Friday, June 30, 2006

Snow White and Rose Red

By Patricia C. Wrede. Part of Terri Windling's fairy tales series. (Which one?)

So-so. There is something about this that is well-written: especially pertinent is that it makes clear when scenes involving various characters occur with relation to one another, whether at the same time or later, which is rather nice. But, I don't think it was particularly engaging: possibly the only reason I read it so fast (or at all?) was because I am planning to return it tonight. The depiction of faeryland and the way its border works doesn't seem to ring quite true, but the book is at least a good attempt at retelling the original story, which the author notes in the afterword was somewhat challenging due to its fragmented nature. (A short section of what I assume is the original is placed at the beginning of each chapter, making it easy to compare the two in parallel.)

Maybe worth a look.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Element of Fire

By Martha Wells.

This book starts out a little overwhelmingly with numerous characters introduced one after another. It gets a little better once you know who is important and the characters become a little more interesting. Still, the imagery and plot is a bit dry and it seems sort of like a bunch of characters that could have been interesting lose out in the interests of getting everything the author wanted into the book.

This book was only so-so, with a few of the characters being the most interesting part. Still, I'm a little disappointed there's not a sequel with the same characters in it. The story feels a bit unresolved and abrupt by itself.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


By Charles de Lint.

I don't think I was going to write about this, but I thought it might be a good idea to mention it. I wouldn't have known about it if my sister hadn't pointed it out to me and I guess some other people might be the same.

This is the much-needed sequel to de Lint's The Onion Girl, at the end of which Jilly was left pretty crippled. Both books are part of the author's loosely connected Newford series, which is about a fictional Canadian city which happens to sit pretty close to a boundary between our world and faery. In this book, the conflict between the Native American elements and the imported fairies from the Old World comes to a boil, among other things.

de Lint's usual genius for inventing characters goes on as usual in this book, although I do wonder what criteria he uses to decide whether a character will be narrated in the first or third person.

If you haven't read The Onion Girl, I would strongly advise reading it before this book. You can probably pick up a lot of what happens otherwise but I don't think it will be as satisfying, although admittedly I haven't read the rest of the series either. (I think Spirits in the Wires is the only one I've read besides these two.)

Sunshine questions

Oh no! I'm breaking the pattern!

Here are some of the questions I had after reading Sunshine; I thought this would be an appropriate place to post them even if it isn't strictly a book review/summary/response.

You may not want to look at these if you haven't read the book.

  • What happened to Sunshine’s father’s family?

  • Specifically, what happened to Sunshine’s grandmother, and how is she able to appear to Sunshine now? (One dream might be a coincidence. Two stinks of supernatural intervention.)

  • Does Con prey on humans?

  • If not, why does he dazzle Sunshine with his eyes? Is it a weakness or loss of control? Is the effect something that occurs naturally (like breathing) and has to be specifically suspended by an act of will?

  • If he does prey on humans, then what is the important difference between him and Bo? That he does it without torturing them first?

  • Is Yolande’s mistake hers or the author’s? Sunshine doesn’t seem to notice the mistake either, pointing to the author. (Yolande said Con had returned twice when by that point he had returned three times, but Sunshine hadn’t woken up the first night he came back.)

  • How does the daylight seal find its way to Sunshine? Is it “just” a coincidence?

  • What “other” magic besides transmuting was Sunshine taught? Was telepathy one of the things, or did she share her bead on Bo with Con instinctively?

  • Would it be possible for Sunshine to transform living things as well as objects?

  • Who is the goddess of pain? What’s wrong with her? Is she related to Medusa? (nothing in the book actually mentions this, but her ability to cause pain seems related to the way looking at Medusa’s face turns people to stone from fright)

  • What do Pat and the other “good guys” in SOF know/suspect? They should have all the clues in front of them—the pocket knife (especially Pat, since he was there for the interrogation), the second prisoner, the cleared land around the house, the timing of Sunshine and Con’s physical contact, the bad spot? (the images which appear seem to be linked to Bo?), etc., etc.

  • Why would Sunshine need to lie to Yolande?

  • What past relationship did Con have with the Blaise family? Was he one of them? What does he know about her father?

  • What is the purpose of the charm that Con gives Sunshine? Is it just a guide so that she can find her way to his lair?

  • Is the “tuning” he does on the charm part of the charm’s enchantment, or is it his own magic?

  • Obviously, what is the cup of souls for, and the ceremony it goes with?

