Quick sum up: Most of this book was pretty terrible. The awful love triangle keeps trying to take over wh...more 3 Stars - Review when I get back from holiday
Quick sum up: Most of this book was pretty terrible. The awful love triangle keeps trying to take over what little plot there is and the whole book is even more poorly paced than the previous ones. But it is very readable.(less)
Again, this is going out to my newsfeed so whole review under spoilers for discussion of books 1-4
(view spoiler)[Running concurrently (for the first half at least) with events from A Feast For Crows, A Dance With Dragons follows the characters who didn’t appear there – mostly Tyrion, Jon and Daenerys. With the main cast scattered across the Narrow Sea up or North of the Wall it works better as a Song of Ice and Fire book than A Feast For Crows did. In the last book the plot felt very centred around Kings Landing with chapters set elsewhere feeling very much like interludes, A Dance With Dragons is a return to the feel of the first three books – geographically diverse and nominally ‘separate’ plotlines all interweaving to form a much larger story.
It also brings the return of some of my favourite (and least favourite) characters. Bran is back! I’m not sure there’s enough of him, to be honest, but he’s back and he’s north of the Wall. Also Davos. No matter what anyone else says I love Davos. Theon (who I hate) is back, and actually has an interesting role to play this time in an interesting plot line. And then there’s the ‘big three’ – Tyrion, Jon, and Daenerys – all of whom have big things going on for them in this book. Dany is trying (and failing) to rule the conquered city of Myreen (why do people want her as queen of Westeros again? She’s just as terrible as you would expect a power mad overly entitled 15 year old to be if you gave her a throne), Jon as the newly elected commander of the Nights Watch is giving the Wall a serious shaking up, and Tyrion is on the run after murdering the most powerful man in the kingdom.
So right from the offset there’s a wider variety of things going on than in the previous book – which also means that some of the story lines are probably more hit-or-miss too, depending on what your reader preferences are. Personally, I found the Dany chapters tedious and unpleasantly colonialist (nothing quite as bad as the third HBO season’s white saviour shot of her crowdsufing her rescued brown subjects but yeah… that imagery certainly came from somewhere). I also wasn’t keen, and never have been, on the way she, as a very young teenage girl, is presented as a male sexual fantasy. Compare the treatment of her character with that of Sansa, who is only a year or two younger, and I actually feel quite sick. And this book especially was big on the ‘sexy Dany’ as she considers both offers of political marriages and her own inexplicable attraction to a man who dies his beard blue. Yes, girls did get sexualised younger in earlier time periods that Martin uses as his inspiration, I have no real problem with the characters doing that but the way its presented (and has been from book one) by the author always makes me feel as a reader that I’m meant to enjoy and be complicit in the sexualisation and I’m really, really not. Possitives though – at least this time she’s and active agent in her sexuality and sex life, making her own choices rather than being sold into sexual slavery and raped. Aside from the skeevy pervy bits I also found her chapters pretty dull and I could see where most of it was going well before we got there.
I vastly preferred Jon Snow and Tyrion’s chapters. Jon is really coming into his own, proving to his men that he isn’t just a kid but that he’s a Commander who will take control, shake things up, and try to reform the Night Watch to the power it once was. But, as with all reformers, not everyone will agree with him. I will be very very interested to see what happens on the Wall when book six eventually comes out. And Tyrion, as always, gets some of the best chapters by merit of the most interesting and varied supporting cast. But he still has the unfortunately repetitive habit of repetitively repeating the same things repeatedly. In previous books it’s been ‘I’m in love with a whore’ and ‘my sister tried to kill me’, this book it’s ‘I killed my father and King Joffrey’ (only one of which is true) and ‘Maybe I should ask her/him/them ‘where whores go”. Also there’s the fact that in the third book he murdered a woman for the crime of sleeping with someone who wasn’t him. There’s not really any coming back from that in my eyes, no matter how witty you are.
