Thursday, September 21, 2006

More Quickies: The end of the Shamer Chronicles, Tooth and Claw, Firebirds Rising, and Forgotten Beasts

Well, I am getting behind and don't feel like writing so much, so here are a bunch of books at once.

Firebirds Rising (anthology). Edited by Sharyn November. I enjoyed the stories in this collection more than the ones in Firebirds, which I thought were decent but not great. I particularly liked and remember The Wizards of Perfil, Quill, and What Used to Be Good Still Is, all three of which seem somehow bittersweet, with The Wizards of Perfil being more sweet and the other two perhaps more bitter, although not outright depressing. I'll admit to pretty much skipping Alan Dean Foster's story (I checked out a couple of his books once and did not really enjoy them), but the rest were for the most part quite good. Patricia McKillip's Jack o'Lantern is quite different from the usual fantasy that she writes. It seems more real, somehow. The rest are worth checking out. P.S.: Quill is not about writing like you might think, although it is the name of the narrator.

I read Singing the Dogstar Blues (by Alison Goodman) a few weeks ago because The Real Thing (in Firebirds Rising) referred to it. It wasn't that bad, but it wasn't that good either--it seemed sort of bland and generic to me, although I'll admit to being amused by Joss's origins. Otherwise, it's about a college kid who has been chosen to partner a telepathic alien in a school for time travel. The book ends but the story seems unfinished, as attested by The Real Thing which takes place somewhat later.

The Serpent Gift and The Shamer's War round out the Shamer Chronicles by Lene Kaaberbol. I think I liked them better than the first two books; they both seem somewhat deeper and more serious, although in a way The Serpent Gift doesn't seem like it goes deep enough. Perhaps the lack of in-depth angsting about certain events is a good thing, though. The Shamer's War finishes the series, perhaps appropriately, but some of the plot events once again seem a little too pat and convenient. Dina's uncle shows up, tries to take her away, strikes her down so that she can become more powerful than you could possibly imagine (my little joke), and vanishes out of the story. Almost all this happens in one chapter. There's also a short little essay by some (apparently real) professor after the abrupt end of the book, although it may not be in the American edition that was just released. I also found the fourth book to feel rather different from the first three, and wondered if it was a difference in editing between the UK and US releases, if it was just written differently, or if the typesetting and feel of the paper affected my impression so much. (I found a copy of the UK version in a local library, amazingly enough.) Despite the plot contrivances, I still think this series is worth reading for the originality of the idea and the moral issues involved.

Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton, is an odd Victorian fantasy novel. Starring dragons instead of humans. The dragons are definitely an integral part of it, but the Victorian part seems like the more prominent aspect. She won a World Fantasy Award for it, I think, but it's not really my cup of tea. (Not that I drink tea.) You might like it.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia McKillip, was one of her earlier books. (I'm not sure whether it was her first or not.) The first sentence threw me off since it was a bit cruder than McKillip usually is, but I eventually read it. I think there are probably three whole books left unwritten in about the first five pages. The first half of this book is sort of mediocre and maybe handled more clumsily than I've come to expect from McKillip, but halfway through there is a major event and suddenly the story becomes extremely intense and focused on Sybel's revenge. Sybel is especially interesting as a wizard because unlike almost every other one of McKillip's mages, she is rather sharply limited in her powers to magic related to calling minds. No shape-shifting or invisibility or listening to plants or even conjuring a simple flame for her. I would undoubtedly get more out of with a second reading, like many of her other books, but it'll have to wait a while.

Wow, am I caught up already?

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