This book very nearly got five stars, which I don't hand out very easily. However, I am giving it a conservative four for now, in case I have merely b...moreThis book very nearly got five stars, which I don't hand out very easily. However, I am giving it a conservative four for now, in case I have merely been swept away by the glory of the last battle. I reserve the right to come back and bestow the fifth star, though.
This book was wonderful! Better than the first, actually. Temeraire got to come into his own as an independent being, which was amazing to watch. Laurence did some soul-searching and character-building which was only good for him. There was an awful period, while reading this book, when I was missing the last CD. To tide myself over, I went back and listened to the beginning of His Majesty's Dragon, and discovered that Laurence really wasn't actually a very friendly or (as Temeraire would say) "nice" person before Temeraire came in and upended his life. I mean, he might have married Edith! And I'm sure he thinks she's perfectly nice, but he would have been miserable with that spiritless woman. Anyway, the point is, he's a much deeper, fuller, and more loving human being in this fifth book than he has been yet before in the books, and that sort of character development says wonderful things about Novik.
You can see why filmmakers (including Peter Jackson, who now owns the film rights) salivate over this book. Novik is a very visual, cinematic writer. The screenplay practically writes itself, and she's already laid out the iconic shots. Temeraire, lonesome in a high, clean cave, his name scratched at the entrance. Early on, a chase between dragons described by the actions of their shadows along the ground. Temeraire's banners. Laurence, alone and despairing in the rain. The massed French and English armies. Wellsely's final strategim. (I won't give it away but it actually made me cheer. Out loud. Like some sort of mindless fangirl.) Temeraire, hanging black and alone against a gray sky and a massed green wall of water, touched with white foam. Really, I can practically hear the score (lots of trumpets and tympani).
It's difficult to say anything else about this book. I loved it. Novik did a wonderful job and deserves a parade. And a decent Temeraire in the movie. I can't wait to read the next one and as Laurence (and, of course Aubrey) would say, "You can't say fairer than that." (less)
I was a little bemused by this book. I'm not sure who the audience is. From the outside, it looks like a childern's picture book. But the inside reads...moreI was a little bemused by this book. I'm not sure who the audience is. From the outside, it looks like a childern's picture book. But the inside reads like an adult (or possibly young adult) short story someone illustrated beautifully and then published as it's own little book. I love the concept, but I've never seen anything like it before. It was shelved in the "J Fic" section of my library, which was completely inappropriate, but I found it anyway because I'm trying to work my way through all of Robin McKinley's books.
This was a lovely story about not letting otherworldly magic seduce you away from real life and love, and about how real love is its own kind of magic. And there was a dog. The illustrations were lovely, and I really enjoyed it.(less)
A collection of short stories by Robin McKinely. I've decided that while her books have generally been strong and gotten stronger, her short stories h...moreA collection of short stories by Robin McKinely. I've decided that while her books have generally been strong and gotten stronger, her short stories have improved greatly. This was a good collection of stories, but they didn't dazzle me as her short stories in Water and Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits did. Those stories were just as good as her best full-length novels.
Some authors do short stories really well; they savor the format for its flexibility, brevity, and are wonderful at the unexpected twist at the end. McKinley doesn't do short stories that way; she writes them as bite-sized novels, and they end up like really good appetizers. Small, filling for its size, and savory.
The short stories in this book were more like bits of rather ordinary before-dinner bread; good and you were glad of them, but nothing you'd include in a letter home. Two of them have the added benefit of featuring Luthe, who I'm always happy to see. There was also an odd pattern of turning away in this book--turning away from adventure, the mystery of magic, or the fear of the unknown. A sense of accepting ordinariness because it was ordinary and thus expected and known. I won't say this was bad, because it did make me think but it was, at the least, unexpected in a McKinley book.
