Library book sale!

April 18, 2009 at 6:57 pm (Book buying)

And you know what that means ….

Acquisitions for me:

George Orwell, A Collection of Essays by George Orwell (I know he’s a famous essayist, but I think I’ve only read one of his)

Immanuel Kant, Prologema to Any Future Metaphysics (I keep meaning to read more philosophy; it should be easier with some around)

Sheri Reynolds, A Gracious Plenty (novel, looked interesting)

Scott Douglas, Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian (there are a lot of librarians in my life)

Harold Kushner, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: The Search for a Life That Matters (spiritual stuff)

Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer, Sorcery & Cecelia; or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (this is well-liked by friends .. now I have my own copy to read!)

Acquisitions for N:

Rosanne Hooper, Life on the Islands (World Book Ecology)

Elisa Carbone, Blood on the River: James Town 1607 (one of the Nutmeg Award books he read – he wanted his own copy)

Helen Fox, Eager (ditto)

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ARC Received: The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick

April 10, 2009 at 2:06 pm (ARC Received)

Obviously mailed before I mostly panned the first book Del Rey sent me.   😉

Another first in a series – though I had to look up the book’s website  to determine that – and, oddly, another book that was published first in the U.K.  Have the Brits become a test market for new fantasy authors?

Anyway, this one’s not due in bookstores till May so I have some time to read it … maybe tomorrow.  Nautically-themed fantasy about a ship (actually floating on water, it seems) that’s the size of a city?  I’m there!

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Peter V. Brett, The Warded Man (ARC)

April 9, 2009 at 10:08 am (ARC Reviews, negativity)

I have to agree with Terry Brooks that “[t]here is much to admire” about Brett’s writing – this novel has good sentence-level work overall (though nothing fancy), excellent grounding, and is generally absorbing, at least up until Chapter 27.In fact, up to that point I was going to give the book a strong recommendation, even though it was flying awfully low and close to the treetops for a lot of the way – and then it nose-dived into the ground. Very disappointing.

Brett has invented an interesting, innovative, and dangerous second world, one in which humans are constantly in hiding with the demons that rise every night from the Core, which is apparently inside the earth in some way (and is also why they’re called Corelings in the book). Apparently it’s always been like that, except for a period when the demons apparently disappeared, and the humans forgot many of the magical Wards that had protected them before, most importantly the fighting Wards. Then, three hundred years ago, the corelings suddenly came back, and rapidly demolished the advanced civilization that had been built up. Now the book’s region contains only a handful of cities and a scattering of smaller settlements, with mostly medieval technology, and the human population is slowly dwindling.

There is a lot of pretty good world-building here, but I do have quibbles.The demons kill and eat animals as well as humans, so why are there any left?The handwavium Brett employs works all right while the novel’s in progress, but it doesn’t hold up well to post-reading analysis.The way the Wards operate is a little problematic as well, and for similar reasons: interesting basic ideas, but they don’t entirely hold together.The society and politics are superficially complex, but I’m not wild about the Bedouin culture knockoff or the Catholic Church with the serial numbers filed off, or the rather advanced female-only medical folks known only as “Herb Gatherers.”

Then there are the characters –well-drawn and engaging, but I have to ask: do we really need to be shown, in detail, the life stories of three protagonists?I think not, except to fill out a Volume One of a trilogy.The weakness of such an approach, however well-executed, is that it can start to drag (losing altitude!) when it becomes clear that the whole point of all this narrative is to draw out the story until the three characters can be “accidentally” brought together somewhere near the end.

Then there’s also the problem of whether the characters’ development is credible.This isn’t too much of a problem with Rojer, whom we meet when he’s three and check in with until he’s about sixteen or so, or with Leesha, who’s almost thirteen at first sighting and is twenty-seven towards the end.They’re both stubborn and talented people, one a musician and the other a healer.To me, the problem is Arlen.He’s capably set up as a strong-willed, natural fighter, in terms of spirit at first, and later (after a substantial skipped interval, during which his training mostly happened) in terms of actual battle.But, I had a lot trouble buying that he’s really obsessed enough, and mentally deranged enough, to turn into the multiply-tattooed, isolated “Warded Man” who turns up toward the end of the book and joins up with Leesha and Rojer.It’s a big step, betrayal by a friend or no, from spending weeks searching ancient ruins for the lost fighting wards (some of which he did find, by the way – no point to the book otherwise) to being a misanthropic fellow who doesn’t share the wards with anyone.