  • How does Con feel about everything? His attitude is possibly the best-concealed secret in the entire book. It isn't obvious whether he only tolerates Sunshine to spite Bo, and later on because he needs her, or because he likes her, etc. Is he at all tempted to eat her after they escape? Does he wish she would go away after they finish off Bo? Or has he grown attached to her?

  • Why did Bo try to feed Con when he was planning to kill him, anyway? Just as a mind game?

  • Is it possible for a vampire to drink only part of a person’s blood and leave the person alive?

  • What is Mel?

  • What do Sunshine and Con do the night they go out together? Does she make nightprowling a habit? (How could she, when she has to get up at 4am to make cinnamon buns?)

  • What do they gain from their bond with each other? (Sunshine seeing in the dark is a given. Con’s passing as human is suggested. Is growling at doors to make them open a vampirish ability?)

  • What are the disadvantages of their bond? (Besides the ideological one of “Oh, by the way, I’m bound to a vampire, but our relationship is strictly platonic—what are you laughing at?”) That they are vulnerable through each other is suggested. How would one’s death affect the other?

  • How many of these questions would be answered if I watched Buffy?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rose Daughter

By Robin McKinley.

The logical next step after reading Beauty, also by Robin McKinley, was this book. (Actually, I read several other books in between, but I think this still counts as a next step since I only read Beauty a week or two ago.) It amused me quite a bit when I read Sunshine to have the narrator say (obviously speaking for the author, in this instance) that "there are a lot of things you can do with the story of Beauty and the Beast, and I've done most of them" (pseudo-quote - probably not exact wording). So here's this story, 20 years after Beauty, and what about it makes it different enough that it's worth reading both?

It actually started off differently enough that I was upset when word of a lost ship returning came after the family's descent into poverty. Apparently, that is an integral part of the story. Certainly there is no other reason a devoted father would end up lost in the woods and find himself at an enchanted castle. You'll forgive me if that's a bit harsh, I guess.

Otherwise this book is quite different from Beauty. Near the end it comes out that she believes her name was chosen because, unlike her sisters (Lionheart(!) and Jeweltongue--the names are almost more gaudy than the enchanted castle), her beauty is her only real asset. This book is also not in the first person, which, if I remember correctly, Beauty was. To be frank, the Beauty in Rose Daughter seems to be somewhat sillier than her sisters seem to think. She believes (we all know the story, right?) that the beast brought her to his palace so that she could revive his rose garden. No kidding.

The story of how the beast was cursed is also somewhat less than clear, although I suspect I could figure it out if I reread it and thought about it enough. Several stories are told and it isn't entirely clear what the truth about the past is, although the truth is that Beauty has been dreaming about walking down a long dark corrider towards something frightening since she was a child in the city. Immediately you start wondering why she seems fated to what happens...

This story is also, I think, somewhat more frightening than Beauty. Not only does the author once again do a good job of making you fear the ending (it seems even more possible with the third-person narration that things could turn out bad), the castle is even more disturbingly magical than before, with things changing out of the corner of her eye and not even the beast in control (it reminds me very much of Jai Khalar, another place where the door you just came through might not lead to the place you came from, or might not even be there at all), and strange dreams of the town where her family lives where she is seen as a ghost. You start wondering if she actually is a ghost, especially after hearing Mrs. Words-without-End's version of the story.

This might be a rare book where a happy ending is not an entirely satisfying, because the journey on the way there is only half-remembered though there are tantalizing clues about what might have happened. I suppose, for some authors (many authors? not being an author, I can't speak for them), that is probably the goal: a book that you will keep thinking about.

A Fire Upon the Deep

By Vernor Vinge.

I sure am rereading a lot of books lately, aren't I?

I checked this out recently, prompted by A Miracle of Science, and then it sat on my shelf a while because I was reluctant to read it.

Once I started it, it caught me and reminded me how good it was.

In a way, this is a fairly straightforward adventure story. Some kids are lost in a wilderness amidst savage tribes speaking a strange language, and a group of adults sets out on a dangerous voyage to rescue them.

The wilderness, however, is a planet in the Bottom of the Beyond, near the border beyond which faster-than-light travel becomes impossible, and the sophisticated automation that most people are used to falls apart. The rescuers are motivated by a monstrous blight that seems to want to rule the galaxy. Although the children's parents helped create it, those on the rescue mission believe they may have escaped from it with a countermeasure that is the key to its destruction.

