Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor Reviewed 5th June, 2012
I’m not entirely sure what hooked me about this book. I just know that I picked it up intending to read a couple of pages, and put it down a hundred pages later feeling dazed — and had that same experience every time I picked it up to read it. Laini Taylor’s writing is good, with only a few points that struck me as missteps — the reveal of a certain character’s history being one of them; it felt wrongly placed in the narrative somehow — and a sense of humour, a good eye for the right details to include, and with an excellent pace.
It’s technically part of the whole trend of paranormal romances, with ‘angels’ and ‘demons’, but Laini Taylor doesn’t take the existing mythology and stick to it. Her worldbuilding is quite inventive. I loved the characters, too, particularly Brimstone: unsettling, fascinating, and comforting, all in one.
One of the plot-twists was obvious to me, but the reveal at the end took me a little bit by surprise. I’m looking forward to the next book, to see how everything is going to be resolved. And fingers crossed for more about the chimaera we come to know and love…
This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is “top ten debuts you’re looking forward to in 2015”. I didn’t actually know much about who had a debut coming out, so I ended up turning to Goodreads lists. These are mostly YA books, since I couldn’t find convenient lists of upcoming fantasy. Clearly I am not very plugged in to what’s coming out soon!
Since these are upcoming books, I’m gonna link the titles to the Goodreads page so other people can check them out in more detail.
Red Queen, Victoria Aveyard. I’ve been looking at this one for a while, at least — I kept seeing it in other people’s StS posts and such. It sounds interesting, though I can’t say I really know much about it beyond the basic summary.
The Girl at Midnight, Melissa Grey. I hadn’t heard of this one till I started making this list, actually; I’m intrigued by the idea, and I do always love the ‘there’s-a-city-below-the-city’ trope (Neverwhere, Un Lun Dun, King Rat, etc).
Shutter, Courtney Almada. The cover looks really freaky, and it sounds fun. I’ve seen a couple of advance reviews already and my interest is definitely piqued.
A Wicked Thing, Rhiannon Thomas. It’s a Sleeping Beauty rewrite, shut up and take my money.
The Storyspinner, Becky Wallace. There’s a touch of the troubadour tradition about the idea of the Performers, so yeah, I’m in on this one.
The Wrath and the Dawn, Renee Ahdieh. Definitely want this one — it’s a reworking of Scheherazade’s story, and it sounds like it has an interesting take on it.
The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman. You had me at ‘library’. (Have bought it since I made the list!)
The Witch Hunter, Virginia Boecker. Seems like my kind of book, especially with the comparison to Graceling.
The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, Shallee McArthur. I read a review of this and it intrigues me, though I’m sort of side-eyeing that new title trend of ‘the [x]ing of [name]’ (e.g. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer).
I’m obviously in need of more titles, so I’m definitely going to be paying attention to TTTs this week…
The Wolf Hunt, Gillian Bradshaw Review from 1st February, 2013
I was initially excited when I saw that this was based on the Breton lai ‘Bisclaveret’. I studied that lai in my first year of university, and I’ve had cause to go back to it fairly often since, and I rather like it. Perhaps especially because of the inevitable LGBT reading of it: it’s homosocial at the least, and then the other details make it very easy to read it as a homosexual love story. Bisclaveret is betrayed by his wife, and ultimately everything is set to rights by the king, who loves him very much — and the story includes a scene where Bisclaveret sleeps in the king’s bed… If you want to read more about that analysis, I suggest William Burgwinkle’s Sodomy, Masculinity and Law in Medieval Literature.
Anyway, so I was very disappointed when I looked closer and found that this story de-queers the original lai. It invents a whole new character, Marie, to be Bisclaveret’s ‘real’ love interest. I was much less inclined to let myself enjoy this, at that point.
But Gillian Bradshaw has a way of coaxing me along anyway, and I found myself reading big chunks at once. She really is a good writer, and ultimately I found it just as compelling as the other books I’ve read by her, despite my initial resistance. The lai still limits her, in some ways — Marie Penthièvre would be a wonderful heroine, but often we’re limited to Eline and her paramour Alain, neither of whom exactly fill me with warmth. I felt like there was an attempt to understand Eline, at times, but what she did just made it impossible to like her — and Marie’s understanding of her made Marie seem ridiculously saintly.
But for the most part I loved the characters: Marie, the duke, the duchess, Tiher… Even minor characters. Tiarnán, less so, because he makes a silly mistake of judgement when it comes to women. But he does learn from what happens to him, it seems.
Looking forward to the other Gillian Bradshaw books I’ve got on my to read pile.
