Despite appearances here I have not given up on reading and interacting with artifacts of culture. This isn’t an apology for not posting book reviews, mind you, just an acknowledgment that they have been lacking. It’s possible I’ll be able to wrestle myself back into the swing of things soon.
One of the books I read in the close of 2014 and loved was Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, which was about 12 dancing princesses in 1920s New York City. It took its fairy-tale roots seriously and was horrific in an utterly believable way.
I’ve also finally watched the entirety of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was an ordeal. Not because the show is bad or hard to watch, but because I wanted to get it all done before a friend returned from vacation, which meant I watched 144 episodes in 21 days. That is a lot of television. I liked the show generally. To me it’s a 3-season show about highschool Buffy followed immediately by a sequel show about more grown-up Buffy. I liked the first show better, but recognize that they were doing more interesting things in the later show. The Body is probably one of my favourite episodes of television ever. Anyway. Now I have Opinions about Buffy, so if that’s your thing we can converse!
I’m currently slowly reading a C.J. Cherryh novel called Fortress in the Eye of Time. It is slow going. A coworker is reading the Kingkiller Chronicles and I’m very jealous of reading fantasy that you can’t put down. I can put this down so easily.
I recently read Pinocchio Vampire Slayer and was also underwhelmed by it. I think it needed another pass on the dialogue to make it feel a little less amateurish. It read like it was trying to be Hellboy but with really obvious lines and jokes. I wanted to like it but couldn’t.
There’s been more. I will be doing a writeup for the Tales of the Black Company books I’ve been reading, but I want to do them justice. Maybe later this week.
Tehanu is the fourth book in Ursula K LeGuin’s Earthsea series and it’s the one that makes these books so powerful. Now, do not get me wrong, all the cool hero’s journey stuff that happens in the first three is great. You should totally read them if you haven’t. But those are tales of young adventurers heading out into the world and changing being changed by it, without any consideration of the women who do not go a roaming. Tehanu does that examination, and it does it by looking at how women’s strength is different from men’s strength and though it’s easily dismissed it’s worth a hell of a lot more.
I love this book for how it’s feminist in its challenging of fundamental values of what is worth celebrating: adventure or making a home livable. So often we just read about female characters off having adventures to make them seen as just as capable as men, while we don’t see many stories about men trying to be just as capable as women in these female spheres.
Anyway. I’m probably not talking about it correctly. I just loved this book as an adult in a way I don’t think I appreciated years ago (if I even read it – I didn’t have any clear recollections). It’s so good.
Rocannon’s World is another Ursula K Le Guin paperback (I told you I recently bought a trove of these things). This one is a science fiction story about Rocannon, a high tech surveyor of planets and cultures, who gets trapped on a primitive world when the high tech enemy destroys his ship and crew. He and some stalwart companions must voyage across half the planet to find the enemy’s faster than light radio to get a message out to his allies. So yeah, it sounds like a basic colonial quest narrative.
What I loved about it was the long prologue, which is about a princess from one of the poor scrabbling cultures who travels to the stars to reclaim a treasure the colonialists stole from her ancestors. When she returns with the jewel, the vagaries of lightspeed travel mean that it was all for nothing and everyone she loves is dead. I love this because it puts the reader first in the head of the people who live on this world, and what their concerns are, before moving to the great scientific hero who must lead the primitives to save them from themselves.
Also, the quest is much more of a fantasy story than a technological one. Rocannon has an impermeable suit of protection, but he carries no weapons. At one point he is burned at the stake for days because his captors don’t understand it and think him magical, but he wins that confrontation by standing without water for that time, which is killing him just as surely (though slower).
The climax is a little anticlimactic, but I liked the book as a whole.
The Wise Man’s Fear is the sequel to Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. It remains a solid fantasy story, though it feels a bit more generic as it goes along. Kvothe hunts bandits and goes to the faerie realm and becomes a badass fighter in an exotic school with different cultural norms around sec, along with his magickal university exploits. There’s not much crazily new to this story compared to any other high fantasy kind of thing based on someone’s D&D campaign.
But Rothfuss just writes it all really well. The dialogue is great. The situations are more realistic and well-detailed versions of things you see in lesser books. I’ve gotten a little frustrated with the breakneck pace of how much has happened in three years of Kvothe’s life, but whatever. You don’t read a fantasy novel for its boring people I guess.
The Ocean At The End of The Lane is Neil Gaiman’s latest book for adults, but it reminded me much more of Coraline or The Graveyard Book than American Gods.
Part of that is because of its small scale. There’s an author whose father has died and on his visit home for the funeral he stops by a neighbour’s farm. This prompts recollection of the story of the opal miner who was their lodger when he was seven, which is a story he’d forgotten. The story involves a creature giving people money and seducing his father so that he will never be able to get help.
I liked the story, it was beautiful and Gaimany. I kind of feel bad for saying it but I’d hoped for something more substantial.
Hilda and the Bird Parade is the sequel to Luke Pearson’s Hilda and the Midnight Giant. In this one, Hilda and her mother are living in town, and Hilda’s kindness doesn’t really help her make any friends among her peers. She gets lost in the confusing streets with a bird suffering from amnesia, worrying her poor mother to death (not actually to death).
Another beautiful story, though a bit less impressive than the first one, it’s exactly the kind of comic I want in our library to be putting in kids’ hands.
Luke Pearson’s Hilda and the Midnight Giant is a beautiful comic. It’s a story about a little girl and her mom who live out far from town, and are being harassed by anonymous messages telling them to leave. And Hilda is pretty sure there’s a giant as tall as a mountain out watching them. Hilda does not want to go live in the nasty old town so she tries to negotiate with the tiny invisible people who live in their area and want her and her mother gone.
It’s cartoony with a purplish palette, and Hilda is clever and cute and makes perfect use of her fantastical world. The negotiation with the different layers of invisible government is all kinds of awesome. It works as a story about colonialism and who gets to live where too.