Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Dead Rivers Trilogy

Consisting of Freedom's Gate, Freedom's Apprentice, and Freedom's Sisters by Naomi Kritzer.

(Some) Well-written characters, an engaging story... but a fairly standard plot. The author does manage to throw some twists into book three, but (is this a spoiler?) you probably won't be that surprised by what ends up happening after somewhere around chapter 5 of the first book. I thought Kritzer did a good job distinguishing the main characters, especially: they don't act or think identically, even when they are in identical situations.

This could be described as an alternate history: the setting is an ancient Greek empire that lasted, where Alexander lived to a ripe old age. Lauria is a "trusted aide" who, among along with auditing books and inspecting garrisons, hunts down escaped slaves and brings them back to her master. She believes at first that she is free, not seeing the chains that bind her.

The reason the plot is so predictable is because Lauria is such a strong, capable character.

In a way, this is a kind of standard fantasy plot, but I think it's a fairly good read. It does contain explicit rape and the casual acceptance of homosexuality that seems to have become widespread lately and sadly.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Owl in Love

By Patrice Kindl.

Greatly entertaining. I laughed almost the whole way through this. Owl Tycho, our narrator, is a young high school girl who is infatuated with her science teacher. The difference is, she perches on a branch outside his house at night... as an owl. She blithely says ridiculous things. She is very quiet, but perhaps not quite as serious as her demeanor suggests: "You may think I have been blind or foolish about some of the events that have taken place within these pages, but I am not that big a fool."

Fairly short, but comic gold. Read it on a rainy day? Or maybe a train or bus ride, if you feel like explaining to the other passengers why you're laughing so hard.

A Fistful of Sky

By Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

This book is kind of lacking in plot, as I may have seen pointed out on Amazon. For some reason, I loved it anyway: there are some really interesting characters and some interesting character development to make up for the lack of things happening in the external world outside the LaZelle household.

The story? Gypsum is a late bloomer. In her family, that means that she's 20 years old and hasn't shown any sign of developing the magical wish talents the rest of her family has. She's been thinking about going to college somewhere. Of course, the predictable happens. Then ridiculously goofy things happen, until Altria appears, and suddenly the story has wider interest.

I really liked the character of Altria. Her motivations are obscure, to say the least. She raises some obvious questions about the nature of the (real) world, and some less obvious ones about what is actually going on inside her head. Can you take her at face value, or is she just stringing Gypsum along until she gets what she wants (to borrow from her own turn of phrase)? Who knows?

All in all, this is a light, fun read. All in one book, too. There is some bad language and maybe homosexuality; it's not really clear nor explored in depth. I think I enjoyed this better than the Chapel Hollow novels (The Thread That Binds the Bones and The Silent Strength of Stones), which in retrospect were incredibly flat.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pretties and Specials

By Scott Westerfeld. The other two books of the Uglies trilogy, so read Uglies first.

I will admit that I had trouble putting these books down. I read straight through them yesterday after posting about Uglies. They're certainly exciting enough, so what's the problem with them?

For one thing, God is completely missing. The closest to religion Tally comes is admitting, in a spooky forest, that she understood how people could start believing in spirits. This is an important omission, especially considering the subject matter of the book: what reason is there not to make pretties, specials and so on if humanity is not made by God, in God's image? Perhaps none... the villain of the series certainly didn't have any trouble with the idea.

The resolution of said villain's story also feels lacking. It's hard to say more without spoiling it, but the resolution lacks something.

Definitely an exciting trilogy, these books cover a lot of issues: environmentalism, beauty, human responsibility, brain damage... They make for a good read, but at the end, the story's resolution feels incomplete. Maybe that's why Westerfeld is working on a fourth book, Extras.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


By Scott Westerfeld.