Not to mention that the savage tribes are aliens who work best as pack-minds of 4 to 6 individuals each.

I think this is probably a science fiction classic, although some of the sexual innuendos near the beginning are a bit much (they disappear in the second half). Go! Read it! If you like sci-fi, anyway.

And incidentally, I'm left wondering if the author has any relation to Joan Vinge, who is listed in the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book and wrote The Summer Queen. It does seem an unlikely coincidence.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Sky Coyote

By Kage Baker. This is the second book in her Company series.

I almost didn't finish this book because of the silliness and disrespect in it, but I picked it up again last night. I haven't read any of the other books in the series but took the liberty of looking them up on Amazon.

The premise: The Company known as Dr. Zeus has discovered, in the 24th century, a way to travel back in time. The only limitation is that RECORDED history cannot or must not be changed (it isn't entirely clear which is the truth). They've also discovered a way to make humans immortal, but since the process is expensive and involves radical surgery which has to be started in infancy, there isn't really anyone who's interested in it. So, they send a team back in time to recruit some people from the Stone Age, turn them into immortals, and leave them to travel through time the normal way (i.e., by aging) to loot the past for the benefit of the company.

The actual plot of this book is not very interesting. The interest lies in the hints that are dropped about the Company's real purpose, which are fairly few and far between. Even though Mendoza isn't the main character, she seems to be one of the really important ones, given how much Joseph cares about her and also by the fact that she seems to be involved in a major part of the company's true purpose (thanks Amazon for information about later books) all unknowing.

This one seems to be a toss-up: I'm not entirely sure it isn't worth reading, but I can't recommend it wholeheartedly either. It definitely isn't worth reading unless you also intend to read the rest of the series (or maybe look for spoilers on Amazon).

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Obernewtyn Chronicles 1-3

By Isobelle Carmody. The series consists of Obernewtyn, The Farseekers, Ashling, The Keeping Place, and The Sending, but I've only read the first three and may never finish, if the others don't come out in the U.S. (Carmody is an Australian author and I'm not sure I'm motivated enough to spend $20 or $30 to order the last two from Australia.)

I actually stopped halfway through the third one for a week or so once I found out that it wasn't the end of the series. The basic premise is that the world has been changed by a holocaust (all indications point to nuclear), and genetic mutations have appeared, some of which give people telepathic powers, the ability to communicate with animals, the ability to see the future, to heal, and more. Elspeth, a strong heroine of indeterminate age (she is young but if it says exactly how young I missed it; somewhere between 12 and 20, I'd have to guess), narrates the first three and probably the rest, too. When she is discovered (so-called Misfits are culled out of the population), she is sent to a place called Obernewtyn in the mountains where the Misfits with mental powers are studied.

This book is very serious in a way: there is not much lightheartedness and humor. Elspeth gradually seems to realize that apparently, she is part of a bigger plan and has a task to perform for the future world: destroy the remaining weapons that caused the "Great White" (nuclear winter?). If they are used again, the world will never recover.

I guess it's an okay series. It was enough to hold my interest, partly due to nostalgia, I think, and also due to the cryptic dreams Elspeth has which provide clues to the bigger picture. Certainly she could perform her quest and be done with it, but it's more interesting to try and figure out what happened to bring the world to that place, and her in particular.

Have fun.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Swans' War

By Sean Russell: consisting of The One Kingdom, The Isle of Battle and The Shadow Roads. Second reading.

The fact that I reread this hopefully says something for it.

The inside flap of the covers would have you believe that this book is about a feud between the Renne and Wills families over who will inherit a throne left empty when the King of Ayr, the land between the mountains, died a century ago without an heir. To an extent that's true, but only on the surface: it's the story the "commoners" will hear. You, dear reader, are gifted with the real story. It's not what you're thinking! (If I'm wrong, leave a comment and let me know.)

The feud is only an echo of an earlier war between two brothers and sister, sorcerers who were killed fighting each other a thousand years in the past... but didn't die.

To say any more is probably to spoil it beyond forgiveness. This story unfolds like nobody's business: first the feud goes back a century, then a millenium, then to the far reaches of time before Death's kingdom was established... It is well told, with interesting tales tossed in (like some of the smaller tales included in the Sevenwaters trilogy), despite the numerous regrettable typos. The ending leaves some things up in the air but is much more acceptable than The River Into Darkness's ending. Not all the "good guys" are equally interesting, unfortunately, and the ones on the bad side seem to have little redeeming value.