Which, funnily enough, is also the problem I have with relatively new viewpoint character Victarian. Introduced in A Feast for Crows, he returns in this book when the timelines merge once more. Brother of the new king of the Iron Islands, and experienced raider, Victorian bears a grudge against his brother for shagging his saltwife and ’forcing’ Victarian to kill her. No sympathy. Really. None. Anyways, he’s been given the mission of bringing the Dragon Queen, Daenerys back as a wife for the new new king of the Iron Islands. So there’s a lot of him travelling on a boat, raping a ‘dark mute’ his brother gave him as a present, and plotting to marry Dany for himself. And he’s not the only one, Quentin Martell of Dorne is on his way to Myreen as well to court the new Queen and persuade her to return to Westeros and take an army of Dornishmen as a wedding gift.
So lots going on in this book. Some worked for me (mostly the bits in northern Westeros and north of the Wall), some didn’t. It felt more like a Song of Ice and Fire book in structure and plot than the previous volume did. But I found that this was the book where I found popular criticisms of Martins style the most valid – the sexualisation bothered me more than in previous books and seemed more out of place, I felt there was a lot more rape happening on page and that it was presented in more worrying ways than in earlier volumes (a prior relationship with a man – only revealed after the sex scene – does not give him the right to corner you outside your bedroom and fuck you until you cry after you say ‘no’.) and there was a heavy-handed and exoticism and otherising in the way non-westerosi characters were portrayed that made Dany’s conquest and rulership uncomfortable. Probably most annoying from a purely narrative perspective, though, was that Martin’s penchant for unexpected twists and ‘it can always get worse’ meant that at the end of the book I was left with a ‘well what was the point of all that then?’ feeling. The place that Martin chose to wrap up the book (apparently earlier than he had wanted, pushing some already written material back into the next book) meant that several of the plotlines, for me, ended up feeling like a five-book-long shaggy dog story.
So yeah, I really enjoyed this book, it’s highly readable, and I really look forward to the sequel – especially for what’s happening in the north and at the Wall – but I did have some pretty big problems with it too and I don’t want to gloss over them. Hope to see all the characters together again properly in The Winds of Winter, whenever that comes out. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(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)
Tweaking of my original thoughts over on my own blog.
Another one of my impulse buys, I picked this up based on nothing but the cover and blurb, expect...moreTweaking of my original thoughts over on my own blog.
Another one of my impulse buys, I picked this up based on nothing but the cover and blurb, expecting a fun and slightly quirky little story. What I got was…well a funny and slightly quirky little story - but I had to slog through a slightly painful first half to get there.
Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary story, told through the letters, notes and scribbles of several characters on the fictional island of Nollop - named after their most famous resident, who came up with the pangram 'The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog', an achievement imortalised in the island's monument. Nollop, however is ruled by a cartoonishly tolatarian council, so when dodgy glue causes the letters to start falling from the monument the council proceeds to ban their use in both writen and spoken convesation. At first, with the loss of Z and Q this isn't a major barrier to conversation, but as more letters fall communication becomes more difficult.
It's a lovely little idea but, for me, the text never quite lived up to the blurb. I appreciated the effort the authour must have put into his wording as the story moves from a full 26-letter alphabet to just L, M, N, O, P. It's an impressive feat but the gradual shedding of letters doesn't quite blind me to the fact that I simply didn't care for the actual style and tone when he had a whle 26 letters to work with.
The Nollopians, we are told, have a devotion to language so strong that it is now almost a national art form. What that seemed to mean is that private letters between individuals who know each other very well come off as either unsettlingly formal, or read like posts from that arsehole everyone has encountered at least once on the internet - the one who uses as many long words as he can to try to sound superior but actually just makes him sound like more of an arsehole. Its acknowledged in text to be a peculiarity of Nollopians that means they fail to fit in abroad but…well people who labour language a bit too much and use several dozen long words when they could convey the same meaning better by two short ones, are a pet peeve of mine. Nothing against long words in general but they are not automatically superior to short ones, and vice versa. I have to say it wasn’t very long before I was hoping the letters would start to drop from the statue a little bit faster just to shut the characters up. For me personally, it would have been a lot easier to appreciate the story if the characters had written in a more relatable way from the start.
