The Farthest Shore is the conclusion to Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy (which was added to later). Sparrowhawk/Ged is now the archmage and he’s approached by a young prince who says magic is weakening. The two of them go on a quest to discover the truth of what is happening and set it right.
I love these beautiful little books. I think there’s something magnificent about these worlds that are conjured through these character studies hanging on bits of plot. I mean, the Kingkiller chronicle is great, but this series scratches a similar itch for the epic grand coming-of-age story without the length. Like the epic nature of these tiny paperbacks is folded in on itself, they feel so much bigger because they’re the length of a Robert Jordan prologue. It’s just great, and if you have any interest in fantasy literature there is no reason to not read it.
I don’t think I’m unreasonable in being disappointed in Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles. The concept of the book is that the planet’s rotation is slowing, and the protagonist is a 12-year-old girl in California just living her life, trying to deal with things like unpopularity and parental infidelity.
One one hand, the book had this science fictional concept of the earth slowing and days lengthening, which is kind of interesting and no more ridiculous than Life As We Knew It‘s moon suddenly getting all up in Earth’s face. But it’s written as if the author had no idea how seasons work. There’s a bit of lip-service to the madness that comes from white nights at extreme latitudes, but the idea that the sun going down at 9pm isn’t a terrifying thing seemed completely foreign to the author. There’s a bit of information tossed in about the earth’s magnetic field, but it was very cursory.
Also, all of the big problems that arise from this global catastrophe are kind of glossed over in simplistic ways. Not just that the 12-year-old protagonist glossed over them because she didn’t get them, but like the author didn’t think it through very hard and just had the idea of monolithic blocks that would react in certain ways across the continent if not the globe.
So it seems to me that the book wasn’t written to be a science fiction book, but a backdrop for this young girl’s story. Fine. I can get behind the idea of a coming of age story in the midst of global crisis. The science and sociology could have been passed off as niggling details to annoy me if the story of the girl was compelling, but I did not find it to be so. There was a boy, and a lack of friends, and death, and a cheating father. It wasn’t terrible, but it felt simplistic and too uninvolving to distract me from the issues I had with the end of the world.
It might be an okay YA book, but I think a lot of readers would be put off by the lack of plot. In any case, Life As We Knew It is a much better YA book in the same vein.
I almost didn’t reread The Graveyard Book for this SF librarianship class. I already knew I loved this Neil Gaiman book, so maybe I could spend my time better.
There is no better way to spend your time than reading about Nobody Owens, especially if you’re thinking about change and life and growing up and the future.
The story starts off with a toddling baby’s family having just been murdered. A man with a knife is climbing the stairs to kill the baby. Some people get squeamish about this being a kids’ book at this point. The baby toddles off up the street and heads into the graveyard where a family of ghosts takes him in and Silas undertakes to be the boy’s guardian. They hide him in the graveyard and the murderer’s mind is muddled and there you have it.
Now the book can begin.
It’s done in a series of short accounts of Nobody Owens’ life. There are ghouls and witches and a tutor who makes terrible soup, and Bod learns history from the people who were actually there (it’s very idiosyncratic). There’s a girl who thinks he’s her imaginary friend and there are bullies at school and police and a bunch of murderous men with something in common who’re looking for him and it’s all so good.
This is a book of atmosphere, of creepiness and funniness and all that good stuff Gaiman brings to everything he does. It’s written for kids and doesn’t need to talk down to them to do it. And I dare you to suggest a better coming of age and heading out into the world than in the end when Nobody leaves the graveyard.
It’s so fucking good. There’s a reason I give this one as gifts to all and sundry.