1 Star for the illustrations - 0 stars for the writing
Homophobic, sexist, and obsessed with the British pagan agenda (like...wut? That's not a thing!)1 Star for the illustrations - 0 stars for the writing
Homophobic, sexist, and obsessed with the British pagan agenda (like...wut? That's not a thing!). Poorly researched, inaccurate, and deliberately misleading with the few facts it does get right. Instead of being funny (I think that's what it was aiming for) it just comes out as bitter, and more than a little deluded, ramblings.
Normally, when I dislike a book as much as I disliked this one I get a sort of perverse pleasure out of going over all its flaws but not this1.5 Stars
Normally, when I dislike a book as much as I disliked this one I get a sort of perverse pleasure out of going over all its flaws but not this time. This time I just feel bad. I desperately wanted to enjoy this book, there was so much in there that I liked and admired. The author is a woman of colour in a genre (sci-fi) that is still disproportionately dominated by white men, and an author I’ve read widespread praise for too. It’s sci-fi set not in Britain or the US, but Nigeria (how often does that happen?). Almost the entire cast is black, the primary leads are both women (a scientist and an alien), and it touches on a hell of a lot of social issues; some that are topical specifically in Nigeria but many that are applicable everywhere (evangelical christianity, LGBT rights, prostitution, domestic violence, military rape culture, internet fraud…). There are so many elements I was looking forward to exploring but, in the end, and despite attempts to like this book, the only part of it I really enjoyed was the cover design.
I tried, I really fucking tried. And I still don’t want to completely dismiss the book because it’s at least interesting and experimental and different, even if it's not for me. But I still could not make myself like it. The characters fell flat, the narration felt dull, there was a lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’, the sic-fi elements were completely unbelievable, and nobody seemed to react to aliens in any way I would expect an actual human to.
Apparently this novel, and the more welcoming attitude the characters have to the aliens is a reaction to District 9 and its portrayal of Africa’s reaction to an alien arrival there. I’ve not seen District 9, so perhaps I would have liked this book more if I had, but I do admire the book for having a variety of reactions rather than everyone jumping instantly to the ‘invaders!’ scaremongering. Its just a shame that the reactions people have instead are so damn weird. almost everyone was all just a bit too credulous and accepting and some of the reactions were truly bizarre. At one point, on viewing secret footage of an alien shapeshifting, one character’s reaction is to rhapsodise about what this will do for LGBT rights…wut? Absolutely no character felt true to me, they were all rather one dimension characterisations of whatever issue they were there to represent. And yes, some people exist who are essentially caricatures – I do not doubt for a minute that their are crazy evangelical pastors like Father Oke obsessed with driving out witchcraft, but when every character feels like a one issue caricature that’s a problem. And most of these threads are only picked up for a few chapters each and then dropped completely without any resolution. What happened to the minor characters? Who really cares?
Worse still, I didn’t care for any of the main protagonists either. I still don’t even know what Anthony brought to the group or how him being a famous rapper was relevant. When we get glimses into any of the character’s thoughts and monologues they all seem to be basically the same person. At one point, after the aliens go public, there are three chapters of reaction told in first person from three very different people; a young male internet fraudster, an older male commuter, and a visiting female african-american hip hop artist. Yet all of these chapters follow exactly the same formula that lends exactly the same voice to each character. At one point Agu and Adaora kiss a few hours after meeting each other. It’s rarely mentioned again until near the end when Agu envisages a life with her an omniscient narrator invites the reader to speculate as to whether Adaora left her husband for him. One kiss! Insta-love! And zero fucking chemistry.
The main problem with the book though is that it’s just crammed too full of stuff, any of which could make an interesting novel on its own but when smooshed together just creates a big smoosh. Aliens transforming the sea life in Lagos into terrifying monsters protecting their borders from human fishing and oil rigging? Awesome! three people coming together to convince the world that alien integration is the way of the future? Less awesome, but you know I’d roll with it. People with poorly defined super powers? Maybe! A secret LGBT society going public in the face of evangelical Christian hatred? Yes. Figures from Nigerian religion and folklore walking around modern day Nigeria? Right back to awesome again! A road that comes alive and eats people? That’s batshit off the wall awesome! All of these in one book? Way waaaaaay too much.
So many ways I could have loved this book, but I didn’t. I half want to give Okorafor another go at some point because people seem to love her and I can definitely see things in her work that do appeal to me. But somehow I have a feeling that she’s another Neil Gaiman – critically acclaimed, loved by fans, and with absolutely great ideas that I really really want to read, but executed in a way that I just simply don't enjoy, And all the more frustrating for that....more
And with the final book in the First Law trilogy (there are follow up books set in the same world but this book completes the original trilogy)3 Stars
And with the final book in the First Law trilogy (there are follow up books set in the same world but this book completes the original trilogy), I remain more unconvinced than ever by Joe Abercrombie’s reputation as a master of fantasy. Sure, he subverts the cliche heroic fantasy tropes and stock characters to turn them on their head – but barely anyone writes that sort of heroic fantasy anymore anyway. And he still falls into that worst of fantasy author habits: writing way more than he he needs to, needlessly spinning a simple story into a whole trilogy. None of his books need to be as large as they are. The ending, while I admit it could have been a genuinely great end to standalone or a first novel in a series, feels anticlimactic after three books and roughly 1,700 pages. Especially when so little of relevance really happened in either book one or two. The whole series would have been massively improved by hacking out all the filler, maybe reducing the number of POV characters, and condensing it all into two books instead (one would probably be pushing it).