This impression of stilted writing is not helped by the fact that it’s very difficult to smoothly convey certain types of information in an epistolary novel – the information the reader needs to know is often different from the information the character would naturally be writing down. As a result there are several paragraphs of shoehorned information that amount to a slightly wordier version of ‘as you already know, we both live on an island where language is worshipped, as is Nollop, who was the inventor of ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’, which is a pangram – a sentence that includes every letter of the alphabet’ or ‘my mother – your aunt and your mother’s sister – is a primary school teacher’. Later on in the story two relatively important new characters are introduced in a letter to a friend that basically says ‘I went over to your house yesterday and met the new characters who were also at your house’. I realise that this is important information to get across and the nature of the format and lack of third person narrator means that there’s no other way to do it, but that didn’t stop me from rolling my eyes and muttering ‘really? You’d really say that?’ whenever a particularly obvious example cropped up. I also found it remarkable how these people would vigorously censor their correspondence of all words containing ‘forbidden letters’ but were happy to openly discuss their other illegal activities and acts of rebellion – even after it became known the post was being intercepted and checked.
For me, though, it all got a lot better once enough of the letters had dropped that the few people remaining on the island were forced to use bizarre phonetic spellings (eg. Tetermination to ent tee tast I startet = determination to end the task I started) and keep their writing relatively short. At that point the story seemed to finally embrace the silliness of the premise - Not only with the spellings but with the actual events in the story as well. It became much more funny and a lot closer to what I had expected from the blurb than the very very earnest middle-class angsting of the earlier sections. It was these last few chapters that really redeemed the book in my eyes and lifted it from ‘two star’ territory into something I actually quite enjoyed. That and the originality of the idea.
Now it’s odd for me to finish a review without talking about the characters. I’m very much a character person. But here the characters are really playing second fiddle to the gimmick and the plot. Even though everything is told through the eyes and words of the characters I never really got a feel for any of them except Georgeanne Towgate and the ‘Anonymess’ neighbour, both of whom were very minor characters. Anonymess’ single line of scribbled note telling the main character where to stick it actually told me a lot more than the endless pages and pages of Ella’s early and very verbose letters to her cousin. Cousin Tassie and Ella might as well be the same person in terms of writing style and personality, though they do play slightly different roles in the story and the same can be said for their mothers – all the good characters were very samey-samey, wishy-washy. Ella’s dad seemed to have a bit more personality going for him but, not being a big writer, I didn’t get to see as much of him as I would have liked.Tassie’s boyfriend also got to write one heartfelt love letter but, given the short amount of time they had known each other at this point and the fact that I’m not romantic, I simply found it so cringe-worthy I thought he should be dumped immediately. It also ruined my own image of most of the major characters being mixed race by giving one of the very few physical descriptions in the book.
Most of the letter writing came across as functional rather than particularly personal, resulting in none of the characters really feeling all that fleshed out. Given that the focus was clearly on the mad premise and not character development, however, I can forgive it that. What stopped this from getting more stars wasn’t poor characterisation, but the fact that the first half seemed to take both itself and the silly gimick far too seriously. Up until the book finally decided to run with the silliness and have fun it all just came off as trying way too hard to be clever.(less)
Percy Jackson was always going to be a hard act to follow, let alone top. To Riordan’s credit he manages the first goal but falls very very sho...more 4 Stars
Percy Jackson was always going to be a hard act to follow, let alone top. To Riordan’s credit he manages the first goal but falls very very short of the second. Heroes of Olympus, a new series set in the Percy Jackson world follows fast on the heels of the last series. At first it seemed almost too fast – only a few measly months have gone between the final showdown between Gods and Titans and already the next big threat is rising up, some deities just can’t catch a break! Riordan’s knowledge of Greek (and Roman!) mythology placated me somewhat there though, and it’s as fast paced and action packed as ever. Where it doesn’t fare so well is the new characters and the shift from first person to third-person limited narration. No Percy Jackson in this book, no charmingly hilarious oddball narration. Instead we get three new characters; Jason, Piper, and Leo who shift between third person point of view chapters – allowing us to witness just how vapid and boring two of their personalities are.
Jason and Piper are both practically cut out from the Big Book of Mary-Sue Heroes and Love Interests. He’s an amnesiac with a magical weapon and great destiny! She has eyes that change colour and is so beautiful she tries to hide it by cutting her hair with safety scissors! Together they will ignore their ‘best friend’, take little heed to their own lives, and spend paragraphs boring on and on to themselves about how awesome the other is! It says a lot about how good the rest of the book is that I can award 4 stars to a novel where I’m indifferent at best to two out of three of the primary characters. Leo, however, is pretty awesome. Not as awesome as Percy of course, but he’s got some fun and humour about him and he actually puts work into what he does rather than simply being conveniently brilliant (he’s brilliant as well of course, he’s one of a prophesied group of heroes, but there’s a sense of effort and actually trying that’s distinctly lacking from the other two).