There are moments of delicious irony. There is also interesting ambiguity in some areas: the bargain made ("part of your life will be mine") doesn't specify how much of that life, and I'd rather think that instead of it being a trick (because it's not specified), that it depends on the strength of the person making the bargain. (This will make sense if you read the books.)

What can I say? Read it or not.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Sevenwaters Trilogy

By Juliet Marillier. Consisting of Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows and Child of the Prophecy.

These books are heartwrenching but good. (I think.)

Each one is narrated by a different woman, and the author does a good job in making them each a distinct person with a distinct story. The problem is, they're all so sad (especially Daughter of the Forest and Child of the Prophecy) even if they each have a so-called "happy ending." Sorcha's task in Daughter of the Forest is almost unbearably difficult, especially when you start thinking that it may have been a bit of a farce done to manipulate her in other ways, a theory that's backed up when you get to Child of the Prophecy and realize Fainne can perform transformations almost effortlessly. The ending of the third one also bothers me.

These books are steeped in (what I assume is authentic) Irish mythology. There is a Christian presence in the Ireland depicted but most of the characters follow the so-called "old faith", worshipping the gods of the Fair Folk, and the Christians here seem to be either benign to that faith or rather evil in both matters of faith (think the Spanish Inquisition) and other ways, which may be true as far as history goes but is still sad.

I found these books rather painful to read through because of the amount of torment the characters are put through. Sorcha is not allowed to speak or make a sound at all for three years, lest she lose her brothers forever. Liadan isn't that bad off, but she's bookended by Sorcha and Fainne, whose grandmother threatens harm to everyone she loves if she won't follow her grandmother's will. Sorcha's narrative is painful because of the possbility that she could slip up and say something, but Fainne's is terrible because she ends up killing people when she doesn't intend to hurt anyone. It takes most of Child of the Prophecy for her to make a concrete decision to foil her grandmother and then Finbar shows up with a prophecy to shake that confidence by saying that she won't actually decide until the last moment (which seems in hindsight to be untrue). There is occasional humor tossed in (I think I noticed it most in Fainne's story), but it fails to lighten the dark mood for long.

Interesting in comparison might be Stephen Lawhead's The Black Rood, which tells the story of an Irish monk. The quote that I remember is "All flesh is grass, Brother Aidan..."

So, I'm really bad at coming to a point.

These books are an interesting but heavy read, with rounded characters (Fainne is the one who comes closest to being able to do anything she wants, ability wise, and she is at the same time limited by her fears and her heritage). There is no profanity (that I remember) and no glamorous sex. I have to wonder why I didn't find these before.

Monday, June 19, 2006


By Robin McKinley. For another review that makes some good points, go here.

I don't know what to say about this book. I think I've fallen for it a bit more than the writer of that other review, since I just finished rereading it and the first time I read it was just last week. There are definitely a lot of loose ends (I've written down a page full of unanswered questions in case there's a sequel that might answer them), and the author is non-commital about writing a sequel (apparently she's never written a sequel before), so they might never be tied up...

Sunshine is the baker at Charlie's Coffeehouse in a (apparently American) city called New Arcadia, which is "pretty clean" but still has vampires, as any city will. She seems to have very little ambition beyond making cherry tarts and other delicious confections, but her life changes when she's captured by a gang of vampires. They chain her up in an old mansion with another prisoner instead of eating her... the catch is, the prisoner is another vampire who apparently doesn't believe in eating humans (or at least in tormenting them), but he's been deprived for a long time, and might not be able to control himself. Of course, Sunshine figures out a way to escape, or it'd be a pretty short book (although the fact that it comes to her in a dream is a little bit suspect considering later events). The twist is, she decides to take the vampire with her...

The other review I linked is probably right in pointing out how a lot of characters lack detail. Especially with Con (the vampire), she doesn't seem to know where he stands herself, or how he thinks, but unfortunately the lack might make him seem a bit robotic: he does whatever the author needs him to do instead of according to a well-defined, convincing yet alien personality. Sunshine also seems to go off on tangents pretty often. They usually have a point to them, helping to explain the events of the main story, but I wonder if it might not have been better to work them into the story more or leave them behind the scenes for the reader to assume. She also seems to skip things at times: she jumps to unstated conclusions and leaves out crucial details (she saw something in Mrs. B's eyes, but she never says what she thought it was, just that it made her reinterpret what Mrs. B was saying in an unspecified way).

