Thursday, May 31, 2007


By Carl Hiaasen.

Pretty quick, entertaining read. Roy sees a boy running barefoot down the street past the school bus stop one morning, and wonders who he is. Hijincks (sort of) ensue. Cute owls are involved. What else is there to say? It isn't blatant fantasy, unlike many of the books I read.

You'd probably enjoy it. It's kind of a Floridian slice-of-life story. (The author's bio says Hiaasen has been writing about Florida since he was 6 or 7 years old.)

The Hunter's Moon

By O. R. Melling.

Review sketch*: Like other people said, it seems rather disjointed with infodumps that don't blend into the story well. Some things happen rather suddenly and without explanation. Whenever a new person is met, the story is conveniently explained to them with a few lines of narrative and no one has any trouble believing it. When Gwen starts to do too well on her quest, something conveniently comes along to knock her down; when she does poorly, somebody comes along to help her. The characters seem like stereotypes, lacking real depth; I especially wonder what goes on in Findabhair's head.

Conclusion: Not that great.

* I must be feeling lazy today to not rework it into a better flow. Perhaps it's better to be more concise, anyway, even though it doesn't flow? On the other hand, you may have no idea what I'm talking about with any of this. Comments welcome.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Magic! Magic! Magic! oi! oi! oi!

Also known as the Magic or Madness trilogy by Justine Larbalestier, consisting of Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons, and Magic's Child. Too bad I like the more fanciful working title better, huh?

In Reason Cansino's world, magic doesn't exist. Reason and her mother have been running from "the witch" (Reason's grandmother) for her entire life. When her mother finally snaps, Granny Esmeralda takes Reason in... and Reason makes the obvious discovery. The dilemma is this: with magic, there are two choices; you can use it and die young (like all the twenty-somethings buried in the Cansino's graveyard) or avoid it and go insane (like Serafina, Reason's mother).

The first book was okay, although it ends on a cliffhanger. The Australian dialect adds some nice flavor ("chunder" has to be one of my favorite words ever). However, the story is perhaps a bit goofy at times, perhaps because it's classified as young adult. The second book contains my own personal dilemma: is a magical compulsion to have sex with someone rape? Then I would call it rape... but the author never even mentions the word or even says in any clear way that what happened was wrong.

So, this is a cute young adult trilogy, and apparently suitably entertaining (my younger sister read through the books very quickly), but I wouldn't say it was truly great. On the plus side, the ending was a surprise, but the level of writing was not very sophisticated, and the author avoided discussing some of the tougher issues that came up. If you don't already enjoy fantasy or teenaged coming-of-age stories, it would probably be better to stay away.


By Peter Dickinson.

I found this story very reminiscent of "Rachel in Love", for reasons that should be obvious shortly after starting the book. It was quite readable, but I didn't think it was exceptional. It's a peculiar kind of dated sci-fi where the future has "shapers" before it gets away from tapes as storage media. This may have bothered me and interfered with my enjoyment of the story more than I am willing to admit.

An okay story, but not really strong. Not really recommended.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Steerswoman's Road

By Rosemary Kirstein, assembly-line worker in a hand-painted watercolor factory, among other things. (She wielded the green brush, if I remember correctly.) This is an omnibus of the first two books in the series, The Steerswoman and The Outskirter's Secret, but this post is really about the first four (out of a planned seven or eight.)

Rowan is a Steerswoman, inquisitive and well-trained. The Steerswomen wander the world, recording observations while answering the questions they're asked. Though they are required to answer, the flip side is that others must answer any questions they ask, or be placed under the Steerswoman's ban and have no question answered ever again.

The first book starts out with Rowan trying to find the origin of some blue jewels that she has found scattered around; oddly, her seemingly harmless quest ignites extreme opposition from the secretive wizards who, incidentally, are almost all under the Steerswoman's ban.

It's hard to say more about the story without giving too much away (the author releases major clues about the world very slowly, on the rate of about one per book), but they are all very enjoyable. Though the genre is labeled as fantasy, it is obvious early on that the magic of the wizards is strikingly similar to... something else. Despite the slow progress of the overarching plot and the revelations about the world, the story shines in the small details of life and especially of Rowan's process of discovery; as someone else said, "She writes so well about the way that people think."

