – but if you’re familiar with the original books rather than the film adaptation it’s not gunna come as a surprise for you. While she could have been very interesting she ended up being a bit of cardboard cut out ‘evil woman’. I didn’t really get why she was so fascinated with Cinderella and I don’t get why Cinderella considered her her ‘archnemesis’. Silver Spy works as a mercenary for ‘Shadow Fabletown’, an organisation we’ve never been introduced to before but apparently stands in for Cold War Russia to main Fabletown’s America… really, did we have to go there? I know it’s a spy story and people love setting those in the Cold War but it doesn’t work. In fact ‘Shadow Fabletown’ seems to be minding its own business and doing nothing much besides ‘existing’ before Cinderella pokes her nose in. Her original mission seems pointless and her later mission to get a member to ‘defect’ to Fabletown seems even more so. Literally no reason is given why Fabletown couldn’t get in touch with a friendlier envoy and try to start up a better and mutually beneficial relationship – at the 1980s point in the story both groups are refugees from the same war with a common enemy, allies are just what they need! The whole Cold War element just seems ill-conceived.
Worse than the ‘wait a minute…’ moments though is the repetitive repetition (see what I did there?). As a miniseries I know the writer has to update the reader on what’s going on at the beginning of each issue in case someone missed the last or hasn’t read it since it came out and has forgotten details, but when they’re all collected together in one volume it doesn’t work. Every time we go to a flashback we get treated to a summary of what happened in the last issue’s flashback – when collected together this can be summarising a scene that happened as little as three pages ago and makes for really disjointed storytelling. Flashbacks and stories told in multiple timezones I can deal with – when I have to read the same scene told in an almost identical way several times I get annoyed. Maybe the summarising would have been less annoying had the narration not been first person from Cinderella’s point of view – it just made her sound forgetful and stupid - having to repeat and summarise herself so much - rather than the super-intelligent spy she’s meant to be. Even some important lines stressing the differences between Cinderella and Silver Slipper (‘I’m a patriot, she’s a ‘mercenary’) seem to have been repeated ad nauseam so that they no longer have any impact by the time we reach what’s meant to be the climactic show down between the two.
It’s not a terrible book though. It’s certainly not great, and it’s a massive step down from almost any of the mainstream Fables volumes, but I didn’t dislike it enough to give it one star. The plot twist at the end of the main timeline was interesting – even if I did see it coming – but most of the rest was just a series of things happening and unconvincing flashbacks that didn’t really fit with what regular readers would know about Fabletown history. So yeah…2 stars.
Oh and I guess I should mention that it’s got a one issue Cinderella story from the main Fables series tucked away at the back too. But I don’t quite understand the point: regular Fables readers will already have read it and newbies to the series well…firstly they shouldn’t be starting here and secondly it’s issue 51 and art of an overarching Fables storyline so a lot of the context that would be needed to really understand it isn’t there…
At least it completes a set on my shelves though…(less)
Inherit the Wind is a much better volume than Super Team. The ‘superhero’ gimmick has thankfully been dropped – one volume was fun anymore an...more3.5 Stars
Inherit the Wind is a much better volume than Super Team. The ‘superhero’ gimmick has thankfully been dropped – one volume was fun anymore and it would have been horrible – and it’s back to more standard Fables storytelling. All the same it’s still not quite up to the standard of some of the earlier volumes. Part of this is because it’s an inbetweeny, set-up, sort of book. The last volume resolved a major plot thread so this volume has to introduce us to the next few plotlines, something it manages with varying success.
The title storyline, Inherit the Wind, gives some sort of self-contained structure to the volume and is by far the most interesting thread of the three plotlines that take up the majority of the book (Finding a successor to the North Wind, Bufkin’s adventures in Oz, and Mrs. Spratt training for revenge on Fabletown). After having treated ‘the cubs’ almost as a single entity throughout a lot of the run it was interesting to see more panel time devoted to their individual personalities and the sibling relationships between them. I have to confess that I still can’t remember half of their names, but I have a slightly better grip on their personalities now and after hearing the prophecy surrounding them in this volume I look forward to them developing further and featuring more prominently in the future. I also liked the choice for which one did eventually win the title of the next North Wind. The entrance of the East, South, and Western winds also introduces some interesting story potential. The only bum note in this storyline that I can really think of is that Bigby and Snow’s dialogue came a little from ‘the big book of parent dialogue’.
The other plotlines in this book though…eh…I honestly can’t rate them too highly. If the payoff is good I’ll take it all back, but Nurse Spratt’s scenes seemed both too frequent and far too repetitive to really hold my interest: be praised by how far she’s come, flirt with whatshisface, make vague threats to destroy Fabletown, rinse and repeated ad nauseum. And call me oversensitive as well but I have to say I also find the ‘bitter fat woman’ characterisation a little…lazy? I can understand where the plot comes from in a verse were almost all the other females are ‘the fairest in the land’, but it really plays into the whole misogynistic idea that women who aren’t ‘pretty’ are all jealous bitches. If something interesting happens there I will take it all back, and for the moment I’m really reserving judgement on this plot, it could go somewhere really good, but it has yet to wow me.
The final of the main plotlines though did more than just fail to impress, in fact it actually prompted me to use the contemptuous look that I normally reserve for creepy men who try to grind up against me in nightclubs (and that normally sees them shuffling off looking suitably shamed). Bufkin in Oz…Bufkin in Oz… what to say about this plot… I stated in my review of Super Team that, although I love Bufkin, I don’t very much like Oz and well, if anything the dislike has increased with this volume. I was silently hoping that a more competent writer than Baum might do something I liked with the potentially interesting setting – unfortunately not. In fact if anything the Oz storyline has brought about some of the most puerile and irritating writing of the whole series ‘The new emperor fed me lots of people, because he had many enemies to go away of. “Yoop,” he’d say to me, “the secret of a stable empire is to turn all of your enemies into waste product as quickly and as often as they spring up.” Yoop poop!’. How funny! A babby-talking giant who eats people and shits them out! Oh wait, that’s not remotely funny. The whole storyline is characterised by this childish writing and annoying characters that simply don’t gel with the tone of the rest of the series. Unfortunately this plot also looks to be a big one, having come nowhere close to a resolution by the end of the volume. It’s not quite The Great Fables Crossover level of shit, but it’s probably going to be similarly ignored and sipped straight over in subsequent rereads. If you like Oz though you might like this, I'll happily admit my bias against the setting may be clouding my judgement.
And that’s it for the main story, the last two issues collected in the volume are ‘standalones’. ‘All in a Single Night’, a Christmas Carol>/i> parody featuring Rose Red is surprisingly important for what at first glance looked like a ‘holiday special’. It sets up her upcoming role as one of the major players in the series and I have to say this is one thing that I am really looking forward to in the next few volumes. Rose Red is awesome and definitely deserves more time to shine. The second standalone ‘In those days‘ is more of a traditional standalone, being a collection of very short stories, illustrated by a number of different artists, set in the fairytale worlds before they were conquered. Mostly these stories are self-contained but at least one gives some insight into the past of characters we have seen before.
So overall a solid, if slightly directionless volume. I like where the North Wind plot is going, where the Rose Red plot is going, and reserve judgement on the Mrs. Spratt plot. Only the Oz storyline doesn’t gel well, and even there I’m still hoping that later volumes will me round to it.(less)