Still... I think I like it. Be warned: there are two rather explicitly "sensual" (to borrow ye other review's terminology) scenes.

The Age of Unreason (unfinished)

By J. Gregory Keyes. Consisting of Newton's Cannon, A Calculus of Angels, Empire of Unreason, and Shadows of God (which I didn't read).

I picked up the first three books of this with hope because The Waterborn was so good. I also assumed that it was just a trilogy. By the time I got to the third book, I was getting tired of it, but I forced myself through it because I wanted to know how it ended... and it didn't. I don't think I'll be chasing down the fourth: it starts off with an interesting concept, but the way it all plays out gets a bit boring.

The concept is, Newton discovers some other laws besides just gravity, which allow all kinds of interesting technology (while he's still alive): guns that shoot lightning, wireless communication (this story is set in the 1720s), flying machines, elixirs of youth... The problem is, there's a spiritual world full of beings which think the working of miracles of nature should be their exclusive province, and want to, at best, sidetrack science, and at worst, destroy all of humankind. They start the process in the first book by convincing the King of France to have his scientists destroy London via meteor strike.

The problem is hard to pinpoint, exactly, but it seems the story is kind of weak and the huge involvement of demons in it, whom several characters are stupid enough to listen to, is really repulsive after a little while.

I didn't read the fourth book, so I don't know if the end is redeeming, but reviews on Amazon suggest it is not.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Book of Atrix Wolfe

Another one of my favorite McKillip books.

This one is probably one of the closest to a traditional fairy tale: the daughter of a queen is turned into a voiceless pot-scrubber in a castle kitchen, and doesn't even remember who she is. She dreams at night in the water of the cauldron she uses to wash pots before she goes into dreamless sleep. And, there's something beautiful about her being named Saro.

This book is a bit shorter than what I usually read, but definitely complete. It's also the only book by her I know of that has a prologue. There is a flock of food flying around in the kitchen: don't read it when you're hungry.

I like it.

It's also less ambiguous than some other books I could name (The Sorceress and the Cygnet, Ombria in Shadow). I think even my sister might be satisfied by this one, if she could bring herself to read another of McKillip's books ever again.

Alphabet of Thorn

By Patricia McKillip.

In which Nepenthe, orphaned transcriptor of the royal library, finds a book written in thorns which casts a spell on her heart. She becomes obsessed with translating its (to others) dry telling of the story of Axis and Kane, the two brothers who conquered the entire world.

Of course, the story is a little more subtle than that. Still, I can't think of that much to complain about or comment on in this book. The one big mystery is what Nepenthe's mother named her, since she was found by the royal librarians on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. In the course of the story she remembers, but we are never told what it was.

I also noticed the way some symbols recur: a metaphor is used and then referred to again a paragraph later (look how sophisticated a reader I'm becoming!). Well, there are repeated references to N. almost knocking over a jar of ink whenever she's startled, until finally the calamity threatened by her thorns (the Dreaming first queen of Raine is upset enough to wake up from death and warn Tessera, the current queen, about it) pours like ink from a cracked sky. Probably things like this go on in other books, too, but I haven't noticed it particularly and it adds a nice cohesiveness, a persistence of detail and style, to the telling.

This was the first book by Patricia McKillip that I read (I just reread it), and I think I may have a bit of nostalgic attachment to it. The way she describes magic here is so intuitive and natural: Bourne becoming invisible by flipping a coin and noticing how the profile of the queen's face stamped on it looks nothing like the queen itself; in such a manner do we come to take the commonplace for granted... lifting the floating school, folding space, the way the queen hides in the forest... it's all quite beautiful, and is one of the wonderful things about her books.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


By Robin McKinley. "A retelling of the story of Beauty & the Beast."

I'm afraid this might be getting a little tiring by now, but this is another classic. Just read it.

Actually, I had never heard of it before it was mentioned in Circuit of Heaven, but probably everyone else has.

Reading a story like this is like rereading another book: you already know what's going to happen, generally, since you've seen the Disney movie (right?), so you can concentrate on how it happens and take your time reading it, instead of hurrying to finish it because you want to know what comes next. It's practically guaranteed that this story will have a happy ending, although I did start to get worried near the end. And the details are quite different from the Disney version, probably closer to the original fairy tale...