And that brings us to the point where I nearly threw the book across the room.(WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MAY BE TRIGGERING.)Virginal, virtuous Leesha – who has held out against disrespectful and randy men for well over a decade – is raped by three bandits, one of whom is actually described as giant of a man without much in the way of brains.And afterwards she’s shaken, upset, and sore.

Not, I point out, bleeding.Not suffering from possible internal injuries – or, for that matter, major facial contusions or hand-shaped bruises on arms, neck, or legs.Just shamed and aching.

Of course, being abandoned more than a day’s walk from a village in a world where demons rise from the ground every night could give a woman a lot of motivation to keep walking, looking for any hope of shelter, despite considerable pain.But no, actually, the pain seems to pass off very quickly.

So quickly, in fact, that less then forty-eight hours later she’s thrilled to screw the mysterious, tattooed, obsessed Warded Man she just met, while her friend Rojer (who’s no kind of fighter but was willing to risk his life to help her, by the way) snoozes in the nearby cave.

This is where the book nearly took flight.Some men, apparently, still believe that the human vagina can’t be injured by sex, even rape, no matter how brutally or multiply the rape is carried out.That’s ignorant at best, and wilfully stupid at worst.Or, just arranging things so the plot goes in its predetermined course.I’m not even going to get started on the layers of sheer WTF? this development involves beyond the miraculous physical recovery.

I eventually did finish the book, with a much, much more critical eye than before.I couldn’t grasp why Arlen, a talented maker of Wards, couldn’t repair the village’s wards himself during the week or so he was there.Instead he spent his time trying to train the villagers to fight, with the warded weapons that he alone knows how to make.And they did fight – all night long.Eight hours or more.Barely trained villagers.Against countless hordes of (admittedly surprised at the resistance) superhumanly strong demons.It was very dramatic and all, but not particularly credible.

I wanted to like this book and give it a good review, and not just because Del Rey sent it to me for free.The writing shows considerable promise, if the author can learn to plot, world-build, and character-develop at a less superficial level.In fact, he’s so close to being very good that it’s annoying.

But not as annoying as the perpetuation of ideas that continue to help rapists believe women are made for sex, with any guy, any time, without any significant damage.I’m willing to believe he didn’t think this through – there’s a lot of that in this book.What I’m appalled about is that this particular “plot twist” made it through the editing process at Del Rey.Apparently a lot of people really are blissfully unaware of their own cruel stupidity.And that is very disappointing indeed.

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#15: March 2009

April 7, 2009 at 9:46 am (LGBT, Reviews)

Lackey, Mercedes. One Good Knight. Snagged this one on our last bookstore run. This is her second “Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms” and it’s just as much fun as the first. In the 500K, fairy tales are all too real – sometimes depressingly so. Here, The Tradition is a narrative force that can manipulate people into established storylines, many of which come from the unexpurgated Brothers Grimm. Of course there are positive ones too, and a person who is knowledgeable about The Tradition – and very determined – can try to redirect The Tradition into a more positive outcome. (Though of the villains can do that too, unfortunately.) This is a Luna book, so there’s also a romance in it – but frankly most of the book has nothing whatsoever to do with that, so the double wedding comes as a pleasant surprise (I suspect that only an established author like Lackey could have got this one published by Luna, actually). It’s light but fun, with an intellectual princess, dragons, wicked sorceror, and heroic knight. It has a couple of the same characters as The Fairy Godmother (the first one), but isn’t a sequel. And, there are more 500K books, too!

Duane, Diane. The Tale of the Five. Or at least the first three volumes of it: The Door Into Fire, The Door into Shadow, and The Door into Sunset. It seems the used bookstore didn’t have the fourth, The Door into Starlight. So. I have rarely read an epic fantasy with this much moral and personal complexity, or a second world fantasy so determined to have a society markedly different, at fundamental levels, from medieval Europe. The books are, intensely, about the personal development of each of five characters: Herewiss, the man who must learn to be his power before he can draw on it; Segnbora, whose forgotten trauma must be dragged back into consciousness; Sunspark, a fire elemental who learns to love; Hasai, a dragon whose choices finally lead his people back to themselves; and Freelorn, the Crown Prince who must learn to be selfless enough to gain his crown. They have tools – raw power, magic, swords, and wands – but those are only tools. They explore magic-ridden ruins, slay monsters, knock down a mountain, fight battles and face down the ultimate evil – and it all takes much, much more than steely determination and a strong arm (though that helps).

