Tuesday, May 20, 2008


By D. M. Cornish; book 1 of Monster Blood Tattoo, etc. (Note that, while imaginative, the edgy feel of the title "Monster Blood Tattoo" doesn't seem to match the mood of the actual book, at least for me.) Also contains illustrations by the author.

Imaginary hat tip to R. J. Anderson and Carbonelle for recommending this.

This story covers Rossamünd's* departure from the foundling society (orphanage) where he was raised and his journey to his new employment. As a sweet, naive, and paradoxically timid and adventurous child, he makes a fairly appealing main character, even if he is perhaps not quite a protagonist.

The characters are all distinct, even if they have shadowy pasts, and the worldbuilding in this book is clever and fantastic, and feels well put together. Instead of merely expositing different ideas, the author gives the sense that they all fit well into the physics, biology and culture of the Half-continent. Of particular interest are the secretive cults that grow or harvest foreign organs for use by humans, either as machines or living prosthetics, and the caustic vinegar waves.

However, the most important instigation in this book is presence of monsters: it is fair to say that the antagonism between monsters and everymen has had a profound effect on history. As carbonelle points out, however, what actually makes a monster is not necessarily as clear-cut as the people of the Half-continent would have it.

Along with these clever ideas comes vocabulary; the made-up words have great verisimilitude, being based on recognizable morphemes (at least to English speakers).

My chief disappointment with this book is that the story ends so soon. While Rossamünd accomplishes what he set out in the beginning to do, there are numerous hints at more to come, and many questions to answer regarding the world and his own past.

Although the strange names and words can be overwhelming at first, requiring a significant investment into the world of the story, this ends up being an enjoyable fantasy adventure story, leaving the reader wanting more but not hanging off a cliff at the end. Recommended.

* Edited to add: The "ü" in Rossamünd is pronounced the same as the vowel in wood, could, should, etc., according to the pronunciation guide.

Monday, May 19, 2008

End of the Spear

By Steve Saint.

This is labeled as the memoirs of Steve Saint, the son of one of the five missionaries who was killed in the 1950s in the Amazon rain forest. Although it took me a while to get into it, partly due to the number of foreign names and relationships, I became quite interested in what was going to happen.

The style is quite informal and easy to read, although it could perhaps have used more editing—in one place there is a section break, with the associated graphic, in the middle of a sentence. The author for the most part did a good job incorporating English translations of the foreign terms without becoming too repetitive. Although he tries throughout to incorporate a little humor, I think it falls flat until the last few chapters, which I found (mostly) hilariously funny. The "mostly" is perhaps the reason for the humour—it helps to offset the tragedy that occurs.

However, there is a lot left out of this story. The airline agent's visit to the Amazon is dismissed in a couple of sentences, with no mention of her reaction. There are other places where he neglects to mention or explain his own reactions or actions. In the last few chapters, he leaves out quite a lot, focusing on the antics of the Waodani tribe members who accompany him back to the U.S. Part of the reason the book is hard to get into is due to the confusing chronology: it seems to start closer to the present day and then flash back to the past, but it isn't entirely clear when things happen or even the order that they happen in.

Despite these drawbacks, the book is quite interesting, but it could have been better.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Saffy's Angel

By Hilary McKay.

This is another one of those books I should have found years ago. Serious, sweet and hilarious. The notorious driving lessons are easy to point to as one of the amusing points, but fried corned beef sandwiches and curry sandwiches ("Should I make the curry very hot or very, very hot?") amuse too, as do most of the things this quixotic family gets up to.

The Casson family is a family of artists, with colorful children: Cadmium, Indigo, Saffron, and Permanent Rose, and parents Bill and Eve. The trouble starts when Saffron, perusing the color chart tacked to the kitchen wall, finds all her siblings' names but not her own. The explanation? She was adopted. Oh, tragedy: suddenly she feels like she isn't part of the family at all. One of the strange things about this book is that after this happens, about five years pass in the space of a couple pages, five years where Saffron feels alienated and her family continues to put up with her, not to mention love her.

The family is eccentric but still a family: they come together when they need to. When Rose finishes her first drawing and the "wicked teacher" who had pretended interest snatches it away and stakes it to the wall far above her reach, Cadmium helps her to steal it back and replace it with a replica, down to the four thumbtack holes. And when the wheelchair girl (quite intentionally) runs Saffron over, she suddenly has the friend she didn't know she needed.

Sweet story, nothing too heavy, lots of humor. Not what most people would call fantasy.

Found via E. Wein, who offhandedly mentioned the series, with a quote, and Sherwood Smith.