The Beast's explanation of the curse at the end seems to neglect how he knows so much magic. It also seems to gloss over what the maids knew about the curse, oddly... otherwise, this is a pretty well done book, not too trite and cliched until perhaps the very end, which seems to come rather suddenly. But, it's definitely worth reading if any fairy tale is.

The Everien Trilogy

By Valery Leith. Consisting of The Company of Glass (see my post below), The Riddled Night, and The Way of the Rose.

It should actually be obvious from almost the beginning that this trilogy is about the way of the rose, since the other two Everien artifacts that were retrieved, came from the Way of the Sun and the Way of the Eye, leaving only the rose left unexplored. And, in fact, there is the poem at the beginning of The Company of Glass by Rainer Maria Rilke, easy to overlook, but obvious in hindsight. More than that, it is about Jaya, the living rose: (you may want to skip the quote as it might be spoilerific)

Then, at length, I realized that I held a shard that was silent. Utterly silent. What was wrong with this one? There was blood on it. I brought it close to my face and touched it with my lips. Very faintly, I could hear my own voice.

"I am Jaya, the Innocent Eye, the Invisible Flower. I am the Guardian of the Ineffable. My function is to See and Know and so become Wise. I am not an amalgam. I am one person, and I have been created for this purpose. ..."

If that doesn't give you chills about fate, I don't know what will.

This story, in short, is wild and involves all sorts of temporal paradoxes and science gone mad, hidden behind a thick veneer of fantasy. It reminds me of Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun with the complexity of the plot and the games played with time and the way science is, even more than in Wolfe's book, something very like magic. It also reminds me of Zelazny's Donnerjack, with the real world and the Liminal space where unrealized ideas, the trapped Knowledge of the Everiens, is trapped but can become realized, brought into actual being.

So, I suppose I should mention some downsides. While this is a fantastic story, the telling is not so great. Sometimes scenes about characters you don't really care about drag on and on when all you want to do is find out what happens to Jaya, Tarquin, Kere, and Liaku (Tarquin might not be that interesting in himself, but he is the character you feel you've been with the longest, since he is there from the very beginning.) The sex is mostly superfluous and thankfully, not much present by the time you get to the third book. Jaya steals the scene whenever she shows up to narrate in the first person, which is not a bad thing in itself, but since she is the only character to do so, it becomes quickly obvious that she's very important to the plot, especially in the third book when she starts getting her own chapters. (Spoiler: In the second her narration was mediated through Impressionists and seemed almost as if it might have been a recording or echo of the past, up until near the end when it became apparent that she was communicating from another place. END SPOILER.) Some things are never really resolved: What happened to the objects the Blackness swallowed? When did Jaya become real? What artifact was supposed to be found in the Way of the Rose? Who was Jaya's father? What made Hanji open up Jai Khalar to the invaders?

We are told that Jaya means Rose in the ancient language, but not much else about said language. What does Jai Khalar mean? Jai Pendu? Are there other names I've forgotten? What about the Animal Magic, which doesn't ever seem to appear in the story, even though it's mentioned over and over?

I guess that's enough questions to perhaps hint at the story. Have fun.

The Company of Glass

By Valery Leith. This is the first book in the Everien trilogy.

The ancient Everien civilization left behind it mysterious artifacts and scientific knowledge. Ysse, the first queen to unite the warring Clans, went to Jai Pendu and brought back the powerful Fire of Glass, a seemingly infinite power source for the Fire Houses left behind by the Everiens. Jai Pendu is accessible only once every nine years, so when given a chance, she sends Quintar and his Company of 12 back to retrieve another artifact, for the inhuman and beautiful Sekk who drive humans into madness and murder are pressing the country as never before, seemingly attracted by the ancient knowledge that is used to fight them. Quintar succeeds, but only at the price of losing his own company, and he flees into despair after delivering the Water of Glass to Ysse.

I'm not sure what to say about this book. Personally, I think I need to reread it, because it sets up so many things that are weaved together in the rest of the trilogy, yet it is rather sparing with clues as to where the destination is. Even though most of the characters are somewhat flat, the plot is complex and unpredictable, leaving you wondering who is good and who is bad.