While Last Argument of Kings is probably the best book in the trilogy – the most action, the most plot, the most character revelations, it’s just a really really unsatisfying conclusion to the series. Now that’s part of the point, I’ll admit. It's a subversion of traditional ‘happily ever after, tied up neatly in a bow, no more problems ever’ fantasy. But for me it wasn’t the satisfying sort of unsatisfying where such an ending is pulled off well - the sort that just seems right and gets you really thinking. It was the ‘huh…I really read three bricks just for this?’. And, to be honest, it didn’t seem all that much of a subversion either, I’d flagged up that a certain character was a bit of a shit back in book one, had it all but confirmed in book two, and once I’d decided that he was clearly a shit of the first order, it was really easy to see where the plot would end up – with him being a shit. I only misjudged a little in how much of a nasty shit he would be.
My main problem with this series though is the length. It’s far far longer than it needs to be and by the end, instead of feeling a deep connection to the characters, I was completely and utterly bored by them. The interest I had in book one had been eroded by overexposure, repetitive phrases and lack of development (Jezal is really the only one who gets any). Glokta, who had been the best part of The Blade Itself had overrated his welcome to become a tiresome narrator repeating the same tired complaints about stairs and constantly ‘tonguing his gums’. And Logen, well I don’t think the reveal that people really hate a man that goes on indiscriminate murder sprees really counts as character development. Like, no shit, of course his own people hate him. They should hate him. By the very end I had stopped caring what happened to any of the characters.
There’s a lot more I could complain about – that Ferro never did anything more than be a walking plot device, that the central ‘breaking the First Law’ plot was way less interesting than any of the subplots, the way the world building was drip-fed in a way that made it hard to care about the big mythology that underpinned the whole story…but I’m just going to leave it at that. And also mention there was plenty I enjoyed too – mainly the parts set in the North.
I think Abercrombie had some great ideas, that the story could have been done really well. But having it drawn it out into such a massive trilogy just didn’t work for me (though I accept it seems to have worked for plenty of others). It was simply way more pages than either the story of the characters warranted.
I’m not actually giving up on Abercrombie yet though, my housemate lent me her copy of one of his standalones at the start of term and, despite my disappointment in the trilogy, I am going to read it. I’m honestly really interested to see if I prefer his stories when he restricts himself to using just one book to tell them. Also from the blurb the main character is female, and considering how one dimensional I found his female characters here when compared to the men, I’m really interested to see how he manages....more
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, expectTweaking 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....more
First off I want to state that despite giving this review only one star I did not hate it, neither, however, can I in good faith rate it as 'ok'. It wFirst off I want to state that despite giving this review only one star I did not hate it, neither, however, can I in good faith rate it as 'ok'. It wasn't ok, it was a total mess, but lurking in the first few chapters there was the potential for a good book - if only the author had been more concerned with the writing than the pictures.
The book's Wikipedia page says 'This children's book was originally intended to be a picture book featuring photographs Riggs had collected, but on the advice of an editor at Quirk Books, he used the photographs as a guide from which to put together a narrative.' and you can tell. The photographs aren't used to illustrate the story so much as the plot has been stretched out of shape to incorporate the pictures. The especially sad thing about this is that I would have loved the original concept - it was the photographs that drew me into buying this book and dissapointment at the mangled plot that made me donate it to charity.
The writing actually starts off well enough. For the first few chapters I was hooked, I even recommended it to my younger sister who hardly ever reads. It was tense, atmospheric, and the use of photographs - presented as once belonging to the protagonists recently deceased grandfather - made sense. However once the protagonist reaches the Welsh island he thinks will hold the answers to all his questions about his grandfather the plot takes a turn into WTFery.
Putting aside the irritating clichéness of the setting - a bleak windswept island that's barely heard of modern tecnology and the even more irritating superior attitude of the American protagonist who has heard of modern technology (such out of reach places do exist, afterall). The plot decided to take a bizare turn from creepy and atmospheric children's-horror -which was what it had been sold as - to (view spoiler)[a time travelling romance with kiddy X-Men. (hide spoiler)]
The use of pictures became increasingly poorly justified as we moved away from ones that were part of the Grandad's collection, and it soon became clear that the photographs were a crutch for both the plot and the writing. Why write a detailed description when you can say one short sentence and then stick in a picture? And then consistency issues within the photographs themselves started to appear too - I gave my book to charity so I can't double check but the protagonist's love interest looked like a different person in each photograph she appeared in and none of them matched the protagonists repeated textual description of her as 'totally hot' (maybe I'm just being shallow there though and if I'm wrong about it being a different girl in each do correct me).
After a very promising start the middle section was dragged out and dull - a cross between Tom's Midnight Garden (without the charm) and (view spoiler)[the X-Men (with none of the excitement) (hide spoiler)] with an unnecessary dose of emotionally disturbing romance. Then along came the ending; an info-dump and an anti-climax leading to a 'to be continued'. Thanks, but no thanks, the gimmick couldn't be sustained past the half way point of one book, let alone prop up a whole series.
I feel bad giving a debut author such a bad rating so some positives: I really enjoyed the first few chapters, Riggs writes well in the first few chapters and the depiction of a grieving teenager with post-traumatic-stress was well done right up until the point they got to cliché Bleak-Island. If he hadn't commited himself so hard into stringing along a plot purely to including his favourite photographs, Riggs could have written something quite good (or better than this at least).["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Eugh. I really wanted to like this one. I was looking forward to it as some superlight reading after my dissertation but no. ACrossposted 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…...more
I’ve spoken about my love of all things Arthurian before, so I was really expecting to enjoy this book. All the ingrediCrossposted 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....more
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 myRe-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....more