It’s a problem exacerbated by the rotating third-person limited narration. If I had never had to listen to her thoughts Piper may have been quite interesting, the potential was certainly there; she appears a clever, rebellious, tomboyish sort of girl, with a decent knowledge of Greek mythology, as a Native American she’s also the first character to call out the term ‘half-blood’ and point out its use as a very real and hurtful racial slur. So far, so good. Step into her PoV, however, read her thoughts and you can see just how shallow her characterisation actually is. Her tomboyishness manifests as a snobby disdain of ‘popular’ and ‘fashionable’ girls (because no girls become popular from actually being nice you know! Maybe it’s cause I never went to a US highschool but I have never, never, understood the ‘mean girl’ trope) and of course the story responds by making all the popular fashionable girls she encounters into complete bitches who use their sexuality for power like the evil hobags they are while she feels self conscious every time she’s put in a dress or make up. Bleh. Her rebelliousness becomes her acting out to get her father’s attention (no problems there), but instead of actually shoplifting she just used her powers (which she didn’t know of) to ask for things, which people then gave her before calling the police once they regained their senses. See! She’s not a real theif, she asked, and she didn’t know she had magical powers she’s super-perfect and awesome and would never actually do something bad like steal! Fuck off. She’d have been a bit more interesting and less Sueish if she actually had stolen that car. And the Greek mythology knowledge – she can call up the long and hard to pronounce names of pretty obscure figures all from reading it up with her actor dad for a part. I call bull. Without being subjected to her vapid ‘it’s so bad that I almost died but the worst thing was that Jason doesn’t recognise me’ inner monologues I could have found her interesting I may even have been singing her praises! As it stands I’m kind of hoping she tries to charmspeak Clarisse and gets a proper beat down. This book needed more Clarisse.
Jason’s the same. Bland heroic heroes are never my favourites and I’m still conflicted over what I feel about his ‘mysterious’ Roman past. On one hand the existence of Roman gods has been established since the Janus made an appearance in the third Percy Jackson book. There was yet more foreshadowing in the fifth where a statue-come-to-life resents being mistaken for a Greek Goddess when she's Roman. But at the same time I feel something as big as a whole Roman mythology-themed demigod camp running parallel with Camp Half-Blood with each unaware of the other’s existence is just a bit much to shoehorn into the story now. The characters can tell me that Jason was off doing awesome things to help against the Titan’s while Percy was doing his thing until they’re blue in the face – I still can’t make myself believe it. Wonderful feats of Titan-killing that happen completely off-page do not make for a particularly compelling backstory. It’s like ‘hey, look at the new awesome hero. I know he hasn’t done anything yet and you've never heard of him but he’s totally awesome and just as good as Percy, maybe better!’. No. I am the reader and I will be the judge of that and he’s not. He lacks both the charisma and the ingenuity.
I really hope that the next book, which features Percy and two new heroes, will win me round to the Roman idea more though. Because I like it, it’s got potential, lots of it. I just don’t like Jason and don’t think the introduction was necessarily handled in the best way (though I totally get the dramatic and narrative reasons for doing it this way).
But I’ve been really negative! It’s only because I love it so much! If I didn’t love I wouldn’t critique! And much as I couldn’t care less about Jason or Piper, this was a wonderful children’s book. I wondered, a little, what threat Riordan was going to have to bring in to justify a second major prophecy getting started so soon after the last, but actually what he went with made total sense. The overarching villain is definitely an interesting one and the ‘smalltime’ enemies in this book include some of my all time favourite figures from Greek mythology. Allowing legendary humans, as well as monsters, to make appearances is probably going to be my favourite part of this series. Monsters are all well and good but Greek mythology is full of wonderful human vilainesses and husband-murderers as well (fingers crossed for Clytamnestra!). The story, at 552 pages is a lot longer than previous entries in the Percy Jackson series, mainly due to narrating for three separate characters rather than one, but actually it zips along at the same old pace and really is a very quick and easy read.