It seems obvious that the Sekk should not be completely evil, but they nevertheless cast a spell over humans which makes them kill their families and whole villages. There are hints that they are related to the vanished Everiens, but nothing substantial. Tarquin's nemesis, Night, is inscrutable and incomprehensible, impossibly fast and strong and apparently possessed of the Sekk's power to enslave to a degree thousands of times greater than any Sekk before. Yet, whenever he gets near Night, it evades his sword without trying to retaliate, and he slips into mysterious visions of a woman in a rose garden, who claims to know him and that he made her what she is.

If you read this book by itself, you will probably be disappointed. It raises many more questions than it answers, and you're left wondering more at the end than you did at the beginning. However, read the rest of the trilogy, and the hints dropped in this book congeal into a fantastical plot involving time travel, genetic manipulation and the folly of taking science too far.

There are a few sex scenes, but it isn't a constant thing. I don't know why authors feel the need to add them so unnecessarily. (I can think of one book where the sex may be justified, or at least excused on account of its importance to characterization, and it is not even explicit if I remember correctly, which I might not since I tend to skip over these things anyway.)

There is also profanity scattered throughout; although it isn't constant, it's certainly more prevalent than in most books I've read lately. Read with care.

Friday, June 09, 2006

In the Forests of Serre

By Patricia McKillip.

So, I said I would try to chase this down, and I did.

This book is a mystery, or at least leaves you with a few, similar to Ombria in Shadow. Unfortunately, I didn't find it to be magical in the same way as the others I've read by her; it's more like it has the same literary tricks and dreamlike quality, but it wasn't woven together as well. Or maybe the grass is just greener on the other side of the fence and I look back more fondly on the books I remember than on the one that I've just read.

This book has many of the same elements, the same style as McKillip's other works, but either they're tired out or I am. The wizard's gardener is the wizard, of course, a minor mystery that's resolved a paragraph after it appears, but it's been in so many other books it was immediately obvious to me. I don't think it has always been.

How did Gyre lose his heart? This book involves several characters who seem to have lost their hearts, and somehow I have trouble feeling sympathy for any of them. I wonder if all the ones who didn't run into the witch during the book ran into her earlier on. The sorceror in Ombria appears to have no heart, but gradually discovers hers; contrariwise, these give theirs up in the course of time. The interactions between the prince and the princess lack the poignancy of other such pairings in other books.

The book seems to have little humor. I can understand why a library might not have added it to the collection alongside her other books, but caution prompts me to wonder whether I might not be much more favorable if this was my second time reading this one, despite that I believe I enjoyed most of the others the first time I read them. Who knows?

Monstrous Regiment

By Terry Pratchett, of course.

This is my second time reading this book: I actually got it out for my sister (she often complains that she has nothing to read), but she said it was "slow" and "boring." So, I reread it on a lark last night.

Of course, it's amusing, as pretty much all Terry Pratchett books are. Other than that, I'm not sure what to say, except that I wondered if she had gotten past the first ten pages before forming her opinion. The lack of chapters is a definite drawback in learning moderation (i.e., stopping somewhere in the middle), so I stayed up until 2:00am finishing it, something I really have been doing less of lately.

What else is there to say? The thread about Shufti pursuing the boyfriend who got her pregnant reminded me of William Faulkner's Light in August. (She had only gone out through the window half a dozen times before she found she was unable to, or however it opens...)

And even though Sam Vimes is in this story, he really stays out of the spotlight for once.

And, of course, there's the stunning "surprise" "ending." So have fun!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Phantom Tollbooth

By Norton Juster, "amateur cook and professional eater", apparently.

Another one of those classics, I had my sister get it out of the library on a whim a week or two ago, along with Castle in the Air. Oddly, this book also has a Castle in the Air, and rather large print and short pages and illustrations to boot. There are supposed to be puns but the only one that made me do a double-take was when the Mathemagician carried the three.

So. You probably should have read this already.

And instead of thinking about this book, I'm still ruminating on the stunning logical conundrum in Wolf Hunting. I really would like to buy the Firekeeper books, but $27 is a bit expensive, even if they are five hundred pages and rather nicely typeset. I wonder if there will be a nice set of all six for $60 or something when she finishes the sixth one? I think this last one was probably better than the rest (even the slanderous book flap says it's the strongest entry in the series so far), since it gives me a puzzle to think about. Unfortunately, I can't tell you what it is without spoiling bits of the plot if you've already read the previous books, and you'd be utterly mystified if you haven't. So there!