Somehow, from the midst of feeling dreadful because of this cold, I realised that what I really wanted to read was something by Patricia McKillip. It’s so strange how I disliked the first book of hers I read; I feel like I appreciate her work more with each book I do read. And this one… it’s fairytale-like, mythic — a review on GR said ‘parable like’, and yes: that too. It’s full of epic fantasy elements but the real struggle is between taking revenge and being true to who you really are and those you love. (The phrase “being true to yourself” sounds annoyingly cliché, but I can’t think of another way to put that without quoting the whole book.)
McKillip’s writing is gorgeous, and works well with the character she’s chosen — a girl who has not been loved, does not know how to love; who hasn’t been among people to be drawn into loves and hatreds. And in the course of the book she does learn, and she struggles with it… There’s a coolness to the book, like a mountain stream; an aloofness that you can get with distance from something, but toward everything. I can understand why some people disliked it for that very thing, but for me it perfectly matched the subject.
I like high fantasy, but since so much of it draws from the same well as Tolkien, there’s something all too real about it sometimes. This book, the character of Sybel, are closer to real magic for me, in the same way that the contemplative parts of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books (the sleeping man with the thistle growing by his hand…) come closer to real magic for me than all the magic rings and restless shades in the world.
And one last thing to love: I adore the way that the relationship between Coren and Sybel works out. That it has to be worked on, from both sides, that it’s not always matched.
Always Coming Home, Ursula Le Guin Review from January 22nd, 2011
I expected to take a long time over Always Coming Home. In a way, I wish I had: there’s a lot in it, and a lot to reward a slower, careful reading — this time I went plunging through it for the narrative, such as it was, enjoying the layers of understanding that came to me, imagining and figuring out what I didn’t know. I didn’t read the “Back of the Book” section, this time: another time, I think I will. I just wanted to fly through it, this time, total immersion in a culture that does not exist.
Always Coming Home is a collection of stories, of fake-histories, of poems and plays and things that do not neatly fit into our genres, belonging to a culture that does not exist. The first note says it best, “The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern Carolina.” It seems to be the story almost of the Native peoples, and then it begins to mention computers and other technologies of our day… The way the world came to be this way isn’t really seen clearly, only seen in its effects on the people. It’s very interesting to read this way: interesting, and frustrating, because like real history, it doesn’t always show you the bits you most want to see.
Ursula Le Guin’s writing is beautiful, as always, and easy to read and understand despite the invented words and concepts. I sort of imagine this as the way she might build up any culture, in any book, through the scraps of their literature and histories that come to her… It’s quite a nice thought, actually.
I didn’t read the “Back of the Book” section, preferring to keep things vaguer, not spelled out. I will probably read it one day, but not now.
Though I greatly enjoyed this, I don’t know if I’d dare recommend it to anyone. For me it required some patience with the original idea, which turned into delight as Ursula Le Guin once more captured my heart. For others, who didn’t find Earthsea compelling, it’d be dry as dust, I think. And as with many books, but particularly with those that are a bit different, someone might find they love it, when they have never loved Le Guin’s work before — or that they hate it, when they’ve always loved her work.
The Melancholy of Mechagirl, Catherynne M. Valente
The Melancholy of Mechagirl is a selection of Valente’s stories and poetry. As usual with Valente, I have the problem that I love her writing, but not always the substance. The poetry was too busy being strings of pretty words that I didn’t really get the sense out of it; some of the short stories felt so ornate they felt like they were more for show than to really be handled. I know this is my preference here — other people dig through Valente’s prose happily — and I even like it because of that ornateness, in some ways. If I want to see someone being magical with words, I’ll open up one of Valente’s books and find it.
That’s not to say that she’s bad at characters and plot, per se. These stories often draw on folklore, particularly Japanese folklore, and collected like this it’s also apparent that they’re deeply rooted in Valente’s own life, as well. Her time in Japan affected her deeply, and every story holds its footprints. Some of these are really cleverly done, and for plot, ‘Silently and Very Fast’ is great. I love her story of an AI slowly learning about the world, the family and the AI wrapped around each other. Elefsis works as a character, and that ending works really well.
Finally, the title definitely captures the predominant feeling of this collection. ‘Melancholy.’ That’s not to say it’s depressing to read, but it definitely feels written in the minor key (if you’ll let me mix my metaphors).
Setting this up very much in advance, so goodness knows what it’ll look like by the time I’m done…
Yep, someone sent me Smashwords codes for all these. <3 I’m looking forward to trying them. I actually got them last week, but I didn’t remember in time to include them in that StS post.
Oh dear, all three out on the same day now? I got these covers from the Marvel site before the release, hence the lack of text (I think?).