And Leo, poor forgotten Leo. Even in my own rant I haven’t mentioned him much. He’s no Percy, it’s true, but he’s definitely worth reading for and a great addition to the cast of characters at Camp Half-Blood. Which, almost perversely considering how much I disliked Jason and Piper, that was actually something this book managed way better than the Percy Jackson series ever did – the one thing I kept on ragging on Percy Jackson for not doing; it made Camp Half-Blood feel like it was peopled by real teenagers, not just background characters who came and went as the story required. So yay for the third-person narration in that respect!
Now if only Riordan could tighten it up a bit and make Jason and Piper a little less unreasonably obsessed with each other in the next book I may yet be a happy camper. It’ll be odd reading Percy from a third person perspective though…might take a bit of getting used to.(less)
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)
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)
Like the rest of the series, it’s the little moments in this book, rather than the slightly predictable mystery plot, that makes this stand out...more 4 Stars
Like the rest of the series, it’s the little moments in this book, rather than the slightly predictable mystery plot, that makes this stand out for me. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great little series and I have a lot of affection for it, but it’s the small things – the way fairy tale (and now literary) characters have been modernised, eg. Scrooge from A Christmas Carol becoming a medium – that I really enjoy. The mystery itself, as in previous books, remains predictable; something a bit of deductive reasoning and ‘who would benefit from this crime?’ sort of common sense would solve quite quickly – not helped by the cover kind of giving a big part of the game away as well. But whether you guess the baddie or not, it’s a fun ride and there are lots of new characters, expanded world-building, and amusing cameos to enjoy. And a bit more light gets shed on the big mystery of Sabrina and Daphne’s parents disappearance and the sinister ‘Red Hand’.
The last book ended on a bit of a cliffhanger; Puck seriously injured and in danger of death with only his family beyond the magical barrier that protects the town able to heal him. So for the fourth book it’s roadtrip time! Leaving behind the familiar setting of the previous books and taking the action, temporarily, to New York and the secret court of Shakespeare’s fairies where Puck’s father, Oberon, rules a divided community of urban Everafters. But adventure always follows the Grimms, and barely have they arrived before Oberon is murdered and his body marked by the sign of the Red Hand so it’s up to Granny and the Sisters Grimm to find the killer. In some ways it’s a breath of fresh air and it works very well as a story by itself – new setting, new characters, the chance for a different sort of adventure – but it does distract slightly from the other ongoing storylines set up in the previous books and sometimes results in an odd change of tone from the rest of the series. Uncle Jacob and Elvis only get mentioned once in the whole book, the storyline from the previous book of ‘magic as an addiction’ seems to have been abandoned, and the situation they left Ferryport in is almost forgotten. In fact with the addition of a fairytale community in New York I have to question the whole point of Ferryport’s magical barrier.
The main point of this book, though, is as a turning point in Sabrina’s character arc with her coming ‘home’, learning more about her parents, and finally changing her anti-Everafter prejudices. That’s how the story is presented anyway and I do hope it proves correct because she really was insufferable at times. I’ve tried to like her, I’ve tried to understand her and, though I’ve managed the later, the former has been almost impossible at times. Whilst Daphne, Granny, and all the fairy-tale characters are loads of fun (but not particularly complex), Sabrina has been a grumpy funsponge for four books in a row now and it’s getting old. I get that life has hardened her, I get that she’s got trust issues but she is, in Daphne’s words, a ‘jerkazoid’ for most of the book. If I’m right this time though (I’ve had my fingers crossed ever since book one that she’ll be better in the next one) I will be delighted. One of my favourite things about this series is that it’s a children’s series, and an action adventure series at that, where both primary leads are female – so I desperately want to like both of them! Us girls get relegated to ‘brainy friend’ or ‘boring love interest’ too often in these sort of books for me not to enjoy it when we get to be the flawed heroes ourselves! All I want is for Sabrina to become likable as well as flawed.
So fingers crossed for the next book! A less prejudiced Sabrina and a return to Ferryport. Looking forward to it.(less)
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is an odd little book. Not surprisingly, it was the title that first caught my attention when I spotted th...more3 stars
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is an odd little book. Not surprisingly, it was the title that first caught my attention when I spotted this nestled among the staff recommendations at Waterstone’s. I didn’t buy it straight away, but the title and the intriguing blurb niggled away at me for weeks until I finally caved – and I can honestly say that I’m glad that I did. Although it wasn’t quite what I expected and it won’t become a favourite it was definitely an interesting and enjoyable book – though very much in the ‘not for everyone’ camp.