It's also true that you can read one without having read the others; I started with the fourth one, which was the only one on the shelves at the library, and enjoyed it before going back to start from the first one. The author does a good job putting some kind of plot in each book, although almost every answer revealed leads to more questions.

Oddly, despite the confrontations and violence which occur in several scenes, these are fairly relaxing books and, as I said, fun to read. I recommend them.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mistborn: The Final Empire

By Brandon Sanderson.

Pretty good fantasy. It's set in a dystopia, which is why I waited so long to read it (the author said it was darker than Elantris), but it is not exactly what I'd call dark. Sure, the setting is gloomy: ash covers the yellow sky, there are mists everywhere at night, all the plants are brown, and the world is ruled by the Lord Ruler, apparently immortal and definitely evil. The book itself, however, seems quite optimistic (given that your definition of "optimistic" includes "thousands of people die.") Sanderson, perhaps, isn't that good at maintaining a gloomy, depressing atmosphere, but if he had been I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it that much.

The book is mostly about Vin, a young thief in the capital of the Final Empire. Events conspire to make her part of a plot to overthrow the Lord Ruler... where "events" means "a gang of allomancers." Allomancy is one of the most logical magic systems ever and Sanderson does a good job explaining to the reader how it works, although by the end of the book we discover that there are more secrets he hasn't told us. Allomancy is based on ingesting metals (tin, pewter, aluminum, gold, iron, steel, etc.) and "burning" them to gain access to supernatural powers: enhanced vision, strength, brief glimpses into the future, etc. Unfortunately, that seems to be one of the most logical part of the settings. The social structure of the world itself, with the Lord Ruler in charge of everything, the serfs passively trudging along, and the so-called Great Houses squabbling amongst themselves, is less than convincing. It seems as though there should be more going on in the world, but instead Kelsier (the allomancer who recruits Vin) and his gang are at the center of all the important events. Among other unlikely deeds, they recruit an army of more than five thousand peasants without being betrayed or discovered. Is this likely when the ruler is so powerful that he's been burned to a skeleton in the past and survived?

It isn't that the plot is simple; it's merely simplistic. It seems to rely too much on coincidence. Still, I enjoyed reading this book, especially seeing Vin grow into a capable young woman. Let's hope the author answers the questions he raises in books two and three (not yet out, unfortunately).

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Latro in the Mist

By Gene Wolfe. (This is an omnibus of Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete.)

Zerothly: (Added) You know what? This is a really awful review. Here is a better one: Inchoatus review.

Zero and a halfly: (Update the Second) These books present parts of a journey more than they do a complete story. While Soldier in the Mist begins soon after Latro is injured, the others seem to begin, and all three end, at indefinite points in the story, with nothing really resolved. Soldier of Sidon, the third one, raised this thought in me: they are mere fragments. Will there be a fourth? I suspect that each one has had a narrative purpose, even if my critical organ is not sharp enough to discern it. (Other reviewers comment on the nature of innocence and memory that is revealed, obligations to society, to friends, to family...) Gene Wolfe has certainly left enough mysteries strewn in Latro's path to easily write more, but because of the number of years that passed between the second and third I doubt many of the ones from the first two books will be revisited. Here ends Update the Second.

Firstly: These are extremely difficult books to read, maybe harder than Faulkner. Latro loses his memory of events after about a day, and so must set down what happened in writing if he wishes to refer to it later. The result is that he has little understanding of what is actually happening to him most of the time. Forgetting names, he calls people many different things, and it is incumbent upon the reader to remember the people whom he refers to. There are also many names for the gods in the pantheon here and many archaic terms, such as peltast, kybernetes, and mantis.

Secondly: These are fundamentally sad books. Despite the frequent moments of happiness and the loyal friends Latro collects, I got the sense that ultimately he was being used as a pawn by the gods for their own games, careless of the hurt they did him. (His memory was lost, we are told, for an unknown offense to a certain goddess.)

I began Soldier of the Mist once before, but gave up when I concluded it was too difficult without a good knowledge of Greek antiquity. It is certainly very difficult and I am going to go look up what others thought it meant after I finish writing this, but this time I was pulled in by the story, wanting to find out what happened. Fast is probably the only way to read these; there are so many details only mentioned once or twice that you would have no hope of comprehension without taking notes, otherwise.

Recommended for someone who really likes a puzzle and enjoys Greek mythology. I can see how this book is great stylistically, but at the same time it's very taxing.