The connections with Duane’s “Wizards” series are clear – this world could certainly be one of the infinite series of worlds that the Wizards cosmology includes, and Sunspark is in fact a traveler across them, while the dragons originally came from a different star (or perhaps a different world also – it’s hard to say). But there are no Wizards here, and the cosmology and society are very different from Earth’s. The Middle Kingdoms have a Maiden/Mother/Crone Goddess who is very real, and the Shadow that is Death (cf. Wizards universe again) wants to destroy all life. The world was under Shadow for an unknown time; at the time of the books it had been mostly free – due to the Dragons’ intervention – for about 2,000 years. And the region’s population is still recovering from the Dark Years, and they’re still at a medieval level of technology. And there’s also working, sometimes essential, magic.

The differences in the society spring from the religion, basically, along with the population trouble and the magic. The religion honors life and love – and that means love of all kinds. Sex is called sharing and nobody seems to be against it; further, the gender of the partners is irrelevant. I’d thought Lackey was the only fantasy author who’d put homosexuality in her novels, but in this series the serious love relationship (distinct from ordinary sharing) is between Herewiss and Freelorn (who are, technically, bisexual – everybody seems to be – but have been in love for many years). Another interesting aspect of the society is that no one is allowed to get married until they’ve produced children (one for men, two for women). No stigma against illegitimacy here. And when they do get married, they can marry anyone who’ll agree to it – and even more than one person. This is not to say that this is a perfect society; there are still criminals, thoughtless and cruel people, jealousies, and so forth, because the Shadow is still around.

These are not easy books to read, because of the characters’ pain, distress, and need to think things through. They’re remarkably cerebral, in fact. I found them fascinating, but they’re definitely not your typical epic fantasy and other readers might not like them. If they can even find copies – I doubt this series is still in print.

Pratchett, Terry. Night Watch. Every time I read one of Pratchett’s Discworld novels, I think, How does he do it? I still don’t know. But never mind! This one is another adventure of Sam Vimes, in which he accidentally goes back in time, alters history somewhat, and collars the psychopath he was after in the first place. We also get to learn a bit more about Vetinari, and about how perceptive people see the mature Vimes. One of the things I like about Vimes is that he got his talents the hard way – by learning and earning them, and giving it all a lot of thought over many years. This time out, he shows everything he’s ever learned about crowd control and managing unmanageable situations. And about self-control. If only the people who really need these lessons could ever be found reading this book! Or learning from it.

Riordan, Rick. The Titan’s Curse and The Battle of the Labyrinth. Vol. 3 & 4 of the YA/Teen series in which the ancient Greek gods are real and still have a habit of having kids. Unfortunately, the monsters are all real too. Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon, is (naturally) still caught up in events that could determine the fate of the gods (and possibly the entire world). In Curse, he and his friends go on a quest to prevent the ancient Titan Kronos from getting his minions’ hands on an obscure monster that would be crucial to the overthrow of the gods (they succeed, with losses). In Labyrinth, the enemy is planning to attack their stronghold through the Labyrinth, which still exists in a multi-dimensional, continent-sprawling way. Percy in particular explores the outer limits of his powers, with some ensuing damage to the landscape. I enjoy the witty descriptions of the first-person narrator (Percy) and the amusing chapter titles, but they also work well as novels – well structured, good world-building, enough character development to satisfy without prematurely ending the series. Most of the characters are under 16, so it’s mainly growing-up type development. Not great literature, but fun.

Evans, Chris. A Darkness Forged in Fire. Book One of The Iron Elves (published July 2008). First, let me say that I blame George R. R. Martin for the present rush of big, dark, politically complicated fantasy. This one is less depressing than Song of Ice and Fire (so far) – though I have to admit I never finished the first volume of that series, because I decided at a certain point that I really didn’t want to know what happened next. But Martin’s characters are an order of magnitude more finely drawn and sympathetic than these, which may be part of why I was able to read Darkness through to the end.

I don’t mean to say Darkness is not worth reading on its own merits: it’s just that Martin is a master, and Evans is still a journeyman. His book is a mix of derivative and original materials, and as a bonus, it doesn’t chart all the characters’ lives from childhood. While I found the slapstick elements of Konowa’s early characterization a bit annoying, and the aloof yet hot-blooded druidess type predictable, the nature-loving elves are presented as rather annoyingly single-minded, really, and I’d probably find the dwarf stereotypical if he didn’t keep stealing every scene he’s in. So the characters really aren’t all that bad.