The basic premise is that the Minotaur (M)- and other mythological creatures – live everyday lives in modern America (and presumably the rest of the world). Instead of being the fierce man-eating virgin-devouring monster of legend, however, the millenia have ground the Minotaur down into a world-weary, socially-awkward creature trudging along with little agency of his own, quietly watching humanity from the sidelines and longing for something more. In fact it’s really more a book about loneliness and social isolation than it is about Greek mythology and is ultimately one of these books that’s actually more character physiology than plot. Instead of a defined beginning, middle, and end with an ultimate purpose and neat conclusion, the book simply follows a few weeks of the everyday life of M during one of the many cycles of settled boredom, something going wrong, and change that have characterised his whole existence. Will things ultimately get better for him? Will he ever escape this cycle? The book, for me, doesn’t really answer and I can’t personally hold out much hope for his life improving – but it’s an interesting examination of an immortal character trying to function in the modern world.
If you come in expecting a modern fantasy or adventure featuring the creatures from Greek mythology you might well be disappointed – little explanation is given to world-building and the action is mostly in the repetition and disruptions of everyday routine. M and his kind are just a part of the setting and people mostly just seem to accept that and so don’t act too surprised when they run into a minotaur on their weekly shop or serving them dinner at their favourite restaurant. In many ways M represents the lowly, overlooked, service-person – or the guy with a disability that people don’t want to stare at so simply ignore – just as much if not more than he represents the monster from myth and legend. That he has a bull’s head and horns and has trouble forming words with his mouth is just one more thing to set him apart from the people around him and make fitting in that much harder. It’s a slow-paced, thoughtful, book concerned extensively with the Minotaur’s internal thoughts rather than cramming in events or plot and M is an interesting character, his reactions to humanity dulled by centuries, yet still dreaming of fitting in.
As I said, I liked it, but it might be an acquired taste. It’s written in the present tense for one – which is something I’ll freely admit to normally hating – and the sentences are mostly very short, simple and almost childlike ‘the Minotaur likes this’ ‘the Minotaur does that’. But it’s also weighed down by a lot of minute detail – what people are wearing, how to cook whatever the Minotaur is cooking etc. etc. I learnt a bit about the American food industry I guess (hushpuppies are a type of food as well as a brand of shoe!), but I did get pretty bored by a lot of the kitchen scenes and I found the secondary characters a bit too flat and two-dimensional. Mike and Shane are mean posturising young men, Kelly is nice and has epilepsy and the Minotaur fancies her, Cecie is a silly flirt, Sweeny seems rough but is really a kind hearted bloke. Everybody is exactly how they first appear and they never develop past that. It adds to the tone of ultimate inevitability in the book – it’s a bit like watching a tragedy where you can just see the ending unraveling in front of you – but for me it just felt a bit unsatisfying. I’m still not quite sure why the Minotaur fancies Kelly at the start of the book he just does, which is fairly close to real life I guess but feels unsatisfactory in a book.
And I guess that’s the feeling I’m left with – and the feeling, I suspect, that I’m meant to be left with. I enjoyed it, and the book wouldn’t have been true to itself if it didn’t wrap up in the way it did, but ultimately I found it a little underwhelming and slightly unsatisfactory. Not a book I would recommend to someone whose tastes I don’t know very well, but one I liked well enough myself.(less)
In many ways this book is very similar to another I’ve read this summer; both are European-inspired fantasy, both first-person narratives of an...more3 stars
In many ways this book is very similar to another I’ve read this summer; both are European-inspired fantasy, both first-person narratives of an older man looking back on his youth, both main characters are royal bastards with magical powers looked down upon by their contemporaries and more at home with servants, and both go on to use skills and cleverness, even more than their natural magic, to become invaluable weapons and support to their royal patron. The difference is, however, that The Crystal Cave is pretty rubbish, while Assassin’s Apprentice is very good. So why then only 3 stars? Well, quite simply it was one of those ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ books – I enjoyed it very much when I was reading it but every time I put it down it just didn’t have the ‘grab’ factor to make me want to pick it back up again straight away. And without that ‘grab’ factor I don’t think I can really award it 4 stars or above.