I love taking part in the Secret Santa on LibraryThing; the person who had me to choose for clearly ‘got’ me as a reader, given how much I love Addison’s The Goblin Emperor. So good to have a dead tree version — and that’s an excuse to reread it, right? Right? …No? Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading the comics, too! I’m not as sure about The Name of the Wind; on the one hand, I’ve been recced it several times, on the other, some people I trust really disliked it. Still, prime excuse to try it!
I bought this for my mother a while back, but she hasn’t had chance to read it. (She’s nuts about fountain pens; it seemed perfect.) But I saw this copy today in The Works for £3, and I thought… well, why not? I was meaning to borrow it after Mum anyway.
Stardust, Neil Gaiman, Charles Vess Review from April 17th, 2009
I just finished rereading Stardust, this time in the illustrated edition. The art is all by Charles Vess, and it’s gorgeous. He has his own style, but the art is all accessible and pretty. I particularly liked the illustration of Tristan and Yvaine kissing, on page 202, and the design of Lady Una. I like the way he’s portrayed all of the characters, really. It brings them to life in a lovely way, and the art is arranged nicely — not distracting from the story, but adding to it.
I’ve always loved the book, and the movie is the movie I watch when I need comfort, so rereading was a happy occasion. I forgot how different the book and the movie are — the movie is definitely an adaptation. Not that it’s a bad thing: the way things happen in the book simply wouldn’t translate to the screen.
The best things about Stardust, the book, are the tone in general and Yvaine’s voice. The tone is kind of dryly humorous, gently mocking the fairytales it comes from and improves on, with fun conversations and great lines. Yvaine herself is awesome, with her grumpy sharpness and her angry obligation and her not-at-all-saccharine love. Compared to the movie, the realisation scenes are maybe a bit dry, and I wish there had been more with the boat in the sky, as in the movie, but all in all, I do love the book so much, and I think it’s one of my comfort-books the same as the movie is my comfort-movie.
Perhaps my favourite part of all is the note Tristan and Yvaine leave, though: “Unexpectedly detained by the world.”
I read Soulless a while ago, and liked it enough that I had a vague intention of reading more, but not so much I was in a hurry. Likewise, I only really picked up Etiquette & Espionage because I know that Carriger’s work is pretty fun, and it was in a 3 for £5 deal in the Works. And then it languished on my to read pile for… well, just over a year. But I was feeling a bit bleh about the other books I had lying around, so I decided to just go for it and try this — and I promptly read it in one go.
It’s not a book I love like I loved, say, The Goblin Emperor. It’s more like frothy fun. It works well for that, though: 19th century sensibilities in a steampunk alternate history, girls learning to be spies, and a sprinkling of adventure. I liked Sophronia; she’s not perfect, but she tries to be decent, she doesn’t have prejudices, she does her best for the people around her, and she lets nothing get in the way of her curiosity. I guess the best term might be ‘spirited’, which does make me sound like some faintly disapproving adult…
It’s fun, and I’d definitely recommend it to teens who want a bit of adventure and supernatural stuff, without accompanying sparkles or plagiarism. (Sorry, they’re easy targets.)
I’ve been meaning to reread this one for a while. It was lovely to go back to it. It’s a bit more mature than The Dark is Rising, I think; certainly, there’s a physicality between Cally and West that isn’t even hinted at in The Dark is Rising. The first time I read it I said that this book ends perfectly, “neither too early nor too late”, and I still feel that way. It’s enough to have the promise of Cally and West’s future, at the end of the book; I don’t need to read about it, and that would take away from the bittersweetness of the story.
I didn’t like this as much as the first time I read it, I think; I still enjoyed it, found it interesting, loved the creativity, but this time I was asking more questions, picking more holes. Why was this element taken from Welsh legends, and not that? When is it set — it feels unrooted, which might make for universality, but it makes it hard to imagine how Cally and West will find each other again, how to read their absence, their changes — and where do Cally and West come from?
It’s beautifully written, though, and full of lovely things: gorgeous passages, enchanting creatures (Peth!), mysteries and metaphors. I do still love it, and I also appreciate that unlike The Dark is Rising, it’s a personal journey, not an all-out fight against absolute evil. The absolutism of the Dark and the Light in those books is completely absent here, with the dichotomy drawn between Life and Death instead, and with both wearing kindly faces and less kind. It’s a journey for Cally and West, one in which they’re frightened, have enemies and allies, but it isn’t moving toward some apocalyptic endpoint, some make-it-or-break-it scene where a few decide the futures of the many.
I’m not sure the new cover does the book any favours, in that sense; the traditional fantasy elements here are the least important.