The stories were: "The Healer" about a mute healer named Lily; "The Stagman" about an enigmatic stag and a usurped princess; "Touk's House" about healing and love; "Buttercups" (the best one, in my opinion, and the only one about accepting and living with the extraordinary) about love and the unexpectedness of life; and "A Knot in the Grain," which is the one I remember best from when I read this as a teenager; mainly because it was exactly the kind of story I wrote as a teenager, and I know McKinley can do better than me. (less)
At the back of this book is a kind of apologetic note from Robin McKinley explaining why it is, exactly, that she's written another retelling of Beaut...moreAt the back of this book is a kind of apologetic note from Robin McKinley explaining why it is, exactly, that she's written another retelling of Beauty and the Beast. She explains, a bit sheepishly, that though it is her favorite fairy tale, she thought she had said all she had to say on the topic in her first book Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast (which she actually didn't even mean to write in the first place). It was nice to have some insight, but I wish she hadn't sounded so apologetic. She wrote something, she decided to share it with us, and I was glad. People who were tired of Beauty and the Beast stories didn't have to read it. But I'm glad I did. It's another take of the fairy tale that happens to be my favorite too, this time with a number of twists. I didn't like it quite as much as I liked the first one, but I read the first one as a teenager, and no fantasy books are as good as the ones you read in junior high. I loved the twist at the ending of the book about how Beauty felt about her Beast being replaced with a "handsome stranger", though it did leave me with a number of indecorous questions, none of which are probably my business anyway.(less)
This is exactly what a graphic novel is meant to be. Lush, beautiful, imaginative illustrations that don't just add to the story but are integral to i...moreThis is exactly what a graphic novel is meant to be. Lush, beautiful, imaginative illustrations that don't just add to the story but are integral to it. A perfectly-formed story with drama, humor, and tragedy. Three-dimensional characters, fabulous dialog, and pitch-perfect plotting. I really can't say enough nice things about this book.(less)
Sometimes the stars align just right and you get thrown together with the perfect book to help you cope with your week. This was one of those cases. D...moreSometimes the stars align just right and you get thrown together with the perfect book to help you cope with your week. This was one of those cases. Difficult days at work and sundry stresses meant I was looking for something warm, comforting, and escapist. Spindle's End is all of those things. It's quintessential Robin McKinley, and I can't believe I hadn't read it. I always assumed I had. Nominally, it is a retelling of the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty," though there actually isn't much of the story there. Instead, McKinley raids the fairy tale for its bare bones and structural support and weaves her own story on top of it. The characters are memorable, well-written and original, and the story is replete with wonderful animal characters, well-described. It's very McKinley in that the pace is silky and slow, but it's enjoyable the same way a warm bath is. I would recommend this book to anyone who needed a comforting read and occasionally enjoys books populated by princesses, blacksmiths, and animals.(less)
I enjoyed this book very much. It begins with Amberglas, a character that owes much of dialog style, I thought, to the Princess Eilonwy. However, in r...moreI enjoyed this book very much. It begins with Amberglas, a character that owes much of dialog style, I thought, to the Princess Eilonwy. However, in reading the afterward, Patricia Wrede says the character came to her as equal parts the dowager Duchess of Denver from Busman's Honeymoon and Chrestomanci of Diana Wynne Jones's books. Either way, she's a lot of fun, once you get in to the pattern of her speech and thoughts, and it's fascinating watching other characters interact with her. Who understands her, and why, and who doesn't, and why, comes close to being the heart of the story.
Apart from Amberglas, the book is just a very fun, satisfying romp of a story, filled with Wrede's witty dialog and well-drawn characters, making this a close second to her Enchanted Forest chronicles. My only complaint is that one character in particular tended to speak in exceedingly tiresome and overwrought metaphors which got old, and I couldn't understand why no one called him on it. However, all in all, a very fun book. (less)
This was a very lonely sort of book. Due to the nature of the story, the protagonist is very isolated and there isn't much dialog. This makes for a sp...moreThis was a very lonely sort of book. Due to the nature of the story, the protagonist is very isolated and there isn't much dialog. This makes for a spare sort of book. In addition, the story was almost painfully predictable. I had hoped for a twist that never came. It was a mildly entertaining story, and I did like the salamanders. But nothing special, and nothing I'll recommend or seek out again.(less)
I loved this book just as much as I loved the first one, after being a little disappointed with the last book. However, now I know why Black Powder Wa...moreI loved this book just as much as I loved the first one, after being a little disappointed with the last book. However, now I know why Black Powder War felt like a filler book to me; apparently it was a filler book. Rather than coming home overland, Naomi Novik originally had Laurence and Temeraire going home by sea and ending up in Africa, and the plot of that book looked a lot more like the plot of this book. But then Todd McCaffrey was apparently planning to release a book about an epidemic that affects dragons and the Novik's publishers imagined there might be some competition among dragon fans. This is, of course, nonsense. If one is offered the choice to read a book about dragons by Novik and one by Todd McCaffrey, the choice is clear, and it isn't Todd McCaffrey. So really, Black Powder War is Todd McCaffrey's fault, which makes much more sense that it being Novik's fault. I feel much better about the whole thing, though sorry for Naomi Novik (and us).
Anyway, regardless of the reasons why the preceding book wasn't up to snuff, this one was, and it was amazing. The enigma of the missing British dragons which hung like a shadow over Black Powder War deftly foreshadowed the epidemic, but of course Our Heroes were often too busy figuring out their own crises to worry about it very much. But now we know where they all are, and of course Temeraire and Laurence have to figure out a way to fix the situation. In the process, they go to Africa and have a number of highly improbable (but highly entertaining) adventures.
