Jacob's Reviews > Trial of Flowers

Trial of Flowers by Jay Lake
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May 27, 10

bookshelves: 2007-2009, sci-fi-fantasy-etc
Read from June 25 to July 03, 2009

The City Imperishable is in trouble. Various armies are marching towards its walls, old gods are spreading fear through the streets, and the people responsible for the city’s safekeeping are either too busy bickering among themselves or worse, vanished. It is up to two ordinary men, and one dwarf, to restore order to the city, return the gods to their slumbers, and turn the tides of war.

Maybe I’m just suffering genre fatigue, but for all its supposed grandeur and decadence, the City Imperishable feels...rather small and empty. Nothing about it really feels deserving of its grandiose name. Its history is thin, its politics unconvincing, the various players both large and small don’t seem to have much purpose beyond advancing the plot. The story behind the City’s dwarfs (people confined to boxes during their childhood, thus stunting their growth) is just barely explained, the why of it anyway, but we’re not made to understand how the process works: who gets boxed, how they’re raised, etc. The Tribade is shadowy and mysterious and rather single-minded in its efforts to help Imago of Lockwood become Mayor, and it’s never made clear why the City even has an underworld criminal empire populated entirely by feminists. The Trial of Flowers of the title is pretty interesting, but most of the time it seems to be playing to empty streets. China Miéville makes his city come alive in Perdido Street Station (to which this novel is compared, among others); Jay Lake’s City Imperishable feels as dead as the rest of its empire.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too disappointed. After all, I didn’t really expect much to begin with. Truth is, I only bought this book because there was a giraffe camelopard on the cover. You don’t see many giraffes camelopards in fantasy, decadent or otherwise. Now all we need are some war kangaroos (Ape-rabbits? Hare-bears?) and we’ll have it made.

Edit: 5/27/2010: Turns out "Camelopard" is an older English name for giraffe, as well as its scientific name (Giraffa camelopardalis), which means Jay Lake is more clever than I am, and also that mocking his use of the word in this book was in poor taste. But giraffe or camelopard, it's still the main reason I bought the book in the first place.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Adam (new) - added it

Adam The pages I struggled through of this makes me think the new weird is producing a bitter crop. The creaters of it are moving on and the heirs are draining the novelty out of it. I still think writers like Powers, Mieville, and Pullman are replacing Tolkein and Lewis as the main influences on the fantasy genre but with weak offerings like this(and Lake's awful Mainspring) one hopes these are just birthing pains. Why did Richard Calder blurb this?

Jacob VanderMeer too. Isn't he pretty big in the weird fic/decadent/urban fantasy/steampunk circles? (Haven't read him yet, so can't quite narrow it down) But yeah, disappointing and weak. Probably means I should give Powers and Pullman a try (that's right, I haven't read Pullman yet. I'm awful). Also Lovecraft.

message 3: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda I was not very impressed with the work of VanderMeer's that I've read. Love Pullman and Powers is one of my all-time favs. If u haven't read ant of his novels, u really should they're excellent

Jacob Thanks for your recommendation of Last Call! Sounds like a good place to start.

message 5: by Adam (last edited Jul 09, 2009 06:11AM) (new) - added it

Adam Last Call is in my opinion Powers best novel. Though kind of noir/road trip novel(with lots of dark fantasy and weird comedy off course)His Anubis Gates is kinda of a proto-new weird/steampunk/urban fantasy what have you. The first two books of Pullman's His dark Materials are great(and the first 2/3 of the last one) I personally recomend Vandermeer esp. his Veniss Underground and City of Saints and Madmen. His soties "The Situation" and THe Third Bear" used to be online. Both great.

message 6: by Zach (new)

Zach I believe the situation is still available here.

and I second Adam's recommendation.

message 7: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda Adam wrote: "Last Call is in my opinion Powers best novel. Though kind of noir/road trip novel(with lots of dark fantasy and weird comedy off course)His Anubis Gates is kinda of a proto-new weird/steampunk/urba..."

I thought City of Saints and Madmen in no way lived up to all the hype about it. I have Veniss Underground, but haven't started it yet because I was so disappointed with City..

message 8: by Zach (new)

Zach if City didn't do it for you I wouldn't bother with Veniss (a vastly inferior work, in my opinion).

message 9: by Adam (new) - added it

Adam Though it is more straightforward and focused...so there is that.

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