The book is a bit sprawling and seemingly uncoordinated in some ways, but to a certain extent that’s a function of a plot that revolves around an army traveling from Point A to Point B. It’s also, I think, a function of something I rather admire about the book: there are no discernible Predestined Fates here. In fact, despite the apparently linearity of the travel narrative, there’s very little that’s predictable. People have incomplete information and make mistakes and generally fumble along trying not to get killed … and whether the dark magic is necessarily evil remains up in the air through the end of this volume.

Evans’ debts to Kipling, the British Empire generally, and the Raj in particular provide some of his most solid material (as in the details of army life, etc.) and also some of the weakest (as in the new cardboard-cutout Viceroy, who has a key role but whose name keeps getting not mentioned, and whose development is nothing but a downward spiral).

And then there’s the magic. There are real elves in this book; Konowa, who happens to be an elf himself, finds them as annoying as I do, though perhaps that’s mostly sour grapes on his part, since he’s always been a failure at that stuff. The elves are also the source of the Great Evil – the Shadow Monarch whose goals are obscure but seem to involve reshaping the world into the dark, evil forms She seems to prefer. Near the beginning, Konowa is given a fragment of Her magic (by someone who presumably guessed what would happen), and inadvertently begins to use it (or is it using him?) in ways I find fascinating. He manifestly is not becoming evil, but can he learn to really control Her power – and actually use it against Her effectively? Stay tuned.

Then there’s Visyna, the native druidess (or witch), and the story never grapples with the similarity between her powers and those of the elves. Her history (unlike Konowa’s) is apparently being saved for a future volume (as is, perhaps, that similarity). She and Konowa are (cue eye-roll) both annoyed by their magnetic attraction to each other. She’s handy to have around, but it remains to be seen whether she’s really anything more significant than the Handy Girlfriend.

The jacket copy ignores Yimt (the dwarf and Grizzled Veteran) and Alwyn (the Weedy But Promising Recruit), who operate as a combination of comic relief, á là Shakespeare, and grunt’s-eye view of events the commander (that’s Konowa) won’t see. But they get a lot of screen time, and as I mentioned, every scene he’s in belongs to Yimt even though I don’t recall him actually holding the point of view.

The journey I mentioned is also related to the magic – there’s something called a Star that the army (nominally led by the Prince) is going to try to collect, in competition with Her Emissary (the former Viceroy) and the natives. It’s powerful magic and not well explained – none of the point of view characters know much about it. It’s the magic and the army parts (go Yimt!) that carry the story for me – and Konowa manages to be interesting, though a bit flat and predictable outside his struggle with the magic. And there’s another character who becomes increasingly fascinating as the story rolls on: Raille Synjyn, an older woman and reporter who proves to be a lot more than another homage to Kipling.

The final few chapters were definitely worth reading the whole book for, in my opinion. Still, I’ll wait to see how the next volumes turn out before deciding whether to add this one to my permanent collection. It’s a wild mix of elements that annoy me and ones that intrigue me, and I’ll be interested in what some of my friends think of it. So I’d say it’s recommended, but with reservations.

Brett, Peter V. The Warded Man (ARC). See separate review.

Fluke, Joanne. Cherry Cheesecake Murder. I’m still liking these Hannah Swensen mysteries (with recipes!). In this one, an independent movie comes to Lake Eden, Minnesota. The whole town gets involved in the production, including Hannah, of course. They mystery is, who arranged for the director to shoot himself with what should have been a prop gun – if he was even the target? In fact, though, the mystery almost takes a back seat to the all the character stuff here, but that’s okay by me. The only jarring note was a bit that reminded me that I am not my demographic – one of the actors claimed the director’s habit of demonstrating lines for the actors sometimes included donning ladies’ garments and doing a great impression of a female. I was, apparently, the only person involved in this book who found this amusing rather than deeply insulting. But it’s easy for me to shrug this off – I’m not even part of that demographic. I can see, though, how it does demonstrate that even pleasant fluffy novels can be unintentionally cruel.

Jinks, Catherine. Evil Genius. This was gloomy and weird and I enjoyed it very much. In a way it’s part of the new super-hero novel thing that I’ve been hearing about, only this one starts from the villains’ point of view. Cadel Piggot is a genius and has been raised in an environment that seems designed to make a disconnected, hostile supervillain out of him. But one thing this novel makes pretty clear along the say is that supervillains really are quite barmy, no matter how intelligent they happen to be … and Cadel is actually quite sane. Which is not to say that the outcome is a foregone conclusion. It’s set in Australia and the author is Australian, and I find my library has a number of books by her, but the earlier ones are filed under Juvenile, while this one is Teen. I’ll be looking up the sequel, Genius Squad.

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