Every so often I get far enough behind in my book blogging I just declare bankruptcy and start fresh. This is one of those times. Here’s what I’ve read since my last book review:
The last book I read is one I really liked and will get a full review later this week.
Mary at WPL recommended Lev Grossman’s The Magicians years ago but I shied away, mainly because I thought it was going to require a deep love of Narnia, which I do not have. It didn’t, though the Narnian parallels are important. (Here the magical world is called Fillory and is a bit different, for story purposes.)
In the novel the main character is a disaffected snotty upperclass teen who loved the Fillory books. He’s about to graduate from high school when he receives a mysterious invitation to attend magic school. He passes the gruelling examination and learns to be a magician in the first part of the book. Honestly, I wasn’t a fan early on. It felt too much like Harry Potter but with more drinking and cussing. Once they’re out of school though, the book really picked up. Then it became a story about figuring out what to do with yourself when you can do anything.
The tedium of learning magic was conveyed really well and there were some very good worldbuilding things. The whole thing built to an appropriate climax, which seemed inevitable even as it wasn’t completely expected. I’d generally recommend this one. There’s a sequel out now, but I’m not rushing to read it, as I liked where this ended.
Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief was so very Harry Potter it was funny.
Percy Jackson is the son of a Greek god who left. I won’t say which one because it takes him what seems like forever to figure it out. This makes him dyslexic because he should be reading ancient Greek and ADHD because he should be in battles and stuff. I don’t know how I feel about that facile explanation of dyslexia and ADHD; they both seem like grasping at making the story relevant for contemporary youth.
Anyway. He goes to a camp for demi-gods (his mom is a human) and then gets forced out of it. And into adventure!
It’s a fast-paced little romp that actually does a pretty decent job of using the Greek myths and monsters. There’s a good battle on the St. Louis Arch and like in The Philosopher’s Stone the enemies aren’t the obvious ones, which I appreciate, especially in kids books.
The first Harry Potter book (which I’ll snobbily refer to by its English title of Philosopher’s Stone rather than its American one) is the only one I’d read before, despite helping kids (and adults) find these things in the library for my entire tenure. I first read it when Pottermania was still swelling (pre Goblet of Fire, I think) and it was something I thought “Yep, that’s not bad for kids” and then left it alone.
The contrast between this and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is pretty stark. Where the Narnia book is succinct and to the point like a fairy tale, Rowling makes those scenes I half-remember drag on seemingly forever. But I did get through it in an afternoon so it couldn’t have felt that long.
There’s some good time dilation as the school year gets going but the thing I most appreciate about the book is that Quirrell is the bad guy in league with Voldemort and the obviously shifty Snape isn’t. It’s a bit of a counterpoint to the idea that everything useful about a person is some inborn talent/accident of birth. I mean, yes, Harry has to practice at Quidditch, but he’s “a natural.” This idea of being chosen and special and privileged being a burden is in there, but everything is up to some fundamental nature of the character. It’s all about inborn courage or inborn nastiness and such. No real getting into why people act the way they do. (TLTW&TW is way worse for this whole some beings are terrible and some are wonderful and the only one who can possibly change is Edmund.)
Now, I understand that Neville grows into a better role for himself than weakling with a moment of courage in the later books, so over the long haul there might be more about what a person “does” than what a person “is,” but in this lone book it is kind of there.
I read Matt Forbeck’s Vegas Knights despite the concept being pitched on the cover:
It’s Ocean’s Eleven meets Harry Potter when two college students scam a Las Vegas casino – using Magic!
(This was an ARC so I hope to death they change this on the real cover, because it does the book no favours.) The reason I picked it up is because I remember Matt Forbeck’s RPG work, especially on Brave New World. BNW was a bit metaplot heavy and too secretive for its own good, but had some interesting takes on superhero gaming.
A lot of my problems with Vegas Knights come from magic basically just being superpowers. The rules of magic are well-established and once a character does something one way he doesn’t forget that it worked, which can sometimes happen. The thing bout i was that there didn’t seem to be much of a cost to magic. It was just manipulating quantum probabilities and some things were easier than others and bullets got transmuted into air and you couldn’t phase through living things. So it was consistent, but not very grabby.
The characters were what you want out of a Vegas story. The poorer guy who is more timid and the risk taking life of the party who isn’t quite as smart. There’s also a half-Hopi woman who is the savvy local, the main character’s long-lost father and a pretty cool antagonist.
The plot felt pretty predictable, though there were points the characters had real choices to make and they didn’t do exactly what the plot required of them, which I applaud. But I never really got into it. Part of it may have been the constant references to Hurricane Katrina (the protagonist is from New Orleans) and other references that feel dated.
The best part of the book was the (slightly melodramatic) final battle scene. There was a lot going on and by that point you’ve surrendered yourself to the book and you come away thinking it wasn’t a terrible few hours you spent with it.
I suppose I sound a little luke-warm on this book and I am. My copy doesn’t say it’s being marketed as YA, but that’s definitely how it felt to me. If I’d known that going in I’d probably have had different expectations. There are some interesting ideas in there but in general it feels a little superficial. I’d suggest Tim Powers’ Last Call if you want to read a really excellent story about magic and Las Vegas.