It also seems like the author tossed in a couple unnecessary references to previous books in the name of continuity, when there was really no reason to mention them. Other things that harkened back to the past were, of course, necessary, but there were a few lines that seemed rather gratuitous.

I think I just hijacked this post to rave about Firekeeper, didn't I?

Wolf Hunting

By Jane Lindskold. This is the fifth volume in the Firekeeper series.

Another enjoyable book, this takes a not entirely unexpected turn considering some of the questions left from previous books. Firekeeper seems to have grown up from an impulsive child to become someone with wisdom, at least a little. Parts of the plot seem a little bit artificial (it's not entirely clear why they decide to go on a quest after reuniting Truth with her body) or poorly staged (opening a door covered with magic of unspecified nature: it's never really explained why the door couldn't just be opened). Still, for the most part, the characters seem to act true to themselves in the situations they stumble into, or more probably, go looking for.

As the author's note at the beginning says, you may find some of your questions answered, but there are still plenty left to answer in the last planned installment (supposed to be out in March 2007), and in fact this book seems to leave a little more hanging than previous installments, although it still has a relatively satisfying ending. As one of the quotations on the back says, you feel that the world keeps going even after you finish the story, something I have less trouble imagining with this than with other books, since the characters, especially Firekeeper, are so strongly defined.

I must admit, I may only feel that this one leaves more hanging because I've become a sharper reader and just started noticing things that have been around from the beginning. It's hard to say. The threads the author leaves stretching between each book are either very general (broad questions about the world) or somewhat vague, which is nice in that it doesn't leave a sharp cliffhanger. On the other hand, the contents of the next book seem more easy to predict based on certain events from this one that must be, if not resolved, exactly, at least coped with. The shadowy presence of the mysterious Meddler (seemingly unfairly maligned by the cover flap--but perhaps the next volume will reveal otherwise?) remains an unknown quantity that is likely to influence quite a lot of Wolf's Blood.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Anvil of the World

By Kage Baker.

This is an odd book. A successful assassin is trying to retire (again), but it seems his abilities just won't leave him alone. He flees to another country and becomes a caravan master, and trouble finds him in the form of Lord Ermenwyr, who is somewhere between a quarter and a half demon. Oddly enough, the nature of demons in this tale seems to be that they understand crop rotation and know how to do autopsies, unlike the rather wasteful "Children of the Sun", who are apparently human.

Anyway. I guess this book was entertaining enough, but only for a light read. Frequent references to sex and a general lack of depth make it something I don't think I'll read twice.

Ombria in Shadow

By Patricia A. McKillip. (Dunno where the 'A.' came from.)

This is my second time reading this book, so either it's worth reading twice or you sort of have to, to understand what's going on. Well... I noticed more reading it this time than last time, but I still don't feel like I know everything that happened. This must be the ambiguity my sister hated about Alphabet of Thorn that made her not read any of the rest of McKillip's books.

Part of the book is pretty obvious: It's framed as Lydea's story: the first and last chapters are about Lydea, and she's even on the cover, along with a couple of unidentifiable people. But, in the end, it seems more like it's about the sorceress who learned she had a heart, and the daughter she loved.

McKillip's prose is hard to describe, but her style is distinctive and dreamlike. I definitely enjoyed this book both times, but if you hate ambiguity and want to know the answers to all the questions (In the end, who knows what? What did the sorceress know all along? Was she ever human? What is it to be human? What happened to the shadow city? What is the relation between Ducon's parents and Mag's parents? What stops the sorceress from doing whatever she wants to everyone? She certainly seems powerful enough, so the frightening answer is that just she doesn't care enough to.), then you may hate the way everything is resolved.

I would advise not skipping the words you don't know: they may mean more than you think. Not that there are very many of them (at least for me), but I still found at least one wordplay I definitely didn't notice the first time.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Wind in the Stone

By Andre Norton.

You know, after reading several Andre Norton books (she's dead now, by the way), some things become apparent: The heroines are all women. They all have a mystical artifact or special magical gift. They always win. The endings are kind of weak.

The exception was Empire of the Eagle, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

This one seems even worse than usual: it was a struggle for me to read it. The descriptions of what happen are never very clear and I think she might have been trying to achieve subtlety and ambiguity, but what comes out is much more annoying than, for example, Patricia McKillip's sublime and dreamlike prose.

The names seem trite and uninspired. A quarter of the narrative is about a character that it's hard to feel anything for. I don't know what to say; even though I read it, I can't really recommend it.