And there were other factors as well that led to reduced stars.To be honest, this book and I didn’t quite hit it off right from the start. On the very first page in fact, after the extract from the ‘history of the setting’ textbook which prefaces each chapter, I almost hurled my book across the room with a dramatic ‘Noooooooooo!‘ when I saw that the first line was ‘My pen falters, then falls from my knuckly grip‘. A whole 400 plus page book in first-person present tense? Say it ain’t so! Thankfully, reading on a couple of pages proved it wasn’t so as the narrator slipped back into telling his story in the past tense. Even so, it was an unpleasant scare and one that probably affected my enjoyment of the early parts of the book more than it should have done.
But I got past that and, by the end, I was really enjoying the book. Fitz is an interesting character, a little slow at times perhaps, and unusually prone to having people just reveal important facts when he’s around, but interesting and fairly realistic and sympathetic in his flaws and concerns. Other characters…Verity I quite fancy actually. As a middle sibling I think I have a lot of sympathy for the second son, always overlooked in favour of his brother, trying to come to terms with the inevitable comparisons and do his best despite not feeling adequate. Burrich…I believe I was meant to like, or at least grow to like him. But I didn’t. Not that I hated him either; I could see all the reasons why I should like him and why he was a complex character but it all seemed so obviously designed to make me like him that in the end I just felt a bit ‘bleh’ ambivalent about him. And that’s a fault I found with the characters all the way through actually. While the good guys were not perfect (the main character’s training to be a killer after all) they were notably sympathetic while all the bad guys were unambiguously evil, untalented, petty, jealous and vindictive with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. All of which made the final confrontation rather predictable and unsurprising. Even the reveal had me going ‘well yeah, how could you not have worked that out for yourself already?’. It didn’t help that this plotline was rather rushed, being pushed into and then resolved in, only the last few chapters.
While Assassins Apprentice is a very good introduction to the world of the ‘Six Duchies’, the key character’s that inhabit it, and the overarching plot for the whole series, it fell down a little as a self-contained story. It’s the first part of a three-book ‘biography’, and it reads that way; the majority of the page count is spent on Fitz growing up and the experiences that effect his development, so much so that the final conflict comes off as rather rushed and forced, having only been a very minor thread for the first four fifths of the story.
But that’s not all a bad thing. The overarching story of external threat being set up for the series as a whole is much more interesting than the almost cliché political scheming for power that this first book concludes with. Had the story had more of a single-book plot focussing more on what became the eventual climax of this book, I would probably have read it as a standalone and not been fussed about picking up the next in the series – but the mystery of the Red Ships and the sense that the shit’s going to really hit the fan in some nasty, scary, and sinister ways in the next couple of books has me hooked.
So overall this was a book I enjoyed and, while I didn’t love it, I can see why my friend who recommended it to me does. As someone who read a lot of fantasy (both good and totally horrendous) when I was a child and teenager, a lot of the elements did feel like stuff I’d ‘read a million times before’ and that probably did affect my enjoyment. But the characters and the larger set up for the next books outweighed the familiarity of the main conflict in this one. The rest of the trilogy is definitely going on my list of books to get out of the library and I expect to enjoy them very much. After that though…I probably won’t bother with picking up any of Robin Hobb’s other books unless those two wow me.(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)
I picked this book up firstly because it was on one of my book-group’s reading challenge for this month but also because of some rather distr...more2.5 stars
I picked this book up firstly because it was on one of my book-group’s reading challenge for this month but also because of some rather distressing family events that made me want to take a break from ‘serious reading’ and indulge in something a bit more easy and light-going. Unfortunately that’s about all I can say for this book. It’s not bad and I don’t dislike it but neither can I in all honesty state that I enjoyed it. The problem, for me, was one of tone. It could have been a charming little two-dimensional little fairytale but it tried so damn hard to be three-dimensional that what charm there was evaporated and left it an awkward misshapen little story that was neither simplistic enough to be charming nor developed enough to be interesting.