Novik is a very cinematic writer, and often that means she's a little easy to predict. As soon as everyone's herded, prisoner, into a cliff-side cell, you know at some point there's going to be a white-knuckle climb to freedom and some peripheral character is going to have to lose his grip, gritting his teeth in a silent fall to his death to save everyone else. But that doesn't mean it's any less thrilling when it happens.
This book also handled the serious topics more skillfully than the previous books have in the past. Ever since Temeraire hatched and started asking awkward questions about duty, king, and country, it was pretty much guaranteed that at some point he was going to get Laurence in official trouble, it was just a question of when and how. Novik managed to weave the ethics of bio-terrorism into a book about the Napoleonic Wars, which was pretty impressive.
This book is also the first one in the series to really drive home how different Temeraire's world is from ours. Dragons aren't just icing on the cake; they change the fundamental way the history of the world happened. Spain never conquered the New World, for instance, because of the Incan's superior air power. Dragons provide powerful weapons that change the course of history and supporting weapons development (I just realized what pepper guns really are). And how different cultures interact with their dragons is extremely interesting.
Novik seems to have hit her stride more comfortably dialog-wise. It sounded more O'Brian-esque than it has in the preceding books, and so I liked it very much. She is also very good at handling dry humor; I just love watching Laurence deal with situations that just don't compute to his proper British male brain: women who are refusing to get married, for instance, and insurrectionist dragons, and trying to explain his young female runner to his father who is laboring under the misapprehension that she is Laurence's daughter.
These books still sound ridiculous when I try to describe them the anyone, and they're still fascinating and I'm going to be really upset when I catch up to Novik.(less)
This was a very lucidly written and entertaining history of Henry VIII's six wives. Weir's style is straightforward and factual, but her warm, wry ton...moreThis was a very lucidly written and entertaining history of Henry VIII's six wives. Weir's style is straightforward and factual, but her warm, wry tone come through occasionally in her word choice. This makes for a very conversational story, easy to follow, and engaging. In fact, it's what I had hoped Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France would be like.
Weir tries very hard to be balanced and manages for the most part not to pick sides between Protestant/Catholic/Church of England. The only place I would say she oversteps her authorial bounds are in a few places where she attributes Henry VIII with more benevolent intentions than I believe he merits. In a few cases, she argues, his apparently selfish behavior was actually for the benefit of the crown and the country. I'm not so sure about that. However, Weir keeps herself reined in, and these points come up as interesting opportunities for discussion and critical thought rather than an interruption in the storyline.
She presents each woman as a three-dimensional human in her own right, and takes a very clear-eyed look at the rationale that began (and often, ended) each marriage. She brings political, religious, sociological, geographical, and historical context to this dramatic story, and backs up her assertions with historical documentation.
Overall, this was a very evidence-based but very readable history book. It should be a model for other authors of history. She neither turns it into a romance novel nor a term paper. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history, or who would like to know the facts behind the legends.
My only real quibble with the book is with the printing. My copy repeated 30 pages at one point, and then left out 30 pages at a crucial point (one minute Henry was disgruntled at meeting Anne of Cleves face-to-face and the next page he was happily married to Katherine Howard moments before someone noticed she spent a lot of time out of her room at night). (less)
This was one of those books that waffled between three and four stars for me, and I'm not completely sure why, but I'm worried that part of it may be...moreThis was one of those books that waffled between three and four stars for me, and I'm not completely sure why, but I'm worried that part of it may be that I'm comparing Peter Dickinson's work to Robin McKinley's. That really isn't fair. Yes, they're married, but they are independent writers. However, because I was introduced to Dickinson through his joint anthologies with McKinley, I suppose it's OK to touch on it then move away.
There are many similarities between the two. Both almost always manage to work horses and dogs into the story, in a good way, not one that's clichéd or hackneyed. Both tend to write books on the border between young adult and regular adult (and a discussion of what a "young adult" book is will have to wait for another time). Both are extremely creative with storylines and come up with original stories, characters, and worlds. However, I didn't like The Ropemaker quite as well as I usually like McKinley's work, and I had trouble putting on my finger on why. The characters are just as good, or almost so; the pacing and writing are both good; and the story was absorbing. However, I finally decided that the word I was looking for was "resonance." Dickinson's characters (especially the horses and dogs) lacked the resonance for me that McKinley's have.
In spite of that lack, however, this was still an absorbing story, and one I would certainly recommend. Single-volume, well-written, non-Tolkien-esque fantasy with well-written characters (and no princesses!) is rare enough for me to cherish every volume, and this one is worth it. It is not an earth-shattering story, but it is told well and doesn't telegraph the ending too much. The magical creatures are well kept to the sidelines (though now I'm wondering if that's because they're more affecting that way or because Dickinson knows he doesn't write animals very well).
Now I realize it sounds like I'm damning the book with faint praise. It was good, I did enjoy it, I will look into other Dickinson books when I'm craving good fantasy. And it's still on the border of three and four stars.(less)