I was recently reading a book of collected essays, speeches and lectures by Flannery O'Connor. Unfortunately, because I'm such a slow reader, I had to return it before I finished, but she still made some good points. One was this: sometimes writers have to use the grotesque in order to show reality to the reader. We have a filter of familiarity, where we accept things that we're used to, but by exaggerating them writers can get past this and make us think about what the truth actually is. The other thing she said is that we, as humans, need to see changes in a story, specifically redemption. The sacrifice of one's own life for another has a deep impact. I think both of these points are highly relevant to Scott Westerfeld's story.

Tally Youngblood lives in a world where everyone is born ugly. When they turn 16, they're born again into a perfectly pretty body, with pretty teeth, pretty hair, a pretty face, and a perfect life where all they have to do is enjoy themselves. What could possibly be wrong with that? Read the book and find out.

There are some painful moments where you, the reader, will want to yell "No, don't do that!" (At least, I did.) In fact, I sort of skipped to the end and read backwards because of it. The science in service of a few action scenes might be a little sketchy (*cough*hoverboards*cough*). Still, because of the issues he deals with and especially because of the ending, I think the rest of the trilogy is worth reading. Onward and upward...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale

By Holly Black.

This book is not worth reading, at least in itself. Unfortunately, it isn't always obvious: the main character is sympathetic because she is young and bewildered and tossed about by compulsions (literally, enchantments) that she has no control over. At the same time, though, she seems incredibly childish; she repeatedly gets herself into trouble she could have avoided had she been wiser. And, really, she should know better.

I would also criticize the frequent crass language and profanity, but I can't argue if you say it fits the characters perfectly: it is certainly in keeping with the kind of teenagers they appear to be. However, it doesn't stop me from wishing they were better. As it is, the main character could easily be one of the extras who dies; she seems little deserving of salvation aside from the fact that she is the main character. Her main virtue is either courage or rash foolhardiness combined with impulsiveness. She also smokes, until her physiology forces her to stop...

So why do I say "in itself"? Well, I have hopes that maybe Kaye will grow up in the next book more than she did in this one. (Yeah, so when has that ever happened?) We'll see.

A side note about the subtitle: the book is loosely based off fairy lore, especially Tam Lin (hence the title), but the majority of the plot is not strongly patterned after any specific tale (at least that I recognize).

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Thread That Binds the Bones

By Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

If there is such a thing as a book having too much magic being a bad thing, this book exemplifies it. Like a child eating candy, I rushed through it and got a stomach ache. The plot is rather jerky; if a problem comes your way, what do you do? Just enchant it out of your way. The facility with which the characters cast spells, without any care or repercussions, is ludicrous. Tom Renfield, our main character, is a man who has spent most of his life denying that there's anything special about himself, but within hours of meeting Laura Bolte he is not only married to her, but overpowering her family with his magical prowess. Unbelievable.

The book may be emotionally tasty, but intellectually it leaves quite a bit to be desired. The changes that occur in the characters are just as swift and magical as the ones that occur outside them: one character, being (physically) transformed for no longer than two days, changes from a spiteful puppetmaster into a soft-hearted mensch. There is little profit in reading this, for the characters seem very much like puppets moved as the author wills it, rather than sincere people who have individual character.

It may be a captivating read in some respects, but has, I think, little merit upon completion.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Year's Best Fantasy and Horror for 1995 (incomplete)

Anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Kindling.

I am not going to make a habit of reviewing these, but I wanted to mention them because anthologies are a good way to find new authors without having to read huge books by them. Reading this prompted me to finally check out some of Nina Kiriki Hoffman's books, and introduced me to some other authors I hadn't read before.

This book becomes much more tractable when you skip the 90 pages of introductory material and all the horror stories (distinguished by the initials E.D. in the little editor's note describing the story), as I did for the most part.

Most of the fantasy stories in here are good. I especially liked Home for Christmas, The Printer's Daughter (wow), and the Princess/Swan poems, but see previous sentence. I skipped most of Paper Lantern. The Granddaughter is an amusing take on Little Red Riding Hood, somewhat in the line of the movie Hoodwinked.

This is part of a huge, yearly series of anthologies, which I doubt I will mention further, but I'm sure are worth checking out (of a library) for the reasons above.