Putting aside the odd bits of quirky humour that didn’t gel with the style of the rest of the book (such as the king banning soup and outlawing rats) the main problem was the characters. Each of the main players – Despereaux, Chiaroscuro the rat, and Miggery Sow the servant – are introduced in a multi-chapter ‘book’ that outlines their past and how they got to the place they are now in the main storyline. It’s an interesting method and one I quite liked initially but ultimately, once the final ‘present-day’ storyline concluded, it just ended up annoying me. The main storyline was such a straightforward little fairytale and the characters in it played such absolutely stock parts that all the build up felt completely unnecessary and actually almost smug. Instead of subverting fairytale tropes it fulfilled them to the letter all the while shaking its head and going ‘no no no, these are three-dimensional characters, see, they have backstories and everything!’
Did we need to know about Chiaroscuro’s past if all he was going to do was fulfil the ‘all rats are evil’ cliché? Did it matter that the deaf Miggery Sow had a sympathetic backstory if in the main storyline she’s portrayed as fat, ugly, and jealous and has to be saved from her own incredible stupidity by the beautiful princess? Despite the time taken on them they still felt two-dimensional and the backstories didn’t make them more interesting characters, it just gave the author more pages in which to moralise and pontificate – which she did, at great length. Everything is so easily solved with a one sentence pronouncement by the princess that basically amounts to ‘lets all be friends’ that it made the 264 page build up seem like a waste of time and effort. And Despereaux…oh Despereaux…what did the sickly mouse with the big ears actually do? Not very much.
As I said to begin with though; it’s not bad. There is plenty there to like, even if it didn’t work for me, and I can see the right sort of child absolutely loving it. The greyscale illustrations are pretty nice too (so long as they’re of rats and mice rather than people anyway). But…as an adult, I think the dreaded words ‘I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed’ sum up my feelings best.(less)
After their trip to New York, the Sisters Grimm are back in Ferryport Landing for their best adventure yet. Magic items have been stolen from t...more 4 Stars
After their trip to New York, the Sisters Grimm are back in Ferryport Landing for their best adventure yet. Magic items have been stolen from three of Ferryport’s most powerful witches and tears in the fabric of time have started opening up in town, letting through dinosaurs, American civil war soldiers, and providing the sisters with a rather grim glimpse into their possible futures where dragons roam the skies and the Scarlet Hand rules Fairyport.
The mystery, as normal, I was able to solve myself very easily, but then I’m a good fifteen years older than the target audience so I can’t take too much pride in that. I thought it was far more deftly handled than in the previous books, however, with not every clue being flagged up too obviously and no characters forced to act particularly dumb to make the plot work. That the story was just as focussed (if not more) on the time rifts and how to stop the possible future also helped pull this book up from another simple mystery, with both the main plot and the series arc working together here better than in the previous books. I also appreciated the character development in this instalment. Not only does the time rift offer a glimpse of how some of the major characters might turn out in fifteen years time, but Sabrina has finally stopped being so prejudiced and become instantly more likeable. I’m also really loving what’s going on with both Mr. Canis and Prince Charming and it was great to see Uncle Jacob back after his disappearing act in the last book.
The plot is very Days of Future Past in places but I quite like that, despite not always being a fan of time travel. After four books of the Scarlet Hand just being this shadowy organisation that kidnaps and assassinates people using one agent at a time it’s good to see more of the organisation as a whole, what their aims are, and just how terrible a future ruled by them would actually be. Just this one little glimpse into this possible future ups the stakes for the series and the characters considerably. I have a feeling, going forward, that the stakes will continue to be raised as the series plot becomes progressively more important than the ‘mystery’ framework of each book. Which, I have to say, is absolutely fine by me.
There were less of the small funny moments here that characterised the first four books. Most of the important players seem to have been introduced now, but Cinderella as a radio agony aunt, the witch from hansel and Gretel as a dentist, and Mordred as a sad loser addicted to computer games were nice little reminders of the quirkiness the series is built on.
All in all my favourite book of the series so far. It’s nice to see both it and its protagonists start to mature. Am really looking forward to book six and what promises to be a Mr. Canis/Big Bad Wolf heavy instalment and one that might challenge the established fairytale narratives of some of the key characters.
Quick note: since I’m moving to uni in September, I’ll probably get through the remainder of the series pretty quickly now, having checked to find it completely unavailable to order from my new library. So expect reviews of 6, 7, 8, and 9 in the not so distant future once my currently library manages to get them in for me.(less)